Many years ago when I did the training to become a licensed user of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) it was impressed on me that the instrument is not to be used for recruitment purposes. As there is only one licensed provider of MBTI training in the UK, I’m fairly confident that everyone else who has been through the same training will have been given the same message. And yet, there are many companies who routinely put candidates through the test and use Myers-Briggs types as part of their recruitment process (I’ve been known to rant about this but I’m restraining myself today). 

A case study

For a few years now, I have worked in partnership with Vinehouse Essential, a Recruitment Consultancy specialising in Owner-managed businesses and Entrepreneurs, where, as part of their process I interview candidates and compile their Language and Behaviour (LAB) Profile. The evidence suggests that this is a very powerful addition to the process and contributes to a retention rate way above average.

Vinehouse have a retention rate of 94% – that is candidates who stay and are successful in the job for a year or more, compared to an industry average of around 25-30%.

On extolling the virtues of this approach, I was recently asked, “Why is it okay to use the LAB Profile in recruitment when it’s not okay to use MBTI?”

Good question.

The simple answer is this: MBTI is a personality test, whereas the LAB Profile focuses on (guess what!) language and behaviour.

To be more specific, the MBTI is a personality test.

It assesses motivations, preferences and natural tendencies but does not assess competence. So it may tell you that you have a preference for logical thinking but it doesn’t have any way of assessing the standard of your logical thinking. It might highlight a preference for Extrovert experiences but can’t tell whether your interpersonal skills are any good. You see? It only focuses on Type and doesn’t provide any indication of how effective you are in your type.

MBTI doesn’t predict behaviour.

why MBTI is not suitable for recruitment

We are all capable of learning skills and behaviour that relate to opposite types. In fact, in some cases, we have better-developed skills in those areas that don’t come naturally because we’ve had to consciously work at them. An Introvert can have superb interpersonal and presentation skills. They may want to lie down in a darkened room after a long day at a conference, but as the employer, that’s not necessarily your business.

In recruitment, therefore, a person’s Type is not a very useful piece of information.

It’s not compared to any job criteria and doesn’t give an indication of competence. Many people make the mistake of confusing preference with competence, but in fact the two are distinctly different. You knew that!

I have to conclude that when MBTI is used in recruitment, it’s probably because the recruiters are not making the distinction between preference and competence. If their success in placing candidates isn’t great, it’s not the fault of the MBTI, although I suspect it sometimes gets the blame.

And another thing…

Like most personality tests (I spent part of my degree studying personality testing so I feel qualified to comment here) the test-retest reliability of the MBTI is embarrassingly low. If you take a test today and then do it again in a few days’ time (or a few months, or years) it’s highly likely that you’ll get a different result.

Why? Because all self-assessed questionnaire-based tests are highly sensitive to your mood.

They’re also incredibly easy to cheat if you know what they’re measuring. I know I could easily fill out a MBTI test that showed me to be an ESTP type, when in fact my True Type is INFJ. That’s because I know the model. I know what each question is aimed at and I know which answer to give to generate which type in the final report.

Which brings me to…

The point about the MBTI is it’s intended for use as a development tool. Properly administered, the online test is the starting place for a dialogue about personality or Type with a qualified person, in which the distinction is made between Reported Type (which the questionnaire returns) and the True Type, which is the actual personality of the individual. The True Type is discovered through dialogue. You could argue that the questionnaire isn’t needed and a skilled practitioner can diagnose type without it, but it’s always interesting to see the person’s self-perception as well.

I’ve enjoyed using MBTI in individual coaching and in team development programmes. It’s a very rich model and actually recognises that personality develops over time, so that your dominant traits will shift as the years progress. That’s for another day…

Back to the LAB Profile…

So why is the LAB Profile okay to use in recruitment when the MBTI is not? Well, the LAB Profile is not a personality test. It profiles a person’s language and behaviour in a specific context.

The LAB Profile recognises that people behave differently in different contexts.


By focusing on the context of work, we can discover a person’s motivation triggers and behavioural preferences, which serve to help us predict the language they will both use and respond to as well as their behaviour in that specific context.

This means that by analysing tasks that are part of the job, it’s possible to create a LAB Profile for the role, against which candidates can be compared. In the process in which I play a part, (alongside all the usual review of qualifications and experience) behavioural competence is tested through the use of task-based application procedures, designed to screen out candidates who do not enjoy or excel at that kind of task. It takes skill to design a task to test the right traits, but it’s very powerful.

The final advantage of the LAB Profile is that the profile is compiled through an expert interview.


And since the LAB Profile is still relatively unknown, the interviewees don’t tend to know what we’re focusing on and we get a very accurate profile. In most cases, even if they did know our focus, very few people have the behavioural flexibility to fake it – and if they did, they’d probably have enough behavioural flexibility to succeed in a role that demanded something other than their natural preferences.

So that’s why it’s okay to use LAB Profile for hiring and development of your people. In fact it’s more than okay, it’s a very powerful and useful tool for recruiters.

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