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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

3 Key Ways the Myers-Briggs Test Can Help Your Career (and 3 Ways it Can't)

person taking online personality test

The Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment is as ubiquitous in career planning as emails in offices. Anyone who’s visited their high school guidance counselor or college career center has probably taken some version of it and has their four-letter descriptor to show for it.

For the uninitiated, the assessment is based on four pairs, each with two opposite poles: Introversion/Extroversion; Intuition/Sensing; Feeling/Thinking; Perceiving/Judging. Based on how you respond to the assessment questions, you end up with an assigned pole from each pair. Each of these eight identifiers are abbreviated with a letter (I, for introversion, for example), so you end up with a four-letter type such as INFP, ESTJ, and so on.

Hardy though the Myers-Briggs is, having hung around more than 70 years, the assessment is periodically the subject of criticism and rightly so.

So, if you have that four-letter label, should you use it? And if so, how? Read on for three ways the this quiz can and can’t help you on your career path.

1. Selecting a Career Path

How it Helps

Although the test won’t spell out what you should do with your life, it can be useful for gaining insight that can inform your decisions about your future professional and personal endeavors. If you’re looking for a lot of career guidance, however, I recommend checking out other tools and personality tests as well.

When you receive your feedback report, whether from the Myers-Briggs or another source, avoid reading it as the ultimate truth. For that matter, never use any assessment or test result to select a single job to pursue. Life is far too complex for such reductionist mentality. Use it as a loose guide, a springboard for further exploration and discovery. The goal is to expand possibilities, not limit them. This might feel uncomfortable if you’re wrestling with a career direction. Remember that it’s OK to not have everything mapped out. Too much planning (or adhering too strictly to an assessment) could mean missing opportunities that arise out of happenstance or that are created when you combine your interests, experience, and education in unique ways.

How it Doesn’t

This is used by job centers across the country, and it can help you consider some broad areas that might be of interest. But it can’t decide on what path you should take. If a simple test could accomplish this, every school on Earth would administer it, and all of the existential anxiety we carry around about “Why am I here?” and “What am I going to do with my life?” would be the stuff of history.

2. Figuring Out Who You Are

How it Helps

The popular test can help you understand yourself a little better. You may learn to become more accepting of yourself, and you may be empowered to build on your natural strengths and manage your potential weaknesses. For example, I didn’t know before I received my Myers-Briggs’ results that I was an introvert; heck, I didn’t even really know what being an introvert meant. What I did know was that I had friends who wore me out with their boundless social energy, and I sometimes wondered why I couldn’t seem to muster a quarter of their enthusiasm for socializing.

Once I understood my preference for introversion and its meaning, I became comfortable with needing time away from people to recharge. Learning about this one preference provided insight and clarity about one part of myself that I now use to my advantage. Although I generally avoid networking events, I will volunteer to work an event, join a class, or participate on a committee, all of which allow me to connect with others in a structured way and on a smaller scale.

How it Doesn’t

Like figuring out your life path, no assessment can adequately explain who you are as a human. For all its value, it simply can’t account for your history, background, life circumstances, cultural influences, and the many other factors that impact and shape us. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that all of us have some degree of all eight traits in our personality mix.

If the assessment tells you that you’re a “perceiver” (as opposed to a judger), it doesn’t mean you exclusively exhibit perceiver traits. It means that, in general, your perceiver tendencies are stronger than your judger tendencies. The degree to which this is true also depends on how strong your “perceiver” preference is; it’s not an all-or-nothing dichotomy.

3. Understanding Other People

How it Helps

I score high on the Intuition (N) scale, so I am primarily big-picture oriented instead of detail-oriented; I’m intrigued by possibilities instead of focused solely on the facts in front of me. I used to get frustrated with people who were high on the sensor scale because their way of understanding the world was so different from my own. Now I know that a sensor’s practical, down-to-Earth approach offers a good balance to my idealistic and not-always-concrete way of interpreting information.

I have more appreciation and more patience for these folks now. No, you don’t need the test to understand others, but it can certainly provide a framework for thinking and talking about differences, and learning to appreciate and capitalize on those differences. Being able to understand and work with others is certainly key to your professional success.

How it Doesn’t

These four letters won’t explain why your boss is miserable and moody, why Rick in accounting is a snob, or why Mandy in outside sales says inappropriate things. It’s not a diagnostic tool and, again, can’t encompass the whole spectrum of influences in our lives that impact who we are. It’s also important to remember that, just like with understanding yourself, this is just a guide in helping you understand other people. If you use the results as hard-and-fast labels for others, you will damage your relationships and miss out on peoples’ abilities that surpass simple labels.

Remember, at the end of the day, a single assessment doesn’t define you or anyone else. This is just a tool—a guide to help you think about how you interact with others, process information, and approach the world around you. It’s the understanding gained from the assessment that’s important, not the labels.

And it’s totally OK if you take the assessment and wholly disagree with your results. That means you’ve spent time considering what the feedback means and how those qualities manifest themselves (or don’t) in your life. That, my friends, is knowledge and awareness you can use to your advantage, and, well, that’s pretty much the whole point of the test.