If you were anything like me, your mandatory Freshman Seminar course started off with an incredible dose of awkward. As the nicest professor in the world kicked off the semester by asking the class why they signed up for the particular course, your classmates took turns finding creative ways of saying, “I didn’t get into the one about Harry Potter” or “this seemed like an easy A” in academically accepted terms. I vividly remember pinching myself to refrain from giggling as a classmate with a faux G-eazy haircut explained to the class that he “wanted to pursue storytelling as a means to get in touch with his soft side.” Two over-enthused upperclassmen proceeded to tell the class about what Pepperdine has to offer and how great Chegg.com is, as an advisor from OneStop depressingly beseeched us to make a four-year plan ASAP. Finally, someone from the counseling center handed us a packet of personality tests that would inform us of our strengths and likely career paths.
I was intrigued, in the same manner that one might be about the monthly horoscope — until I received my list of career paths. I could not envision myself as a librarian, nor would my Asian parents allow me to be an artist, musician, or “visionary”, whatever that means. This is nonsense, I thought. As a female, I was unlikely to report to being “prone to irritability” or “the first to speak up” in a given situation. I couldn’t help but think that by reporting behavior that would be socially acceptable for someone of my demographic, I had limited myself to unstable or low-paying jobs that most likely require a higher-paying partnership in order to sustain livelihood. However, I rationalized: Maybe you should have just been honest and reported yourself as the assertive potential you are.
But that’s precisely the problem. These tests are cognitive and do not test for skill. Particularly, the Myers-Briggs test, used by over 89 percent of U.S. Fortune companies, is known to have poor predictability in productivity in the workplace. In fact, Dr. David M. Boje, professor of Management Department at New Mexico State University, considers the Myers-Briggs results as archetypes that should not be seen as “anything more than Astrology.” In addition, he says it is “not valid or legal to use for personnel assignments, hiring, or promotion,” due the fact that it lacks predictive validity. Essentially, the test is popularized due to the hype it creates. It allows people to “get excited and treat the Myers-Briggs as a secret window into the mind of their co-workers.” In addition, since the test is based on “forced-choice” questions that identify the individual into four paired, bi-polar traits, an individual may be 49% “introverted,” but be categorized as “extroverted” as an archetype that speaks very poorly to his or her personality, work ethic or interests. In addition, the Myers-Briggs test, like the monthly horoscope, is heavily skewed on the positive results it produces. The world may certainly be full of INTJs or ENTPs, but what about MEANs and JERKs of the world?
I wish to see people taking better tests with stronger predictive values more seriously, but I strongly advocate for soulful, thoughtful considerations about vocation. Rather than viewing personality tests as a guideline or blueprint for one’s career, let’s view them as suggestions that come after our personal interests and ambitions. Instead, let’s cultivate diligence and value conscientiousness as our indicators of career success. As for finding vocation? Pretty, pretty please, don’t ever, ever feel, like you have to find it in a horoscope.
Follow Justina Huang on Twitter: @huanderwoman