Personality Tests Are the Astrology of the Office

This article originally appeared in The New York Times

On his first day working at the University of Phoenix, Eric Shapiro found out the good news: He had tested red-yellow.

To the layperson this doesn’t mean much. But to those well-versed in the psychology of Dr. Taylor Hartman’s “Color Code,” as all employees of the University of Phoenix’s enrollment office were required to be, it was a career-maker.

Red meant you were a person motivated by power and yellow by fun. This was an ideal combination for someone looking to climb the ranks in an admissions team that demanded the ability to schmooze and then hit recruitment targets: equal parts charisma and competitiveness.

“The dominant people in the office, most of the leadership staff including myself when I got promoted, we were heavy red and yellows,” said Mr. Shapiro, who is 36. “Yellows tend to be really good at working the room. Reds tend to be more type A, like bulls in a china shop. You’re passionate, you’re not sensitive, you get over things quicker.”

As Mr. Shapiro rose to be a manager, he became fluent in the color-code vocabulary. It helped him diagnose office problems (“Sally is really struggling because she’s a blue, so every time she gets rejected on the phone she stews about it,” he said) and identify areas for professional growth (“Billy, the yellow guy, is really good on the phone and everybody loves him, but he can’t sit still because he’s always trying to crack jokes”).

The taxonomy didn’t typically have a direct influence on hiring decisions, Mr. Shapiro said, but managers knew which color types were most likely to thrive when reviewing applications. (He said a 45-minute assessment was included in the job application process to purportedly identify each subject’s primary behavioral motivator, which he added was later discontinued.)

“We tried to be ethical but it’s tough because we were hiring for what’s actually a sales position, so if you were a blue-white those traits really didn’t line up,” he said (blues are motivated by desire for intimacy and the whites by peace).

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