Wednesday 27 February 2019 8:42 am

Why you should blame personality tests for the psycho in your office

Most of us have, at some point, encountered a Myers-Briggs personality test.

Katherine Cook Briggs began her personality research over a century ago after an awkward dinner party, which just goes to show the lengths that some people will go to avoid small talk.

Of course, personality tests can be useful, but the corporate world embraced them a bit too wholeheartedly, especially for hiring. In 2012, it was estimated that 70 per cent of HR departments were using them as part of the selection process.

The problem is that most tests are self-selective, so they tell you more about how you currently see yourself than how you actually tick.

When I was at school, we were given a personality test to complete, the aim of which was to predict what sort of career we were best suited to. At the time I wanted to read English at university and then join the army.

After a week’s careful analysis, the test came back suggesting the best vocations for me were either “army officer” or “librarian”. I maintain to this day that those are not desperately similar.

Anyway, there are now countless personality tests available to tell you how to be a better boss, a more sparkly presenter, or why you find it really hard to talk to Paul in IT. It probably isn’t worth taking them too seriously. But here are some you might recognise.

Analytical / Numerical / Accurate / Literal

Henry has filled out six pages of statements according to whether he agrees with them. It was, frankly, traumatic. Henry likes facts and objects. He isn’t keen on opinions or concepts. According to his feedback he works best with routines, processes, and logic, and needs things to be regular and exact. In theory, this means he’s best suited to a career as an actuary or a metrologist. In practice, it means he screeched when Emma moved his pen.

Code Red

Guy’s personality is red, and so are his trousers. Guy likes short sentences. He likes results. He likes action. Guy gets things done. The next thing he’s going to do is shout at an intern until they cry. Then lunch.


David read in Forbes that the best chief executives share many traits with psychopaths. So he’s filled in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. He was a bit disappointed, if he’s honest, with his abnormally low score of 5/40. David is bit confused. Will he become a better boss if he starts pulling wings off flies?

King of the corporate jungle

If executives were animals, George would be a lion. His test said so. George is pretty pleased – he’s always known it. Laura agrees. She watches a lot of David Attenborough and thinks “lazy, preening, easily distracted, and willing to take all the credit for work actually done by a female” is spot on.

Caring and sharing

Emily is The Nurturer. She is fundamentally nice. Everyone says so. Warm, collaborative, sharing, receptive. She values harmony and cooperation. Perhaps she is too nice, easily intimidated, taken advantage of? Six months after Emily leaves, her book expose sells a million copies. It’s amazing how many people think that “nice” means “deaf”.

There is one thing such tests are good at. Shortly after graduating, tired of subsisting exclusively on pasta and cheap valpolicella, I applied to an investment bank. The first hurdle was a personality test. Naturally I filled it in with the sort of things I imagined they wanted to hear, rather than honestly. I never heard from them again.

So it’s possible that, in a very small way, the test helped make sure that the ensuing financial crisis was just a little bit less bad.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.