Talking point

25th September 2015 at 01:00
are personality tests worth it?

A contented school staff often means the headteacher has found that elusive balance of personalities that creates a harmonious and productive workplace. Is this serendipity or can leaders engineer it? Advocates of personality tests would say the latter.

The most prevalent personality test in the UK is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It consists of 93 multiple-choice questions that Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs loosely extrapolated from Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. The MBTI offers a simple, ready-made system that splits candidates into 16 personality types: from introverts and extroverts to thinkers and feelers.

The method has detractors, but it is hugely popular. Many companies, schools and organisations still use it. And if, during hiring, you suspect a candidate may be a closet kleptomaniac with the potential to periodically pilfer the staffroom digestives, the MBTI might be the personality test you use to analyse them.

We asked three headteachers for their views on whether personality tests work.

Robin Bevan, headteacher of Southend High School for Boys, Essex

These tests remind us of the diversity of human personality, but they also alert us to the need to use more than just “show-off talk” as our guide to selecting the right candidate. At Southend High School for Boys, our recruitment process often involves written assignments, analytical tasks, guided conversations and card-sorting exercises. We may not use personality tests, but we acknowledge the importance of recognising and matching personality type to role. We use the psychological understanding from the Myers-Briggs model to prevent us from appointing clones.

Sarah Raffray, headteacher of St Augustine’s Priory, London

Some live and die by Myers-Briggs, but tests of this kind come with a health warning. We’re dealing with human beings, who are resistant to compartmentalisation. The conversations that follow the test are more important; the discussions that help to challenge and support potential colleagues. Proper dialogue and showing a person they matter is what counts.

Tim Wallace, headteacher of Paradykes Primary School, Edinburgh

I can tell a great deal from meeting candidates and observing them teach and interact with pupils. Another major consideration is whether new staff have a similar set of values to those my school promotes; this becomes clear when meeting with and observing candidates. I want my staff to have a mix of personalities but also a common set of values and a vision for young people. I am not convinced that comes from a costly personality test.

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