April 16, 2014
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the most common personality assessment tools used by employers. Behavior preferences are tested across four scales, resulting in a total of 16 types. While the benefits of understanding variations among personality traits are obvious for hiring and team-building, Otto Kroeger, author of “Type Talk at Work,” says that personality type should not be used as the sole criteria for hiring.
“Any of the sixteen types has the potential to be successful at any job,” Kroeger writes. “Some types in certain positions may have to work harder, but they can be just as effective.”
Whether your company uses personality assessments or not, your recruiting practices can benefit from a better understanding of how the different personality types operate. MBTI research shows significant variation in how the different types communicate.
One scale measured by the MBTI is “Sensing” vs. “Intuition.” While everyone takes in information from their five senses, we have different ways of filtering this information.
According to Kroeger, “Sensors prefer to focus on the facts and the details of something and have less need to interpret what they mean.” They tend to be pragmatic, literal and communicate with concrete language. Because “70 percent of the U.S. population prefers to gather information in this way,” according to Kroeger, much of the world’s business communication is oriented toward concreteness.
Intuitives gather information and immediately translate it through their intuition, “looking for possibilities, meanings, and relationships among various things,” according to Kroeger. They like to see the big picture. Intuitives see the forest first and then look at the trees. Sensors work the other way around. The wide-open orientation of Intuitives means they prefer to use abstract language. They tend to speak in generalities and summaries, and they look for symbols and analogies rather than interpreting information in a literal fashion.
Language usage is one important factor in your employer website and job descriptions. If 70 percent of the population communicates with mostly concrete language, and 30 percent prefers abstract language, recruiters could be missing out on a large portion of the population if their communication appeals to only one of end of the scale.
If it were an all-Sensing world, recruiters would provide a list of skills and job seekers would try to match up their qualifications one by one. This would entail a black-and-white scenario that left no room for personal preferences and passion. If it were an all-Intuitives world, recruiters could write job descriptions in vague terms. For example, a Facilities Coordinator job description would read simply, “keep our offices running smoothly” without any indication of the tasks that role entails. Then candidates would sell recruiters on the possibility of how they could perform in the future, rather than provide specific evidence regarding past performance.
The key to attracting the appropriate type for the position is to create a balance in communication somewhere between abstract and concrete. Every job has concrete tasks that must be achieved, whether they’re spelled out in abstract or concrete language. The higher up the organizational structure, the more abstract that tasks become.
For example, a job description for an entry-level Facilities Coordinator position lists the following responsibility: “Assist with basement storage and retrieving of files for employees.” This concrete task is described in concrete language.
At the same company, an opening for Senior Director, Brand Analytics and Research lists this responsibility: “Lead global knowledge sharing to help client service, strategy and design teams understand the role of research and analytics.”
Any number of concrete tasks, such as sending emails, holding meetings, or drawing up a plan and delegating responsibilities will be undertaken to achieve that goal. “Lead,” as used here, is an abstract verb that can be interpreted in multiple ways, while “retrieve” in the Facilities Coordinator example is a concrete verb that evokes an image of frequent trips to the basement. Whether a candidate is a Sensing or Intuitive type, years of accumulated experience will enable him or her to know how to execute this abstract task.
Finding a balance between concrete and abstract is key to appealing to candidates’ higher-level goals and accumulated experience, while focusing them on exactly what is needed in the position.
A company’s mission and vision are often communicated with abstract terms. However, when paired with images, they can evoke a concrete picture of what the company does, what it’s like to work there, and appeal to a candidate’s higher sense of purpose. For example, Airbnb’s mission, when paired with the images (including a video) on its employer page, communicates a clear idea of what the company does and gives an indication of its culture.
- What we build in here (video on how the AirBnB site was built)
- Brings people together in the real world (image of people smiling together)
- Grants access to the unknown (image of teepee)
- Inspires and creates a world of potential (image of people behind a half-open door)
- It’s only beginning (image of document containing the word ‘Introduction’)
Branding, as rule, is abstract. If articulating the difference between Coke and Pepsi were left to the concrete communicators, we would see nothing but taste-test commercials. Because abstract communicators have come up with wildly differing visions of what it means to drink Coke vs. Pepsi, we are able to express an opinion about one brand of carbonated brown sugary drink over another (and be entertained during commercial breaks!).
The MBTI is scored on a continuum, with few people exhibiting 100 percent of all the identified traits on any of the four scales. Thankfully, the world doesn’t work in polarities. The beauty of the MBTI and other personality assessments is that they view many perspectives as necessary and valid and acknowledge the value in understanding the differences.
When the new Senior Director in the above example asks the Facilities Coordinator to retrieve research reports from the basement in order develop a plan for global knowledge sharing, we see the necessity of each position and the importance of communicating appropriately to appeal (1) To a candidate’s ability to do a specific task, (2) To their accumulated knowledge and experience, and (3) To their sense of mission and vision.
The world—and your job descriptions and employer branding pages—should appeal to both the abstract and concrete, general and specific, theoretical and empirical.
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