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These Personality Tests Found Things Out That Only My Mom Knows

I took two assessments to see what they could say about me professionally. Both uncovered things my mom has seen in me since childhood–and some she hasn’t.

These Personality Tests Found Things Out That Only My Mom Knows
[Photo: Pablo Garcia Saldaña]

“I can think back to you being a fourth-grader with a walking stick. What fourth-grader has a walking stick?” my mother mused on the phone this week. She was reviewing the results of a career assessment I’d taken courtesy of Traitify, a platform that draws on psychological research to deliver personality profiles in just 90 seconds. (For the record, it was a lacquered hiking cane painted with various leaves–aspen, maple, birch–that a budding Ralph Waldo Emerson might encounter on a forest amble.) My “personality blend,” according to Traitify, is “Planner/Naturalist,” which my mom thought sounded mostly right.

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Personality assessments have long been used in executive coaching and career placement, but these instruments are being updated for the modern workforce. Some new platforms, for instance, use artificial intelligence to draw inferences about job candidates that can help hiring managers sidestep their own biases in deciding who’s a good fit for a role.

For Traitify, one main goal is speed, and with it, scale; it reasons that more employees will take a fun, quick, image-based assessment than sit through a boring 40-minute multiple-choice test. The more employees take the assessment, the more employers can gain company-wide data to optimize their workforces and aid in hiring.

While some psychologists question how dramatically personality impacts job performance, it’s easy to foresee companies gravitating to these tools to help speed up the hiring process and improve falling retention rates–but only if they’re accurate. So I took two such assessments to see what they could tell about my relative strengths and my career path. Then I asked my mom (the person who has known me the longest and arguably the best) to weigh in on whether the results resemble the 29-year-old journalist-who-sometimes-likes-hiking that she raised.

Finding A Job That Fits

Since my job is 100% based indoors, I scoffed at first at Traitify’s conclusions, which said that I’m an 82% match for a “precision agriculture technician” and 80% for a “zoologist or wildlife biologist.” (Mom’s riposte: “When you were 3 you were going to be a zookeeper.”)

But when I spoke with Traitify CEO Dan Sines, I learned that I was supposed to have taken the career assessment (a free trial rolled out this week) with work-related preferences in mind, and instead I might’ve thought too much about my overall interests and hobbies while answering (my bad!). Nonetheless, Sines told me that while my “personality blend” of Planner/Naturalist “is one of the most rare blends we have,” I’m still a 78% fit for my actual job as an editor. “That’s a good match, so they shouldn’t fire you,” Sines adds.

Planners (an 80% match in my case), he explains, are “detail-oriented, organized types,” whereas Naturalists (77%) “connect more with the outdoors or might feel recharged by that organic world.” The next two in line–Action-Taker (66%) and Inventor (63%)–“are really close as far as percents,” says Sines, and indicate that I’m a “hands-on physical doer [who takes] things on directly.” But, he adds, “your traits are a little bit all over the place. You’re very balanced.” My mother happens to agree: “It’s fairly accurate,” she says. “It really does characterize you as being very balanced.”

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The second Traitify assessment I took, which looks at the classic “Big Five” personality traits–of conscientiousness, openness, agreeableness, extraversion, and emotional stability–found something similar. On a 0–10 scale, my scores ranged from four to seven, with conscientiousness earning a seven and emotional stability a four; the rest were sixes. “You’re in the medium range for each of them,” said Sines.

Traitify sees its two instruments as complementary. “Careers is about figuring out what there is for you: What’s the path where you’re headed?” Sines explains, while “the Big Five is much more for the employer, [about] fit for the position: How likely are you to perform in that role?” And as he sees it, it’s good news that conscientiousness in my case “is fairly overwhelming,” since it’s one of the most looked-for traits among employers. Conscientious people are “very committed to goals and prioritizing order,” he says, “but they can still be flexible with their work.”

