What Personality Tests Tell You

ENFJ. Orange. Pioneer. 7. Aquarius.

Do any of those terms mean anything to you? They're my results for the most popular personality tests I've taken (no, those Buzzfeed ones don't count). We like to think that personality tests can't or don't encompass who we are. How can we reduce something so complex as a personality down to just a few traits? 

Yes, and no.

I've taken the Myers-Briggs test 3 different times throughout my life: Once in high school, once in college, and once at my first job. I've had the same results each time—and I can say for certain that I'm not the same kid that walked through the halls of Hopkinton High. Does that mean I didn't really change or grow? No. What it means is that the core of who I am and how I interact with the world has stayed the same. 

Why take a personality test?

Personality tests are a framework. Like all frameworks, they have strengths and weaknesses. Can they be reductive? Yes. But they also serve as a helpful shortcut for relationships, especially professional ones. You're constantly going to be working with colleagues, clients, and managers who are different than you are, who come from different backgrounds, and who process the world in a different way. With time of course, it becomes easier to work with someone else. You get to know their quirks. A personality test can bypass some of that time by explaining those "quirks" in a more fundamental way. 

Above all, it can be a shortcut for you to understand how you work with others and your strengths. Here are a few to look into if you're interested in becoming more self-aware.

Myers-Briggs

Myers-Briggs is the grandaddy of personality tests.

The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.
— Myers-Briggs Institute

Myers-Briggs divides personalities up into 16 comprehensive types, and each type can exist on a spectrum. Essentially, it covers four categories:

  • E vs. I: Extroversion vs. Introversion. Do you draw your energy from the people around you, or from within?
  • S vs. N: Sensing vs. Intuition. Do you stick with the facts, or go with your gut?
  • T vs. F: Thinking vs. Feeling. When making a decision, do you focus on logic, or the people and circumstances around the decision?
  • P vs. J: Perceiving vs. Judging. Are you a planner, or do you go with the flow?

You can see an overview of all the types here.

NCTI Real Colors

Like Myers-Briggs, NCTI was created based on the same psychological concepts. However, real colors focuses on temperament. Who are you at your default? They take complicated psychological concepts and make it much more visual and real. They also simplify each type, going with four colors:

Because the real colors are much simpler, it's an easier shortcut, especially when trying to figure out how to work with someone else. While I only really know my type in Myers-Briggs, it's pretty easy to memorize what the four colors are like.

Marcus Buckingham Strength Finder

This one is my favorite, because it taught me that being good at something and having it be a strength isn't necessarily synonymous. Buckingham pairs this with a book that walks through each type of strength and explains why leaning into your strengths is just as important, if not more so, than fixing your weaknesses.

He divides strengths into 9 types, with each person receiving a primary and a secondary strength:

  1. Advisor
  2. Connector
  3. Creator
  4. Equalizer
  5. Influencer
  6. Pioneer
  7. Provider
  8. Stimulator
  9. Teacher

Each strength works together differently. For instance, my primary strength was Pioneer, and my second was Influencer—I "put the energy in novelty." Whereas if my primary strength was Pioneer, and the secondary was Teacher, my strength would be guiding others to see the new.

Enneagram

The Enneagram, like most of these tests, seeks to identify your most basic self. While you may have elements of every personality type within you, which one is your most dominant? They focus on an interconnected group of nine personality types, shown by this figure:

Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.

Type Two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.

Type Three is adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.

Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.

Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.

Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.

Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.

Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.

Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.
— The Enneagram Institute

Chances are, you have a good sense of self. You know what you like and what you dislike. But maybe you're not sure what your next step should be. Or how to work best with the person in the office next door. Or you're just wondering if you were meant for something more.

A personality test is a tool, and like all tools, shouldn't be your be-all-end-all when it comes to your sense of self. But whether you take one or all of them like me, you'll find a framework that can give you some guidance and direction when it comes to what you want, what you're good at, and how to become your best self.