What is the best personality test? With everyone talking obsessively about them, and there being so many options, what’s the one that you absolutely have to take?
Let’s talk about it.
PREVIEW: "Rather than asking what we should do with the personality tests we take, we instead share what our personality tests affirm is already 'good' about us without going any deeper."
But before I begin, let me say that I’m not paid to promote any particular assessment. Instead, I have years of experience using them, sharing them, talking about them, analyzing them, and thinking about them. I probably have more experience with them than 99.9% of people. And that’s where I’ll end my credential pitch. The opinions that follow will do the rest.
So, for starters, let’s take a quick cursory glance at a few popular ones.
First, there’s the MBTI, more famously known as the Myers-Briggs. Deploying a Jungian perspective on personality (which if you’re normal should mean absolutely nothing to you at this point), the MBTI establishes some basic types that we're all likely very familiar with:
These dichotomous types explain how you think you interact with others and make decisions. And that’s Jungian in a nutshell: how you perceive yourself and what you think you do according to a limited number of basic human types.
Next, we have the DISC assessment. Largely operating from a psychological behavioralist perspective, it mainly looks at how you think you tend to act, at what rate or pace you think you act, how you feel about your acting, and to what extent you think you're precise in your actions. These are my words, so when you look at the site and see:
you'll have to notice that my characterization aims at getting to the bottom of the theory behind the assessment. Much like the Myers-Briggs personality profile, you can expect to see a similar, although categorized differently, set of profile characteristics that tell you basically how you see yourself.
Now, let's move on to something that's been particularly obsessed over as of late: the Enneagram. Though at first glance you'll be tempted to think it stems from something like the Zodiac signs, it doesn't. The Enneagram profile comes from a long-standing tradition of child psychology, assuming that much of who you are is already established bio-physically and bio-psychologically at birth.
Think nature over nurture.
And my apologies, I'm not going to list the 9 Enneagram profiles here (I really don't have time for that), but what has much of the world talking about this assessment is the degree to which I'd call it "social," by which I mean that it helps folks think more directly about their compatibility and lack of compatibility with other types. People like knowing how they relate to others, so it's not surprising that this would become largely popular.
And for every one of these 3 personality tests, there's dozens more I/O psychologists out there trying to put their own spin on things and sell it to you with their over-priced personal consulting solutions or one-off surveys.
Well, which one should you use?
None of the above. And yes, I'm serious.
Now, before you let me get away with that not-so-subtle mic-drop, let me first explain why these don't stand up to the Findlife test.
The MBTI and DISC assessments are overused and don't really tell us that much. They'll tell you some self-trends you're actually willing to acknowledge, but they absolutely do not help you see that which you cannot or may not want to see. We'll talk more about that later in this post.
And even though Enneagram is called "simple", it's not at all. It's horribly complicated, and just trying to understand what it says, how the types interact, and why it's potentially significant will simply waste far more time than it's worth. Personality tests, in general, just aren't that important.
So, before I give you the full bait-and-switch, let me tell you about a few personality tests I do recommend.
First, among two others in this better options list, is Insights. Though based largely on Jungian typologies like the MBTI and DISC, the Insights Discovery inventory goes much further and is far more comprehensive. The number of item descriptors that you get is outrageous, to the point that your profile is more like a personal biography than a graded test. Due to its depth, I think those who struggle to answer the question, "Who am I?" and who tend to exhibit highly analytical tendencies may appreciate this profile. But beware: it's expensive.
Second, let's talk about another outrageously popular test, but one that gets a few presents at Christmastime rather than stockings full of coal: StrengthsFinder. Now named the CliftonStrengths after its creator, this assessment works to describe you in a few words and can help you start to identify what you're good at doing.
Furthermore, the assessment for this reason is straightforward, simple, and fairly cheap compared to the most robust options. You get a few words that describe what you tend to be best at, for not too much money, and it weighs heavily your responses against a myriad set of possible types (34, to be exact). But there's a serious drawback, of course: it doesn't tell you how strong your strengths really are. For example, one of my descriptors is "strategic," which means it's one of my strongest traits. However, it does not tell me whether or not my ability to be strategic is actually more or less strategic in the face of comparisons (like, say my arch-nemesis at work).
