Young Chinese Obsess Over Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, the 60s American Personality Test
Newly graduated from university in May, Bai Shu had her sights set high on a job at a leading domestic bank. Confident in her ability to get the job, she was shocked when she found that she was rejected. The reason the bank gave her was that she is an ENTJ, also known as a “Commander,” one of 16 personality types described by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI.
In the past year, MBTI has been appearing in more and more areas of Chinese society, from recruitment to consumption. It remains unclear what is driving the popularity of this test, published by American mother and daughter Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in 1962.
Some have speculated that it appeals to Chinese people’s predilection for categorization. What is more clear is that among some young Chinese, the test is no longer just a fun personality questionnaire: Their MBTI is a key part of their identity.
For Bai, being an ENTJ makes her assertive and strident in the workplace, according to the profile of the “Commander” personality on the website of 16 Personalities, one of the most popular MBTI testing sites in China.
“Subordinate positions are challenging for ‘Commanders,’ and it takes active management to ensure their satisfaction and engagement,” the description says.
Following the rejection, 23-year-old Bai immediately withdrew her other applications, in which she had included her MBTI type. She then avoided applying to companies that require personality tests such as MBTI.
In recent years, increasing numbers of recruiters are asking applicants to take personality tests or disclose their MBTI results. Certain types are preferred over others. For instance, compared to the “extroverted” ENTJ “Commanders,” “introverted” ISFJ “Defenders” are “invaluable to their bosses,” according to the latter’s 16 Personalities profile.
A Tianjin-based CEO of a small company told Sixth Tone that she asks applicants for their MBTI during their interviews as a way to get to know them quicker, rather than as a way to filter them.
“I know many recruiters who are screening interviewees with various personality tests. But I don’t think that’s reliable as they can just change their answers on purpose,” the CEO said, requesting anonymity for privacy reasons. She added that subtle differences between English and Chinese MBTI questionnaires may also deliver different results.
Given the uncertainties, she instead uses MBTI as a reference for her recruitment as well as for onboarding new recruits.
The spread of MBTI has extended beyond the workplace. Online, MBTI-related hashtags and videos have attracted millions of views in recent months. Accounts promoting MBTI memes and analysis, including which two personality types are compatible, have garnered millions of fans.
Netizens are also speculating on the MBTI types of celebrities and characters in popular TV shows. On dating apps such as Tinder and Intelcupid, young singles often include their own and their preferred MBTI types in their bios, usually based on analysis about which types are more compatible.
Responding to increasing interest in MBTI, merchants are rolling out MBTI-related products on Taobao, including bottles, pins, and pendants. Such products often appear on Taobao’s list of most-searched products, with electric fans proving particularly popular in recent months.
Some companies are looking to make a profit even more directly. In contrast to the free 16 Personalities test, a popular account sharing psychology-related articles on messaging app WeChat called KnowYourself has provided an “advanced” MBTI test priced at 59 yuan ($8.26) since July 2022, with around 20,000 customers so far.
Twenty-five-year-old Liu Jiapei, an ENTP “debater”, described as a rule-breaker on 16 Personalities, told Sixth Tone that videos analyzing MBTI helped him through a dark period of his life.
“I used to spend hours listening to podcasts or livestreams explaining what each letter refers to. It was a relief to me,” said Liu.
On the lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu, group chats for different MBTI types have proliferated. Liu is part of a group for INTP “logicians” and ENTP “debaters,” which has over 200 members contributing thousands of messages a day about what it’s like to be their personality type, marked by the strong judgment of others.
People are also using MBTI as a way to help them decide on the right career, with accounts online dedicated to analyzing what the best jobs are for each MBTI type. For example, ESTP “entrepreneurs” are suggested to enter marketing, while ISTP “virtuosos” should become engineers. This is ultimately what MBTI is useful for, according to the Tianjin CEO — a tool for self-awareness.
It is near impossible to change oneself, but the MBTI provides an avenue to adapt to one's personality, she added.
Editor: Vincent Chow
(Header image: VCG)