Quizzes and personality tests are some of the most popular sites on the internet. From learning what superhero you’re most like to figuring out where you should live, there isn’t a quiz imaginable that hasn’t been created. As much as I love taking some of those fun tests, when it comes to personal development, I usually recommend at least one of my five favorite personality tests.
Personality tests are popular for a reason; like mirrors, they offer a reflection of who we are. They also give us a fun way to talk to our friends, colleagues, and strangers about test results, and what parts we agree or don’t agree with. For those of us focused on personal development, however, it’s useful to dig a little deeper to find something that offers more rigor than what you might find on Buzzfeed, but also describes how the results relate to your personal life and professional career.
If you’ve read my article, Five Stages of Finding Your Life Purpose, you’ll probably recognize that personality tests are incredibly helpful for those in the Self-Discovery phase. However, even if you’re further along in one of the other phases, taking an assessment you haven’t done before or reviewing previous results can offer valuable insight.
As someone dedicated to lifelong learning and self-discovery, I’ve come across several personality assessments of various types and value. This article lists my favorite five, as well as a few other popular ones. Even though these are my personal favorites, you may have others that interest you instead. If that’s the case, please reach out to me on Facebook and let me know if you have a favorite that isn’t listed here.
What a Personality Test Can (and can’t!) Tell You
One of the reasons personality tests are so popular is that human personality is a complicated phenomena. We aren’t the same person every day, or even every moment of the same day. Having a shared language of personality helps us navigate complex relationships with others, helping them understand we are while we gain an understanding of our peers as well.
Even so, a personality assessment most likely reflects either who you are most of the time, or who you were at the time you took it. For the best results, one trainer I know recommends taking tests on a Saturday morning, when you’re relaxed with a cup of coffee. That way, you’re most likely to get a reading of your baseline personality, and not anything you’ve adopted to adjust to your work or family environment.
There’s also the issue of bias in the testing process. For example, the first time I took a Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment, the test showed me as ISTJ. I’m actually an INFJ, which we discovered during an all day training session, led by a certified MBTI® trainer. During that session, we did group exercises designed to help us understand and refine our results.
So, what happened to cause me to mis-categorize? The test was a series of choices between two words, and instructed us to choose which word we preferred. I was raised, educated, and later worked in environments that focused very much on logic and sensory perception, and disregarded intuition and feelings. So, based on those environmental factors, at the time I took the test I preferred those words. Had the test asked me to choose which words described me, I probably would have gotten the correct result the first time!
How to Take a Personality Test
As mentioned above, find a time, place, and environment where you feel completely relaxed, distraction-free, and above all, able to be YOU, and not some version of yourself you need to be to please someone else.
Be honest. If you’re not sure about the answer that suits you best, go with your strongest instinct, or first reaction, rather than trying to logic it out.
Have fun! This is part of the process of getting to know yourself better! If you don’t agree with the results, you’ve still learned something.
My Five Favorite Personality Tests
Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator®
One of the most well-known, but also misunderstood, tests, Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), looks at four key areas of personality: Introversion (I)/Extroversion (E), Sensing (S)/Intuiting (N), Thinking (T)/Feeling (F), and Judging (J)/Perceiving (P). Each person is categorized into one of sixteen personalities, based on those four areas. For example, someone might be ISTJ: Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, whereas their peer could be ENFP: Extroverted, Intuiting (N), Feeling, Perceiving.
Where this test gets tricky is that many of us have preconceived notions of what these words mean, and need to re-learn them within the context of the test. In the context of MBTI®, Judging refers to the tendency to categorize, organize, and create structure, a contrast to their Perceiving peers who have more of a take-things-as-they-come approach. The best versions of this test also offer a scale – just how introverted are you? I’m very introverted, but equally split on sensing & intuiting.
One of the great benefits of this test is that it helps you understand where inherent conflicts may arise in working with other people. An example I often use is myself and my brother. Where I am very much a J, and like to make lists and plan ahead, my brother is very much a P and does the exact opposite! We reached a compromise when we travel together: I get to make lists of all the possible things we might do in a city, but we don’t decide what we’ll do until we get there.
