Please don’t misinterpret this post. I am not saying the idea I’m going to describe is a good thing, but I do think it’s a possible way to make a lot of money by doing something slightly questionable. Or perhaps despicable. You decide.
I despise personality tests. Myers Briggs, the little online “are you conservative or liberal,” and all that stuff — they drive me crazy.
Or, rather, they fascinate me, but I despise the way people use them. They’re used to put people in buckets. It’s basically an acceptable form of racism. “You’re an ISFJ, you wouldn’t understand.”
In my experience they are always a barrier to understanding people, not an aid. I have never once seen anything good come from one of those things, but I have frequently seen them abused.
Having said all that, they’re clearly the rage, and it’s fairly obvious why. They combine science and narcissism in a way that’s bound to appeal to the modern person. You can imagine somebody who has no interest in finding a date signing up for one of these things simply to find out what kind of a person he is.
So then, here’s the business idea. Invent an easy, accessible way for a company to use something like this in hiring. Sure, there are things like this, but read on.
First, a little background.
I was at a SIPA conference once where a guy told a story about a bunch of people who went for a job interview with Southwest Airlines. About ten people were sitting in a waiting room, and somebody came in and said Southwest tended to be rather casual in their interviews and offered everyone a Hawaiian shirt. They had a dressing room with shirts in every size, and everyone was welcome to go try one on. Some did, some didn’t.
A few minutes later somebody came in and said all the people who didn’t put on the shirts could go. It was a test to see if they were willing to fit in with the corporate culture.
It seems somewhat unfair, but there’s also something to it. Corporations do have cultures, and some people don’t fit. Some large corporations realize this and work that sort of test into their hiring process, but smaller companies typically don’t have the time or the resources.
Hence, hire-the-right-personality-types.com (or something like that).
Here’s how it would work. All the owners and the existing employees would take personality tests. Management would indicate which employees are the stars (i.e., more like this please) and which are the duds. The service would determine if there’s a particular profile that correlates well with success at that company. Potential hires would take the test, and the results would be one of the characteristics used in making the hiring decision.
I think such a service could make a lot of money, although I hate the idea. Here’s why.
These tests ask things like “when faced with A, would you prefer to do 1 or 2?” Like everybody else, I have my preferences, but I am also willing and able to do things the other way if that is what’s required, and I’m fairly good at figuring that sort of thing out. I can work with pretty much anybody.
But the tests don’t care that much about flexibility. They don’t want to know if you can lead, follow, or get out of the way, they want to know which one you tend towards. They want to put you in a bucket and tell you what you’re good at and what you’re not good at.
Maybe there are tests that take that sort of thing into account, but in my experience they’re more interested in classifying you than in finding out how flexible you can be.
I went through one of these pop-psych management stupidities one time, and the moderator sorted everybody into four groups, then told us how well we would work with the other groups. My group (according to the magical sorting hat) couldn’t work very well with Hufflepuff — or however he named the group to our right — which had two of my direct reports, who were some of my best friends in the company. I worked with them just fine.
Worst still, the CEO spent the next two months treating everybody according to the little groups they had been placed in. It was awful, until he realized it was nonsense and moved on.
Obviously not everyone is as incompetent as the guy who ran our little shrink-a-doo, but that seems to be the way things work.
So, while I hate the whole concept — I think they are destructive of morale and constitute a “scientific” form of racism-by-another-name — I think somebody could make a fortune selling it.