Do personality tests serve any useful purpose?

The information you glean can often be put to good use

Faith WoodIf you have spent any time on Facebook, or inside an employee transition seminar, you have probably been exposed to personality quizzes. But what do you do with that information once you have it?

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that you are likely happier, in your work and personal life, if you are an optimist rather than a pessimist. You can probably also figure out that being organized is a great character trait for a leader, or administrator.

Personality trait tests are not the be-all and end-all. Many people who consider themselves introverts actually work well in jobs that have them interacting with the public on a regular basis. They simply put on their ‘extrovert’ hat at work. Your attitude toward any task or project can obviously make a huge difference when it comes to leveraging what could be considered a weaker trait. Rather than feeling apprehensive, tell yourself that you can do what is required, and go ahead and do it. All the while patting yourself on the back for being  an incredible person who is up to any challenge – like dealing with the public when you’d rather be hiding under your desk.

Perhaps the benefit of these personality quizzes is in evaluating your performances through a new lens. “Aha,” you might say, “everyone always points out what a negative person I am, but I’m actually pragmatic.” Or . . . “I have been accused of being a cynic, when I really just have a dry sense of humour.” Or . . . “I am truly an empathetic person; I just am quite logical about my empathy.”

Taking personality tests can be a lot of fun, especially when comparing the results of a lot of different tests. Results might show that you have multiple personalities (at which point you may want to consider consulting a psychiatrist). You may also be able to recognize characteristics you see that are prevalent in your family. This, however, does not necessarily give you license to blame everything on your parents.

Nonetheless, the information you glean can be put to good use. Several years ago, a friend of mine who was in her mid-30s and re-entering the work world after several years as a stay-at-home mom attended an employment information session. She filled out a lengthy questionnaire aimed at pinpointing her personality traits and strengths and recommending a career to suit. At the top of the list . . . surgeon. After considering her options, she decided that going back to school for many years in order to start this career in her late 40s only to practise for a few years before hitting retirement age was not a viable option. The questionnaire was helpful, as she took what she had learned about herself and focused that knowledge on a different career: journalism. She discovered that her traits and strengths might also be put to good use in that career. (She has, however, been known to sigh and say, “Ah, yes, but I could have been a surgeon!”)

So, do these personality tests serve any useful purpose? Well, understanding yourself better is an essential first step toward accommodating the strengths and qualities that you have to offer, whatever the position.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

© Troy Media


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