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  • Dr Gary Townsend

Free Personality Assessments. What could go wrong?

Updated: May 24, 2021

We all need certainty. Whether to take the guesswork out of life and the decisions that impact us or simply to understand what makes us and others’ tick.

The truth is, we all are generally shoddy when it comes to figuring out who we are. Not because we don’t know what we’re feeling but rather that we often don’t have an idea why we feel or react in certain ways.

So, how cool would it be if you could simply answer a couple of questions about yourself, press a button, and have a report explain to you either that “You bear a modest resemblance to persons who prefer "investigative" work” or that, “In social situations you are very sociable, expressive, animated, fun-loving and gregarious”.

That would really be handy not so? No more guessing. Just being told which career path to take and whether your personality profile seems suited for that choice. Immediate clarity. Instant gratification. However, what if the tool you decided to use to measure this was flawed? What if it was in fact not measuring your interests or personality accurately? More importantly, what if you decided to use this information to decide something as critical as your future career or job satisfaction?

Is that even possible?

Consider this. You’re getting ready to launch your incredible self into the next phase of your life – post high school studies. You’ve long reconciled your childhood fantasies of being a cowboy or the first female astronaut (only because it’s been done before) with the reality of the Technikon or University application deadline circled on your well graffitied whiteboard.

So, what to do. My bet is an action based on two singular criteria – convenience and cost. You then reach for your laptop, launch Google, and type in “free personality assessment” and hit enter.

As expected, the great Google machine enthusiastically regurgitates countless suggestions based on its all-powerful, all knowing, algorithm.

You no longer just have your blank expression staring back at you from your mirror but now, you’re confronted with limitless rabbit-holes to go tearing down. I mean, after all, it’s free? Right?

So what could go wrong?

Let me suggest that, before you commit the next few hours of your precious time navigating these rabbit holes some algorithm thought you needed, you consider this. Free personality assessments are typically just that – free - but of science. These assessments are free because they’re more than likely used as click-bait to distract your honest intention to something tangential or totally irrelevant. More likely to shift your focus to where the producers of the content ultimately want you to be, as opposed to where you need to be. These “assessments” are usually more entertainment than measures. Much like horoscopes, tapping into just enough generalisation for you to see some vague alignment between a personality profile that is being suggested and what you instinctively feel about yourself. And if not, you’ll more than likely find yourself squeezing yourself into it until it fits. What we refer to technically as – confirmation bias or self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you’re simply surfing the net aimlessly for fun things to pass the time then by all means, dive into as many of these as you like. However, when you’re trying to figure out what the factual basis for your future career should be and whether there’s a high probability that your personality matches those of the majority of people that are contented and fulfilled in similar careers, then you just cannot take the least expensive path. Good measures, with solidly researched and validated constructs will have some costs attached. Not because they’re trying to rip you off but simply because it takes time and professional expertise to develop, analyse and test the effectiveness of good, quality measures. Also referred to as, validating the test.

Validity is a technical term we use to let others know that the assessment is accurate and that there is a high probability that what it says about your potential career interests, aptitude, and personality is more than likely accurate. That, unlike the free pop personality quizzes littering the web, they have been proved to be accurate in high stakes situations like career decisions and personal development.

Sometimes it's worth the cost

So, while no measure is 100% accurate, much like most thermometers vary in precision in very small ways, there is no way you can compare the accuracy of a thermometer with a finger-test. It’s exactly the same when you consider the difference between a free personality quiz and a validated assessment you may have to pay for. One is calibrated and accurate while the other is free – free of science.

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