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Executive Recruitment

Whether to use Myers Briggs®

Part two (continued from executive recruitment part 1)

Use of the MBTI in recruitment can lead to poor business decisions for three main reasons:

Lack of a faking scale

When candidates complete a recruitment questionnaire, their answers can be influenced by what is quaintly known as "motivational distortion". Consciously or unconsciously they may recognise the types of behaviours that the organisation is looking for and their answers reflect that perception rather than their own personality. When this happens, the results of the questionnaire may be unreliable or even misleading.

Good recruitment questionnaires contain faking scales, which help identify the extent to which responses have been influenced by motivational distortion. The MBTI does not have a faking scale, so you don't know whether the result is a true reflection of the individual, or an image that is projected for the benefit of the interviewer.

Lack of predictive validity

"Validity" is an important concept in psychometrics. It answer the question: does the questionnaire do what it claims to do? Eg: if a questionnaire claims to measure IQ, can we be confident that "intelligent people" score more and "stupid people" score less? In a few extreme cases, there have been some questionnaires used for assessment where the results have been the opposite of what was required (ie: capable people achieve a lower score). This had the effect of deselecting the best candidates.

"Predictive validity" is a particular type of validity that is required for recruitment. It asks the question whether the psychometric is able to predict how the person might behave at some point in the future - ie: if they were to be offered the job and join the company. Any tool used to support recruitment decisions needs to have predictive validity.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator does not have any predictive validity. Nor do the publishers claim that it has any predictive validity.

In fact, knowing someone's personality type (ie their personality 'preferences') does not predict how someone will behave, because people can and do behave in many and different ways, including behaviours that are not their preference.

By way of analogy, you may have a preference for using your right foot, but this does not mean you won't use your left foot - it would be very dysfunctional to try hopping everywhere rather than walking! Also, you may be left-handed, but this does not mean, whilst driving, you will always change gear with your left hand. Rather, you will use whichever hand is nearest the gear stick (eg: in the US and Europe, that is usually your right hand). For similar reasons, in a job there are many factors that determine behaviour other than personality type - and personality type does not predict behaviour.

Conflation of preference and competence

The final reason for not using the MBTI questionnaire in assessment is that it tries to measure preference but not competence - and there is an important difference between the two. If your candidate prefers to behave in a certain way, but is poor at it, this could be somewhat disastrous for you. The MBTI won't help you identify people in that category because it doesn't distinguish between levels of competence.

Some argue that the MBTI can be used in recruitment "for information only". That is, the recruitment decision is not based on the MBTI type, but it is still useful to know. However, this can still be misleading - especially for those who have a peripheral involvement in the recruitment process - because of the tendency to conflate the two concepts of preference and competence. For example, many people assume that "extraverts are better at dealing with people..." or "introverts have better thought-through ideas...". These mistakes are likely to be made by those involved in the recruitment process, but the statements are incorrect. Whilst this misunderstanding can be countered through education/training for all involved in the recruitment process, it is time-consuming and expensive, and rarely done.

Therefore, any minor benefit that might be gained from having MBTI type as "information only" is far outweighed by the potential for misunderstanding.


Using the MBTI in executive recruitment could provide misleading information and result in poor recruitment decisions. There are some MBTI practitioners who will use the questionnaire in this context. However, what they are doing is breaching the code of practice for using the MBTI, and in their ignorance they may be providing businesses with misleading information.

If you are going to use psychometrics for executive recruitment, then use a questionnaire that has predictive validity, includes a faking scale, and measures actual behaviours rather than preference. Not the MBTI.

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©2013 Team Technology. Further articles/resources that may be of interest include: Personality Test, Personality Type Descriptions, Myers Briggs overview, The Basics of Team Building, What Career is Right for Me?, and Career ideas.