Perhaps the cooler months of winter encourage us to look inward. Maybe the sluggish economy is generating job uncertainty and anxiety. Or maybe we are collectively raising our self-awareness. I’m not sure, but I am seeing an explosion of interest in self-assessment measures, so it might be helpful to revisit personality inventories, seeing how to add that flash of insight to what you already know about yourself. What can personality inventories tell us about ourselves, and why should we do them? What types are out there?

What personality tests are and what they can tell you

Many so-called “personality tests” were originally designed to help guidance counsellors channel students into appropriate occupations. Also called “psychometric measures”, they are widely used by recruitment agencies and prospective employers to determine if a person is suited to a particular role. They are not “IQ” tests. In theory, they give you insights about how you typically are without making you “right” or “wrong”; in reality, they don’t all achieve that! Some of the aspects measured include:

  • Your personality type
  • Your primary (especially work) values
  • Your work and general interests
  • Your strengths and skills
  • Work environments and occupations that might be satisfying to you
  • Aptitudes you may have (e.g., learning languages)

Why do one – and with what attitude?

Why should you bother with a personality inventory, especially if you know yourself well? You might be at a work/life crossroads, experiencing intense personal growth, or just curious. In reality we all have hundreds of skills and typically use some but not all at any given time. We tend to be familiar with our “motivated skills” (the skills we love using), but we also have other, less known, strengths. These could come into play in satisfying, new ways in our lives, so not to bring them onto our “radar screen” is to sell ourselves short.

  • You can do such measures with professional help or just by yourself, usually online. The original versions of the main inventories have often been scientifically validated (meaning that they measure what they say they do), but – far less expensively, and often free – there now exist many “clones” of the original measures which give you approximately the same results. All of these, however, are most useful to you if you do them noting that:
  • You are better off to do multiple measures (especially with the free clones) and compare the results, finding your truth in the middle of them. However, if four tests say you have excellent persuasive skills, build rapport well, and therefore should go into sales, you might want to consider it!
  • Most instruments put you into a group and then describe the group, but the group might not describe you. You are unique. Take your results with a grain of salt!
  • Be guided by your intuition. If the test says you are an “extravert”, for example, because you comfortably strike up conversations with people, you might still acknowledge your strong introvert side, which needs to be alone to re-charge.
  • You are a growing, changing individual. Results you got 20 years ago are probably still partially valid, but tests now may better show recently-emerged skills. Don’t believe any test which says you are permanently “x”.

What are the main personality inventories?

Careers expert Richard Bolles has reviewed the main instruments and observes that we can divide them into five “families”. Over the next several blogs, we will look more deeply at individual measures, but here is a brief description of the five types:

  1. The Five Factor Model (called the Big Five Personality Test in its free online incarnation). This measures traits of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism/emotional stability. Big Five is at: or
  2. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Enormously popular, especially in corporate circles, this questionnaire (learn more about it here: based on Carl Jung’s work measures psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. The results are a four-letter code indicating which of 16 personality types you are (based on 4 dichotomies in which you display a preference for being closer to one pole or the other). The type you are said to be is abbreviated by the letters of one of each of these four pairs: Extraversion or Introversion, Sensing or iNtuition, Thinking or Feeling, and Judging or Perceiving (e.g., you could be ENTP). Head to: for a clone.
  3. The Holland Codes (a.k.a. RIASEC). John Holland mapped six types of personality onto a hexagon which broke down into the RIASEC job environments. Some online versions measure interests, values, and skills. Your results will describe your 3-letter RIASEC code (the three RIASEC types that most closely match your interests), and explain how to use your code in career planning. See a Holland clone at: Here are the career-related types:
    • Realistic: practical, physical, hands-on, tool-oriented
    • Investigative: analytical, intellectual, scientific, explorative
    • Artistic: creative, original, independent, chaotic
    • Social: cooperative, supporting, helping, healing/nurturing
    • Enterprising: competitive environments, leadership, persuading
    • Conventional: detail-oriented, organizing, clerical
  4. The Birkman Method (The Princeton Review Career Quiz). The Princeton Review (short version of the Birkman Method) yields a description of your skills, interests, and preferred style (described in terms of the “Birkman Colours”), and also a list of careers. Go to:
  5. The Enneagram. Relatively new, the Enneagram proposes nine personality types which diagnose your emotional outlook on life, pointing out where you may have underlying “fixations”. It is particularly popular within the self-help and personal growth movements. To check out these, go to: or

If you want to explore more of who you are, have a think about what, specifically you wish to find out about yourself. There is a test for just about everything!

Dr Meg Carbonatto is an author, writer and educator. Meg holds Diplomas in Psychotherapy and Counselling, a Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics and Education and Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Bilingual Education. Meg is a course writer for AIPC and Mental Health Academy.


  • Bolles, D. (2014). For career changers: How long should you wait for your dream? Dick Bolles, Inc. Retrieved on 30 March, 2016, from: hyperlink.
  • Bolles, D. (2014b). The history of life work planning. Retrieved on 23 March, 2016, from: hyperlink.