To get the best results from MBTI®, you’d need to pay for someone certified by MBTI Training Institute to administer the test and review the results with you. However, there’s a similar test out there, for free, at www.16personalities.com. After you take the test, and submit your email address, you’ll get a detailed report about your specific personality, as well as where you are on the continuum for each factor. They’ve also added a fifth component, called Identity.
Previously known as StrengthsFinder 2.0 (also the name of a companion book by Tom Rath), this assessment is based on the premise that leveraging our strengths will take us further than focusing on our weaknesses (I personally advocate a mix of both philosophies), StrengthsFinder has identified 34 key themes that describe our natural talents. By spending an hour going through 177 comparative statements, you’ll receive a customized report that lists the 34 themes in order, based on how they appear for you.
I can personally attest to the consistency of the results. As part of my leadership training many years ago, I had the opportunity to take a StrengthsFinder® assessment twice, several years apart. During those years, I’d had, and recovered from, a brain injury. I was somewhat relieved to see that I had the same top 5 strengths, but in a slightly different order!
In addition to the report, the books Strengths Based Leadership and Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder add additional insight. Strengths Based Leadership categorizes the 34 strengths into 4 key areas: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. Knowing where your strengths lie is helpful for understanding your strengths as a manager, and also for building a management team whose strengths complement each other. As a solopreneur, I found the entrepreneurship book mostly academic and underwhelming, but someone who is started a small business, rather than solo venture, could find value.
Similar to MBTI®, Gallup-certified Strengths Coaches are trained to administer the test and review results with you. While this may be helpful for some, the teams I’ve worked in have been satisfied with the results we received from reading the book and taking the online assessment.
Lesser known but also insightful is the personal branding work of Sally Hogshead. Designed to help you understand how others see you, you’ll learn what your primary and secondary Fascination Advantages are, as well as which one of 49 archetypes you fall into. For example, with a primary advantage of Prestige and a secondary advantage of Innovation, I’m considered an Avant-Garde, which means I am “original, enterprising, and forward-thinking.” Other Fascination Advantages are Passion, Trust, Mystique, Power, and Alert.
Once you know your type, you’ll find tools to help you create a personal anthem, which easily explains to others what you uniquely bring to the table. To be honest, I found those tools a bit confusing, but was able to create a workable statement for myself
There’s an option to create a team profile, which I haven’t explored. Similar to MBTI® and StrengthsFinder®, there are certifications courses for coaches and trainers offered periodically.
You can get a free assessment at https://www.howtofascinate.com/get-my-profile/assessment, which will then offer an upgrade to a full report.
VIA Character Assessment
The first time I worked with a life coach, she asked me to take this test, which focuses on characteristics within ourselves that we value. Rather than seeking out negative or neutral traits, the VIA Survey is designed to focus on our best qualities.
When I received my results, I wasn’t surprised to see Creativity as my top value. Rounding out my top three are Judgement (in this case, referring to thinking things through from all angles before making a decision) and Perspective (“offering wise counsel”). Not coincidentally, I see similarities with my MBTI® & StrengthsFinder® results: Judgement has similar characteristics in both MBTI® and VIA, and VIA’s Perspective is similar to StrengthsFinder®’s Input. The value-add here was that neither of these tests reflected on my need to be creative, but Fascination Advantage picked up on it, too!
The VIA report rounds out to rank a total of 24 different strengths. While useful for my own self-discovery and personal development, I have yet to use this in a workplace setting. However, I have heard that this tool is popular in classrooms, board rooms, and as a team building exercise.
By registering your email address and providing a few demographic details (presumably for further scientific study), you can get a free assessment at their website. They have a separate survey for adults and youth, and also offer the survey in many different languages.
9 Star Qi
Based on thousands of years of observation, and coming out of the Taoist tradition in China, 9 Star Qi may not appeal to some Western-minded thinkers because it’s based on birthdate. To my knowledge, with the exception of a few quirks observed based when someone is born relative to the school year, Western science has yet to explore any correlations between birthdays and personality. But just because Western scientists haven’t explored it doesn’t mean there isn’t a correlation. With thousands of years of observation and refinement, there’s a lot of informal data and statistics that have gone into the development of this system, and for those who are intuitively minded, it makes a LOT of sense. Besides, I have a math degree, and used to be an actuary; if you want to argue with me about whether there can be scientific merit in this method, you’re probably out-matched!
