In which the times get testing …

There comes a moment in many recruitment processes when you are asked to expose your inner self through personality or similar testing. Now I’m not a psychologist, although I once shared student digs with a houseful of psychologists, so I can not comment on these tests from an expert perspective. (I’m sure there are some well-developed views out there just waiting to be aired in the comments section.) What I can offer is a test-taker’s perspective.

When I first got exposed to these tests it was when staff development programmes were beginning to get more sophisticated than a simple list of ‘how to’ courses: WordStar for beginners; spreadsheets for pleasure and profit; and, good ‘phone manners. I may have made some of those up but you get my meaning.

Instead we began to worry about values and behaviours along side fretting about competencies. Hence the arrival of organisational psychologists and their evil schemes of personality testing. I must admit that after my first exposure to these and having the hump that I’d been pretty accurately portrayed I might have said something about ‘pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo’.

Now, of course, I’m older (if not wiser) and can see how these tests can help get the right result. And the right result is a good match between a person and a role. Getting the wrong person in a role helps no one, especially the person. So, all right I give in. Where’s the test?

From a test-taker’s perspective personality tests are amongst the most perplexing part of the recruitment process. I’ve often wondered why I – and my fellow job seekers – get so worked up about them. I think it boils down to anxiety about what the right answer is. Of course, there is no right answer. The word ‘test’ in this context feels to me to be pretty unhelpful. It’s ‘test’ – in most cases – in the sense of establishing the constituent parts of rather than achieving a pass mark in.

If you’ve seen any of those adverts for dating or introduction agencies – I know! but I have been watching a certain amount of day time telly – you may have heard the phrase ‘deep down compatibility’. Establishing your compatability with the role being recruited for is possibly a better way to think about tests used as part of the recruitment process.

That’s why I am sceptical, if not downright sniffy, about organisations that purport to offer materials to help you ‘pass’ such tests. Only the organisation recruiting (and its advisors) will know what it is they are looking for in terms of values or behaviours or personality. Most of that should have come through in the applicant pack anyway. So I think it’s unlikely that you can be taught to ‘pass’ because pass probably means something slightly or hugely different depending on the job in question.

Of course if you are looking to make a major change in career it is worth thinking carefully about how fitted you may be for the change you are making. But you will have done that anyway before you applied. And if you’ve got to the stage in recruitment where you are being tested in this way someone will have been satisfied that you stand some chance of successfully making the change. The test gives some additional evidence to enhance the recruiter’s developing view of you from the application and preliminary interview.

So I am trying not to fret about doing the test I’ve got coming up. Having done quite a few of these over the years my curiosity is now engaged around seeing how the results have subtly changed over the years. As a new manager my scores showed me as someone anxious to control and direct in a fairly micro sort of way. With more experience under my belt and a better sense of the leader I wanted to be these attributes got less pronounced and the results around delegation and trust increased.

I think it’s hard for anyone to spoof these tests in the sense of creating an entirely new and different persona. Unless of course you are someone like The Talented Mr Ripley or Dr Hannibal Lektor. There are few people like that around. Because most of us don’t spend a huge amount of time in deep self-reflection and analysis these tests appear more threatening because they look at something we inherently feel it’s unfair to ‘test’ in a pass/fail sense: who we really are.

Even if you did manipulate your answers to reflect what you think is being sought and away from what you really think and got yourself appointed it’s almost certainly not a recipe for career longevity. So my approach these days is to turn up, take the test and see what it says. Given I’m a bit of a boring old fart it’s been a while since I was surprised by the results of any of these tests. (I am, of course dismissing as ‘rogue’ the one that found me to be a borderline sociopath with homicidal tendencies – how the tester and I laughed about that over a nice Chianti and a handful of fava beans.)

All of which brings me back to my houseful of psychologists and the only psychology related joke I know.

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one but the light bulb has really got to commit to the therapy.

About redundantpublicservant

A redundant UK public servant looking for work, sharing his experiences and providing a space for others to do the same.
This entry was posted in interviews, Job applications, job hunting, personality testing, Redundancy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to In which the times get testing …

  1. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    How many Civil Servants does it take to change a light bulb?


  2. Doug Shaw says:

    Those courses you mention at the beginning…not made up, I’ve done them all got the certificates. As for psychometrics, I love ’em. Never see them as tests myself, simply fun. Though like the HRD said recently, it comes down to gut feel and often very early on in the process (if I can call it that). Cheers!

  3. Penny says:

    Will be interesting to see the “before and after” difference. I did one of those tests when I started working at the BBC and another when I applied for a new job about five years later. In the intervening years I had turned from being a relatively optimistic, creative individual into a micro-managing pessimist. Have never been sure if that was the result of five years at the BBC or just doing the test on a bad day. Like everything else in life, it’s all in the timing!

    • Dear Penny,

      Thank you for the comment. I had a similar experience in going from a Theory Y to Theory X manager between two tests largely because of a change in the identity of the person managing me.

      Too much emulation going on I think …

      Best wishes


  4. HR Gal says:

    Love all this kind of stuff but am extremely suspicous of it as a recruitment tool… I did one telephone multiple choice one in my final year of uni for a grad scheme where the automated voice openly stated that they would compare the answers to those of previously successful candidates! Well I don’t really want a robot army personally.

    Where it could be useful is as the start of a discussion, especially where you know the results of the rest of the team/manager, and can talk about how your traits will help in that context (and again I don’t believe in rounded individuals but rounded teams, so recruiting in ones’ own image isn’t necessarily a helpful thing).

    Oh, and I saw the ad for ‘the ladders’ last night and my poor husband had to cope with the vitriol that spewed from me!

    • Dear HR Gal,

      I know they say owners grow to look like their dogs but sometimes I think some organisations end up full of identical, not complementary, skill sets. That makes it hard for them to react creatively or unpredictably when faced with a sudden and catastrophic change in their operating environment. In those situations it’s the counter-cultural thinkers who may be the folks who will get you to safety.

      I like a bit of vitriol myself …


  5. K. Tyler says:

    A while ago my current employer (I work in the public sector – clinging on to my job with both hands at the moment!) made everyone do a Myers Brigg test to see what mix of personality types we had across the organisation. Everyone in my team had similar results except for me. Made me feel a little odd like I had some how failed at something. Nobody has really ever spoken about them since which makes me wonder why on earth we had to do them in the first place!

    • Mean Mr Mustard says:

      INTJ and proud…

    • Dear K,

      Tests are almost always only as good as the analysis, interpretation and coaching that happens off the back of them.

      I was once paired with a colleague with a virtually identical M-B profile to run a project. It was hopeless because we each lacked strong preferences in areas vital to our success. It was only when we were paired with different folks that things started to fly – albeit with lots of fireworks along the way!

      vive la difference

      Best wishes


  6. misterbaz says:

    Part of the problem is the ability of the person looking at the results. I once worked for a man who immediately rejected applicants whose profile didn’t match that being sought, despite the evidence of his – and my – eyes and ears in interviews. Successful teams need people with different attributes, not a set of predetermined characteristics deemed suitable by someone who probably hasn’t done the job.

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