Hiring for Cognitive Diversity

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Ideal vs Practical us of Personality Type

From the very first days in studying MBTI, you are told that under no circumstances are you to use Personality Type as a gauge of whether someone should be hired for a certain position. To do so would be outright discriminatory and open your company up for litigation– and you would certainly lose. 

But, in all honesty, people tend to develop skills that go with their type. And consider, in the extreme case of only hiring by type, would retention or performance be worse? No. In fact, it will likely improve.

We know from simply being alive that there are certain personalities that work splendidly in a role, as if they were born to do that job. Other people, we couldn’t imagine them lasting 2 seconds in that same role. In this way, we recognize personality exists and that we ALL have gifts that fit certain roles. Not just in a corporate sense, but in the overall societal structure. 

group of people having a meeting

We also have an excess amount of studies showing that certain types cluster in specific fields of study, career, and hobbies. This is another solid data point that shows that personality exists.

There are those who will exclaim that they know an INFP who is a top-level CEO – and undoubtedly this is true,  and this isn’t the argument – and that their anecdote proves something. All it proves to me is that there are outliers within the spectrum of the 16 personality types that fit into niches you’d never expect. We can’t use outliers to deny reality.

My main argument against the ethical use of MBTI is that it should be used as a way to hire better candidates. But not in the way you think. It’s still ethical AND a win for both sides of the transaction. 

And the nuance I want to offer is that I am not advocating for only interviewing those that take a pre-employment assessment and get those 4 specific types you’ve chosen to be a good fit for the role. 

No, no, no. 

I advocate for asking specific type-related questions that would be almost impossible for someone outside that Type to answer without sounding fake, rehearsed, or downright awkward. 

person sitting in a chair in front of a man

But there are two challenges. The first is assuming people honestly report their type. A very close friend of mine has been a corporate recruiter for 15 years, and his company uses an MBTI assessment during pre-screening of candidates. He says over 90% tends to fall into 1 of 4 types, ESTJ, ENTJ, ESFJ, ISTJ. Funny story, and one good example of why the MBTI during pre-employment is going to be skewed anyway. People say what they think a company wants to hear in order to get hired: ”What does this employer want me to score?”

Then there is the second challenge: companies hiring in a simplistic way without attending to blindspots. Someone might think, ‘Mary is our top performer, Mary has ESTP preferences, therefore we should hire more ESTPs.’ Well, a few more ESTPs will likely be fine, even a boon. But what are the blindspots? The team will be brittle. And it will eventually blow up. In real life, every team needs an NT for strategy, an NF for diplomacy, an SJ for logistics, and an SP for tactics. In short, every team needs cognitive diversity.

assorted-color smoke

A good example is hiring for a customer service representative. We know the qualities we would want as a customer and as an employer: empathetic, caring, wanting to help, calm, ability to de-escalate, great listener, etc.  From an MBTI perspective, you would be looking for 4 types: INFJ, ENFJ, ISFJ, ESFJ. 

But again, the idealism we’ve created around the ethical use of MBTI and hiring practices says we can’t just write on the job description: “Must score [these types] to be considered for this role.” So what we do is formulate questions based on our deep understanding of Type and the internal mindset of those Types.

Here are some practical ways you can implement some interview questions that directly use MBTI without directly using MBTI.

For the customer service rep:

  • Describe how you experience empathy.
  • What do you think is the best way to de-escalate an irate customer?
  • What is your goal during a customer service call?
  • Before you answer a call, what thoughts go through your mind?
  • What does it feel like when you solve a problem for a customer?

I am attempting to get to the inner dialogue of the candidate. I am not trying to ask too many questions about ‘how to do it’ but rather the mindset around doing it. My experience when asking ‘how to do itquestions is that you get the ideal response. You get the response that the candidate knows is the right one, whether or not that’s their actual experience of it. 

grayscale photogaphy of man sitting on concrete bench

The way to combat these idealized responses is by completely avoiding questions that can be prepared for.  Questions like, “Name a time when you had to overcome a challenge? How do you handle conflict? Tell me about yourself.” These are guaranteed to elicit canned responses.

Here’s an example of generalized questions that work no matter the role:

  1. What is your philosophy around [select activity]?
  2. Where do you see [select industry] going?
  3. What are the top 3 skills you need to be a great [select role]?
  4. How should people approach you with new ideas?

I propose these types of questions because they are hard to prepare for and lend themselves towards honest, on-the-spot answers. The overall goal is to receive real responses and not those that can be Googled. 

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