In other words, Traitify suggests not just that I’ve found a pretty good job for my strengths overall–because editing pulls in the more analytic and systematic tendencies of Planners as well as the more solitary, creative side of Naturalists–but also that my relative conscientiousness is a desirable quality across the board. All great stuff to be proud of, right, Mom?

The Road To Leadership Roles

But do these strengths remain strengths in leadership positions? Another assessment I took, called the CPI 260, is more akin to the traditional time-intensive questionnaires Traitify wants to replace.

The CPI 260 compares someone’s personality to a control group of executives and managers. The goal isn’t to predict job performance but to suggest steps toward professional development for those pursuing leadership roles. As Marta Koonz, a senior consultant at CPP, which developed the tool, puts it, the assessment basically says, “‘This where successful leaders fall, this is the sweet spot’–so it’s a coaching tool to get you there if you’re interested in leadership.”

Many of the CPI 260’s findings were dead ringers. When I took an eerily accurate emotional-intelligence test last summer, I likewise got high marks for “self-awareness,” for instance. But others seemed off–especially to my mother. About “resilience,” the CPI 260’s report reads, “Leaders who succeed are able to manage stress, bounce back from frustration and setbacks, and devote time to important areas of life outside work. They are realistically optimistic and show a healthy degree of independence and self-reliance.” And apparently, this isn’t quite me.

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Personally, I am not the world’s biggest optimist, so at least that part rings true. But the suggestion “that you don’t have balance in your life? They don’t know you,” my mom retorted. “You make that a priority. You’re not opposed to working hard and putting in the time, but you also reach a point where you know it’s time to step away.” So she disagreed with the “action step” suggesting more work-life balance. “You thrive in downtime because you get to do things you want to do,” which my mom agreed is crucial in leadership positions (she’s a school administrator herself).

Plus, my mom added, “I think you have worked under some very [high-pressure] situations and have risen to that challenge, and I’ve seen where you can get frustrated, but I’ve never seen you taking a defeatist attitude.”

Time, Context, And Other Caveats

Koonz offers some helpful perspective for interpreting results like these. “You want to remember that you took it at a moment in time, and all kinds of things can affect how you respond to an assessment–a long day at work, world events.”

And sure enough, I’d taken the CPI 260 right after Labor Day weekend, when the entire universe suddenly seemed to be back at their desks, firing off dozens of emails; it’s no surprise the instrument indicated that I felt stretched thin. Traitify is wise to those situational factors, too. My lower score for emotional stability, says Sines, indicates “how you might feel under pressured environments and constantly changing circumstances, but really at your level you’re pretty even-tempered”–in other words, the context matters when it comes to determining my ‘typical’ response.

What’s more, Koonz and my mother separately agreed that personality isn’t destiny. Not only is the CPI 260 meant strictly to give you a “snapshot”–essentially, “this is where you are now,” says Koonz–but our strengths and weaknesses aren’t necessarily consistent predictors of outcomes, she explains. “Sometimes we overuse our strengths,” which can turn them into liabilities depending on the circumstances.

Nonetheless, the CPI 260 singled out certain areas for development that my mom didn’t see as personality traits so much as signs of my current career stage–“a function of the fact that you’re still young and inexperienced, more than whether you have the potential for leadership,” she reflected, “where it wouldn’t take a lot of work, it would just take experience and time” to master them. For what it’s worth, I suspect Koonz would agree.

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So How Useful Is All Of This?

The highly contextual conclusions of all the personality assessments I took suggest their limits for career purposes. Psychologists generally see personality traits as mostly fixed but behaviors as highly adaptable, and both Traitify and the CPI 260 account for that reality in different ways. But perhaps the best way to decide how well you’ll do in a given job–leadership level or otherwise–is just to try it and see how you fare.

Trial and error might be an aggravating (and costly) approach from most employers’ perspectives, hence their interest in tools like these, but for better or worse, it remains the way most people tackle their careers: less an unswerving path forward than a winding hike through the woods.

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About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.

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