What fascinates me about 9 Star Qi, and what will appeal to the intuitive people reading this, is that it focuses on the idea of personal seasons and the rhythms of time, which we can see in the world around us through the lunar cycle, solar seasons, tides, and even psychological development in children and young adults. In other words, not only does it offer surprisingly accurate information based on when you were born, it also lets you know, based on which decade of life you’re in and where you are within a cycle of 9 “seasons,” what a year will be like. And, sure enough, I attracted a lot of attention during my “fire” year (associated with summer), but found things slow down quite a bit during the “water” year (which is associated with winter).
Although, 9 Star Qi has an elegant simplicity, there is a lot of depth to this system, and I encourage anyone who wants to explore it to take their time to truly understand the nuances. A great first step, and my first introduction to this system, is the book Your Hidden Symmetry, by Jean Haner, who also offers some online courses related to this system. Haner’s companion book The Wisdom of Your Face, about Chinese Face Reading, provides even more valuable information about how these elements and seasons show up in your life, and in the lives of those around you. Again, for the skeptics, if we believe that even part of our personality is based on genetics, it makes absolute sense that there would be a correlation with our physical appearance, which is also based on genetics!
Other popular personality tests
I’ll admit, I’ve yet to make heads or tails of this system, but I have colleagues who love it. Named for the Greek word for nine (ennea) & symbol (gramma), this system categorizes us into nine Enneagram types, based on how we think, feel, and act based on our worldview. A simple Google search will turn up tons of sites that offer Enneagram tests.
Laugh all you want, this is one of the first things I ask when I’m dating someone. Even in the workplace, discussing allegiance with Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, or Slytherin creates a fun, informal way to discuss differences in personality and values. I especially like tests that offer information on both primary & secondary houses. For example, a Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff blend will have different characteristics than a Ravenclaw/Slytherin.
Common misunderstanding: Slytherin is evil. Slytherin is actually more about ambition, and also includes intense loyalty to friends and family. They are, in many ways, similar to Gryffindors, but tend to be more focused on themselves and their circle rather than the broader, global community. (J.K Rowling might not agree with me on this. However, myself and other Ravenclaws, who have spent hours discussing this, feel she doesn’t quite get Ravenclaw, either!)
Another popular test that’s used often by coaches and HR departments, DiSC types describe our behavior in various situations, considering elements of dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance.
This is one of the first tests I took, and what I found particularly interesting was that even though I agreed with the results, our department head expected me to get something different! Sadly, I no longer have a copy of that report and can’t recall where our perceptions differed. I think she expected me to test as more inspiring than I did. My first DiSC assessment was taken back in the days when we only received paper, and not digital, copies; when I Mari Kondo-ed my apartment, it went in the recycle bin!
I just learned about this personality type assessment, and am eager to learn more. Another birthdate based assessment, I’m intrigued by this system. Human Design categorizes us into four types: Manifestors, Generators, Projectors, and Reflectors. On first glance, I do find some accuracy with their descriptions, as well as reflections upon strengths, weaknesses, and how we relate to others.
Whether you agree with it or not, astrology creates a common language for discussing personality types.
My biggest beef with astrology is simple. Remember that brother I mentioned, whose MBTI is quite different from mine? We were born a mere minute apart. The ONLY astrologer to be able to explain that to me was trained in a Vedic tradition (out of India), and said they have special charts just for twins. I haven’t explored the twin aspect of Vedic astrology further, but I did find her report more accurate than those I’ve received from Western astrologers.
It seems there are nearly as many personality tests out there as there are personalities, and each offers a different perspective on who we are. If you’re truly interested in doing some self-discovery, whether for your own enlightenment or as a team-building exercise, I recommend choosing two or three that complement each other, interest you, and are accessible based on your budget. With multiple perspective and reference points on your personality, you’ll have greater success in choosing careers, jobs, and relationships that suit your strengths and compliment any weaknesses.