Molly Owens Is The Force Behind Our Collective Obsession With Personality Tests
Success stories

Molly Owens Is The Force Behind Our Collective Obsession With Personality Tests

The Enneagram, the Big Five, the Myers-Briggs—even if you don’t know your ‘type’ in these classic self-assessment tests, you’ve probably heard of them. Personality tests have never been more popular—there’s just something about being told about yourself, the sense of self-discovery and objective guidance that we all crave as we quit our jobs en masse or consider our next career leap.

Molly Owens is at the forefront of this boom—her 10-year-old company, Truity, provides free online self-assessments like the Enneagram and has landed on the No. 383 on Inc. Magazine's 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies list. But her start in the field happened somewhat accidentally. “I really came to this whole industry kind of not knowing what I was doing with my life,” says Owens, who got her start studying psychology in College and then getting a master’s degree in counseling psychology. “I realized I wasn’t well-suited to being a therapist. And then I realized, you know, I had learned about these personality assessments and grad school, so why not take some of those and see if they could give me some directions?” Once she took a few, Owens realized she was keenly interested in the process itself, how the assessments worked to point a person in a particular direction.

Owens was also frustrated with the existing assessments on the market: “They were expensive and kind of clunky. The industry was just coming out of the whole Scantron thing and hadn’t adapted to new technologies.” And so, Truity was born to address the gap, and to develop robust personality assessments that were accessible and user-friendly. “It’s very easy to log on and get your answers, no one needs to explain them to you. Everything is in plain language,” explains Owens.

For the first few years, Owens ran the company as a “one-woman show.” But in 2019, with traffic taking off and interest in personality assessments growing, Owens realized she was on the cusp of becoming a bigger business. “We’ve hired a lot more people and expanded our product offering. We try to address your whole life: work, your inner life and your relationships.”

Millennials and Gen Z are reaching the career decision age, and they're expecting a lot more out of their careers and they're really expecting to find a field that speaks to them as a person that uses their talents.”

And why do we love taking these tests so much? “I think it's the generational thing,” muses Owens. “It was a very sort of fringe interest I think when for instance Isabel Briggs Meyers developed her system, it was popular in certain circles but it didn't sort of sweep the nation like we're seeing now. Millennials and Gen Z are reaching the career decision age, and they're expecting a lot more out of their careers and they're really expecting to find a field that speaks to them as a person that uses their talents.”

Owens has noticed that modern movements like the Great Resignation and the “I don’t dream of labor” sentiment that’s popular with younger workers directly overlaps with spikes in traffic to Truity. “There’s part of work that’s about paying the bills and doing your part as a member of a capitalist society. And then there’s the innate drive to do something to affect our environment and to feel good about what we’ve done at the end of the day. That inner purpose.” That search, in essence, may be part of what drives us to find out, say, our Enneagram type.

Speaking of the Enneagram, it’s one of Truity’s most popular offerings. “It’s existed for a long time,” explains Owens, “It comes out of an almost ancient mysticism. It’s so old that we can’t really trace it back. It was very fringe until three or four years ago. Once this interest in introspection came to the fore, there were already quite a few organizations and consultants that had done work with the Enneagram, but all of a sudden everyone was looking at it.” So, Owens and her team created a more easy-to-access version. “What we tried to do was to break the concept down to make it bite-size, the Enneagram is super complex but we wanted to distill it into aspects of each type that were most important to create a test that would measure all the individual traits that come together to make a whole type.”

And what’s Owens’ type? “I’m a Four. It gets a bad rap! We are known as the most outwardly emotional of the Enneagram types. Fours are very aware of their emotions. Another hallmark of the four is envy and always seeking what’s missing as opposed to what’s there. As you can see, it's not a picnic to live with!” When it comes to running a business as a Four type, Owens always thinks about where to push to next, and what can be improved. “All in all, not a bad instinct.”

While they’re undeniably popular tools, personality tests do get pushback—from those who like to claim they can’t be put in a box (fair!) or when they’re improperly implemented in hiring processes. “I think it’s a valid point,” says Owens. “Sometimes assessments get used in a clunky, prescriptive way instead of a dialogue.” Owens maintains that you—the person taking the test—are the ultimate authority. One misconception is that if one or two points in the assessment don’t sound like you, then the whole thing is invalid. “Really, when you take a personality assessment, you should go through the report with a critical eye and feel free to throw out some things if they really don’t sound like you. No assessment is a hundred percent accurate.” Plus, everyone experiences subtle shifts from mood to mood and day to day—or after big life changes. Your personality result may even change slightly over time. “It's like looking at a forest from an angle, it doesn't mean that the forest is different, but it means that your view of it is shifted.”

As for what’s next for Truity, Owens hopes to deepen how they serve the assessment seekers out there. “We’re working on a magazine-style expansion of our website with more editorial content and authoritative articles.” Truity also has an app in development to break down the assessment into smaller pieces and enable a dialogue.

Keen to take your next assessment? Owens cautions against taking the test in a work setting (for the most true reading, take them at home) “We’re not always ourselves at work. You want to be in touch with your inner world. For the most accurate reading, a good dose of self-reflection is needed.”

What do you look for an employee?

“We’re completely remote, so generally I look for someone who really knows what they’re doing and are very self-directed and you just get out of their way.”

How many unread emails do you have right now?

“Let’s see, 9! Oh, 10, one just popped up.”

How do you unwind after work?

“I love to cook. I come home, start pulling ingredients out of the fridge and transition my work brain to the five senses.”

Best advice?

“This one’s from my favorite professor in grad school, he said ‘you don’t go to the grocery store with a list of what you don’t want.’ People often come with problems rather than what they want. But if you want to get what you want, you have to articulate it.”

Worst advice?

“I’ve heard from people, and I’ve told myself this, that it’s too late to change course. In reality it’s never too late.”