Personality & Psychometric Testing or Horoscopes

There are a lot of silly tests on the market which label people, many of which aren’t validated scientifically (no matter what the publishers say) but are nonetheless used to “explain away” behaviour. (“What can you expect from a ‘high Z’ Symbolic Symbolic with OKNL tendencies?”) I mean, really, why not just resort to horoscopes?

Annie Murphy Paul’s book, The Cult of Personality, demonstrates why most commonly used behavioural assessment and personality “profiling” techniques range from flawed to fraud. Even the vaunted Rorschach has questionable roots and results. The MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Inventory) has a frighteningly high degree of different results with retesters.

Most of the instruments on the market that are valid (e.g., demonstrate reliability, construct validity, content validity, and concurrent validity) were originally meant to diagnose aberration and mental health problems, not to describe the main, healthy population. And most of the rest, well, just ain’t valid. You can give a horoscope if you like, and even justify it by saying, “People feel that it does describe them, and I get amazing feedback as a coach,” but that doesn’t make it anything more than a parlor game.

Someone who was investigating the possibility of joining my Mentoring & Coaching Program stopped me while I was providing a description and said, “Wow, you’re really a high intuitive driver, aren’t you?” When I said I had no idea what he was talking about, he went on to ascribe quite a few behaviours and attributes to me, simply from three minutes on the phone.
“What do you think?” he said. 
“You’re not right for this program,” I said, hanging up.

I once watched, flabbergasted, while an MBTI “analyst” asked an HR executive questions which the latter replied to in the manner he believed his deceased mother would have used. When I inquired just what the heck was going on, the analyst said, “We’re trying to type his mother, so that we can get to the root of their poor relationship over the years, which still bothers him.”

Who can make this stuff up?

It’s ironic in this politically correct age of doing somersaults to ensure that no one is offended by a pronoun that we think nothing of providing labels and characterisations to shrugs, moans, and responses to perfectly imperfect instruments. What is often merely a consultant’s way of taking on more “product” to enhance revenues becomes a divining rod for finding personality traits.

I don’t think so. The French still use handwriting analysis in hiring, of course, but then again, they drink warm Coca Cola.


* QBR published one of my articles entitled: Back to Basics Recruitment Plan. If you 'd like a copy, e-mail and we will e-mail it to you as a PDF.




Ric Willmot

Executive Wisdom Consulting Group

Professional Speaker | Consultant | Mentor

T: +61 7.3395-1050






Views: 394

Comment by Charles van Heerden on August 15, 2011 at 22:20


Not sure why you seem to group all psychometric tests in one basket. It is also evident that you have not studied psychology, otherwise you would not make factually incorrect comments, such as:

"Most of the instruments on the market that are valid (e.g., demonstrate reliability, construct validity, content validity, and concurrent validity) were originally meant to diagnose aberration and mental health problems".

Many assessment tools such as OPQ and Saville Wave, such to refer to two popular and credible instruments, have specifically been designed to deal with occupational assessment.

I think you have answered your own rhetorical question "Who can make this stuff up?" Perhaps less self-promotion will be a good start.


Comment by Ric Willmot on August 15, 2011 at 22:47

Dear Charles,

Thank you for your comment.

I am currently completing my Ph.D. in organisational psychology.

There is nothing factually incorrect about my quote, which you mention, as I did NOT state "all psychometric tests" but rather I used the words: many, a lot of, and most.


I’ve always had reservations about any “forced choice” testing, and courtesy of a colleague of mine in the United States, Don Reed, here is an interesting critique of MBTI.

Gale Encyclopaedia of Psychology

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assigns people to one of sixteen different categories or types, based on their answers to 126 questions, such as: "How easy or difficult do you find it to present yourself, consistently, over a long period as a person who is patient?"

There are 4 different sub-scales of the test, which purport to measure different personality tendencies. Extraversion-introversion (E-I) distinguishes between people who are sociable and outgoing, versus those who are more inward looking. Sensing-intuition (S-N) sorts people according to their attention to practical realities as opposed to relying on their imagination. Thinking-feeling (T-F) shows the difference between relying on logic versus intuition when making decisions. Finally, judging-perceiving (J-P) refers to one's tendency to analyse and categorise one's experiences, as opposed to responding spontaneously.

