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After my first year in PLA, the most crystallized takeaway that I got was the power of introspection. In each speaker’s presentation on the NYC and Seattle trips, there was some kernel of “know yourself and what you value.” Knowing yourself is a lot easier said than done; it is a process and it is not something that I excel at. This week at work, all of the interns took a personality test known as the CliftonStrengths assessment, and it has kind of thrown me for an introspective loop.

Based on a set of 170 questions, this test lists your top 5 strengths and gives you suggestions on how to leverage these strengths for success in your career and in life. The strengths are organized under 4 encompassing domains – strategic thinking, executing, relationship building, and influencing. The talent manager at the company is keeping track of everybody’s strengths and aggregating to see trends within the firm.

According to this test, my 5 top strengths are as follows:

  1. Harmony – the ability to make peace and find consensus
  2. Communication – easy to put thoughts into words, strong presenter and conversationalist
  3. Positivity – contagious enthusiasm, upbeat, able to motivate others
  4. Woo – love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over
  5. Input- have a craving to know more, looks to collect and archive all kinds of information

When I got these results, I was conflicted. Some of the strengths, like Positivity, really resonated with me. But I was a little put off that my top skill was Harmony. I see the value in consensus, but there are times when conflict is essential. I worry that having Harmony as a strength is code for being a push-over or being nonconfrontational. Almost all of my strengths would be considered “people skills,” and none of my top five strengths are in the Executing Domain. I wonder if these strengths reflect someone who is a schmoozer without any real ability to back up his words. Most importantly, or perhaps most unsettlingly, I questioned whether these strengths are complementary or contradictory to my academic and career interests. I am a math major and I want to work in the field of data science and analytics, but none of my strengths emphasis a logical, rational or analytical mindset. If my skills are people-centric, does that detract from my value as in an analytic or quantitative role, or does it round out my abilities? Am I headed down the wrong career path? Should I be looking for a career that plays more to my strengths?

Naturally, since I was torn about my results, I started to question the legitimacy of this test and in personality tests at large. In general, I think personality tests are bullshit. It’s ambitious, perhaps even impossible, to try to discern one’s personality from an online assessment. I understand the appeal of wanting to lump people into a discrete set of bins, whether that is by CliftonStrengths, by Myers-Briggs type, or even by Hogwarts House. It all boils down to a modern day Zodiac sign, with similar levels of legitimacy or usefulness.

These personality tests often have questions where you choose where you fit on a spectrum between to statements: “I prefer to work alone” vs. “I love collaborating with others.” To me, an interesting question is whether we answer these question as we truly are, or as we aspire to be. Are the results of my personality test who I am or who I want to be? For example, I value being able to interact with others – are my results reflective of that value or how I actually act? I am inclined to think that we answer questions about ourselves with rose-colored glasses.

If I am emphasize my social abilities on these kinds of tests, what aspects of my personality do I downplay?  I downplay my competitive side. I think I am more faithful (like religious faith) than I realize or give off. I can be a little elitist. I am very ambitious – I self-identify as a Slytherin and I mainly applied to PLA because it sounded important. If there were a personality test that could truly capture the whole gambit of my personality, would these traits be more emphasized?

I don’t put a lot of stock into personality tests, but I’ve spent the past five days looking inward. I have a couple pages of my legal pad titled “Who am I really?” So, if the point of the test was to get me to critically analyze my strengths, I guess it was successful – even if the results are kind of bullshit.

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