So, third. Let's talk about Hogan (my personal favorite amongst these established assessments). The Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) is a great option for anyone, but most especially anyone looking to apply understandings of personality within an organizational context. That's what it's basically intended for, to help you understand who you are and how that impacts your work.
It being the most popular profile among their suite, the HPI looks at things a bit differently than other personality tests. It thinks more about how you think others perceive you and how you do things. Remember, this departs substantially from the Jungian tests. In addition, the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) starts to define some things that may not be so good about you. Truly, I think, Hogan provides a more complete and practical profile than all of them.
But why the Hogan, in my opinion, proves more useful than the other assessments really relates to what you can do with it. Their inventories allow you more freedom to think critically and reflect on your tendencies and interactions with others to the extent that your conclusions of those interactions and the situations related to them can more aptly define a part of who you are in practice, which truly defines us anyway.
Let me say that more clearly: almost all of who you are, leaving a little room for nature, is based on things outside of you. What you do. Who's in your life. How you act. How you think. That overall external picture.
And that picture can be overall bad. Yes, you can be bad. Sorry to burst your bubble.
Listen, I've read a ton of articles, most of which come from life or career coaches, whose philosophies say that what's most important is bringing out that which is already good or great about us. In fact, many go as far to say that there are no good or bad decisions at all, thus really no good or bad people. What they're doing in net effect is erasing the good-bad slider scale of morality and replacing it with one that starts with "OK" and ends with "best." This leaves little to no room in our culture for normative evaluation of who we are, which means eliminating discussion of what and who we should or shouldn't be.
Under this deceitful and impractical knowledge regime that leads to vain platitudes and poor coaching, life and career coaches of this sort avoid helping us evaluate ourselves. Instead, they elevate us, which feels good but isn't necessarily. And the significant problem with that is, it often times elevates more bad than good.
And this can be seen overall in how we use personality tests today. Rather than asking what we should do with the personality tests we take, we instead share what our personality tests affirm is already "good" about us without going any deeper.
The truth is, all this discussion on personality and the tests that apparently make them understandable to us is not only ridiculous, but is in many ways actually harmful. Yes, harmful.
You see, not only has our American culture, and many other world cultures for that matter, erased normative terms from the collective conscience, we've become reliant on limited perspectives that lack purpose or direction-giving attributes. The fact of the matter at hand is this: personality tests don't help you evaluate who you should be.
Now, any reasonably intelligent coach out there who administers these tests, whether they're counselor types or not, should hopefully agree with me on that last point. They should know almost as well as I that these tests mean very little without a discussion about how to use them in work and life contexts. After all, they like to make a fortune off of you for explaining your personality traits to you.
But there's something rather more striking going on here. Seeking objectivity, and also working from a therapeutic and an all-is-totally-fine-with-you philosophical backdrop, most life or career coaches (actually, I have yet to find one) simply aren't willing to help you decide what's good and what's bad about you. Even further, they're very afraid of helping you determine who else you really should be.
How many coaches would you expect, upon me sharing with them that "I'm strategic," would be willing to say, "Based on what I observe, your test may say that's one of your strengths, but you've got a long way to go. You're not really that strategic."
Seriously, how many?
Our culture, as it is, doesn't accept tough love. It doesn't like crude comparisons. It doesn't like asking "should I" questions because it's generally afraid of the true results that may follow. Remember A Few Good Men?
Let me be clear, this doesn't mean personality tests aren't useful. They are, but only when applied as part and parcel to a process of answering critical life questions like "who am I?" And when coupled to a meaningful, purposeful conversation about the kind of person you want to be, the kind of person you should be, they can have an impact.
But now let me leave you with one final thought. If you were to setup a Character & Personality life coaching session with me, because you wanted a better answer to the "who am I?" question, here's one of the first questions I would ask you: "What should come first, salt or pepper?"
Truthfully, your answer to that question, as dumb as it sounds, would tell me so much more about you than any of the other tests combined.
Think on that a bit.