Sixteen different types emerge from the combination of the above four pairs of traits. The MBTI is probably the most popular self-insight psychological test in use today, with at least a million people per year completing it. It is widely used in business, industry, educational settings, and government because of its assumed ability to capture people's interests, needs, and values.

MBTI profiles are often used in career counselling or as a basis for matching work partners or for selecting tasks that are best suited for one's MBTI type. With any psychological test, its utility is dependent on its reliability and validity. A reliable test is one that produces consistent results over time.

For example, IQ tests have high reliability, inasmuch as your IQ as measured today will not be appreciably different a year from now. The MBTI's reliability is only fair. One study showed that fewer than half of the respondents retained their initial types over a 5-week period. Consequently, we should be careful about making career decisions based on a classification system that is unstable. People change over time as a result of experience.

The MBTI may capture a person's current state, but that state should probably not be treated as a fixed typology. Does the MBTI assist in career counselling? Is the test diagnostic of successful performance in particular occupations? These questions pertain to validity—the ability of the test to predict future performance. There have been no long-term studies showing that successful or unsuccessful careers can be predicted from MBTI profiles. Nor is there any evidence that on-the-job performance is related to MBTI scores. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the MBTI's popularity and its proven scientific worth.

From the point of view of the test-taker, the MBTI provides positive feedback in the form of unique attributes that are both vague and complimentary, and thus could appeal to large numbers of people. It is possible that the MBTI could be useful as a vehicle for guiding discussions about work-related problems, but its utility for career counselling has not been established.

Reference: Gale Encyclopaedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001.

I also refer you to “The Utility of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,” Review of Educational Research, Winter 1993, Vol. 63, No. 4, pp 467-488.

My thanks again to Don for this.

(Footnote: MBTI was developed by a woman with zero psycholog

Comment by Ric Willmot on August 15, 2011 at 22:50

I noticed my reply was cut-off because I was too verbose .... 



(Footnote: MBTI was developed by a woman with zero psychological training and no knowledge whatsoever of psychometrics.)


One needs to properly understand the psychological definitions of "construct validity, content validity, and concurrent validity" as I was referring to them in my original post. To gain that validity, the testing must be completed by a recognised psychological association such as the American Psychological Association or the British Psychological Society and needs to be refereed by those particular associations. It is not a self-assessment.

Validated and effective tests can be found through the American Psychological Association, American Psychological Society, and places like Psycholgoical Press and, I believe, London House. Most require some kind of psychological licensing or credential for use. A good idea is to use a psychologist as a subcontractor for access to them.


The best recruitment test would be your assessment of the entire person based upon your behavioural questioning techniques, reference checking, background checks, and your years of experience as HR professionals, wouldn't it? We are all individuals, not likely to be easily placed in one of four or six positions. Flexibility is the key.


All the very best to you, Charles, and good luck.



Comment by Charles van Heerden on August 17, 2011 at 21:58

Dear Ric,

Thanks for your comments. I thought it may be better to focus on what we agree on (rather than disagree).

As a registered psychometrist with 5 years study in Psychology, including clinical and organisational psychology, I would not include MBTI as a preferred instrument. I have never used it for assessment, and it is questionable as a development tool, having used it for team development with mixed results.

Most of the instruments on the market that are valid have been designed and improved for organisations (I refer again to OPQ and Saville Wave). There are many others, as it has become a lucrative and hotly contested market, as I discovered when WaveBox became the Australian distributor for HireLabs. You also get what you pay for.

In fact, we probably both share concerns that so many consultants are able to become accredited after attending a day or two of training (brainwashed) to sell their snake oil to unsuspecting line managers or busy HR Managers. As a consultant, with training in various instruments, I am always a little shocked to find people with good intentions but little psychological background being let loose on giving feedback to unsuspecting clients.

What we disagree on is that most companies I know of with HR Directors (speaking as a practicing HRD and having worked in three countries as HRD) are using reputable assessment tools as part of their recruitment process. These assessments are competency based and reports are aligned with specific position descriptions, rather than using a generic approach. Though I would agree there is still plenty of room for improvement.

I fully agree with your closing comment - "The best recruitment test would be your assessment of the entire person based upon your behavioural questioning techniques, reference checking, background checks, and your years of experience as HR professionals, wouldn't it?"

Putting people in boxes is not psychology and does not recognise individuals as individuals.

Good luck with your studies, Ric,



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