We need to change the way we profile people.
Throw personality profiling into Google and in no time you'll be wading through pages and pages of how to's, testimonials and a thousand books on the subject.
The idea's been with us for a while and a whole industry has grown up around the idea that we can all be pigeon-holed into one of the 'big five' personality types. However, for anyone considering pursuing a career in it, or looking to hire someone on the back of it, there's a problem.
Some new research from psychologists at Edinburgh University has emerged that suggests the whole personality profiling thing might just be a load of old nonsense.
Personality profiling has its roots, as one would expect, in psychology. In the 19th century back when psychology was the new black the idea of self and personality was bouncing around the pages of respected journals and lecture theatres all over the world. One prominent thinker, William James, went as far to say that we developed a personality by the age of 30 which 'would set like plaster'. A lot of the ideas behind HR and Profiling come from this simple tenet. The concept that once we hit a certain point in our lives our personalities become us, is part of what makes the whole HR profiling machine tick. Some of us are born to lead, some of us are born to listen and some are born awkward.
The problem with this model is that it doesn't work in practice and for a simple reason. We change. We can all change how we are to suit the different situations we find ourselves in. The environment. Our emotional state. Our work situation. Our sense of physical well-being. They can all have a significant impact on our prevailing temperament and our future personality. Some of us change often... some change just a little and some can change quite a lot. This probably explains why most profiling inventories are so very poor at predicting how people actually do behave in real-life situations, like when they are under pressure. And that's simply because our behaviour can vary quite dramatically depending upon the circumstances.
Our age makes a difference too. Can anyone honestly say they are the same person they were when they were 20? Apparently, we change a lot in our '20s and we also change a lot after we hit 60. Other research also suggests that where we live can have a dramatic effect on our personality too. New Yorkers were found to be more neurotic than most folk and people in London can (apparently!) be very disagreeable.
There is also some concern that the 'Big Five' personality types don't go far enough.
For those unfamiliar with the process, subjects are generally asked questions about how strongly they feel about certain statements and from their answers they can be filed under one of five major personality types. The types are agreeable, conscientious, open to experience, neurotic and extrovert. Some psychologists believe that the narrow margin for this form of questioning can miss out some inherently important personality traits and most importantly it can miss most of the negative ones. Routinely there's nothing in the 'Big Five' tests to determine how dishonest or sneaky or manipulative a candidate is.
So if you're thinking about using personality profiling as a way to vet a new member of your team, or if you think your own recent results define exactly who you are, you may just want to think again.