Career filter: Interview then... personality test!?
August 28, 2008 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Career filter: Interview then... personality test!? Um, what the heck?

Hey team green! Hoping you can help here - love you guys! - thanks in advance!

So I'm up for this job and the recruiter just sprung a bit of a surprise - They employer requires I take a personality test.

Say what?

Needless to say this is a first for me. Feels fairly creepy... but I was reassured that it has become something of a standard practice.

"Um, yeah?"

Guess I could just take it... what's the big deal? I'm not a jerkass... or... AM I???... OMG. I've never taken a test to scientastically quantify this... I could be pinning the needle in the red!! (the guy honking at me this AM would bet on it)

Jeeze... I guess I'll find out?

Wondering if anyone has any experience they can share? Are these things legit? Are there more reputable testing companies? Anything I should watch out for?

Thanks again!!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The employability personality surveys have, in fact, become very commonplace. As a former hiring manager, I administered hundreds. My advice is to answer the questions as honestly as possible. Don't look for any trends, or ways to game the survey. They really aren't anything to be alarmed about. You will do just fine.
posted by netbros at 2:53 PM on August 28, 2008

I've taken a few of these. I agree the practice if pretty lame. It is apparently pretty common in Europe but quite a bit less so in America (especially for career-level positions). The interview should take care of the personality stuff, but whatever. In my experience the questions are extremely leading and you would have to be pretty dim to wander off into the "wrong" answers.

Stuff like:

You are working with a senior coworker on a project. You have a difference of opinion on how to complete a task. Do you:
a) Do it her way because she has seniority.
b) Work to achieve a compromise.
c) Demand to do it your way, because you are right.
d) Ask a manager to resolve the situation.

You notice your coworkers taking small items of merchandise for personal use without paying. Do you:
a) Don't say anything. It's not of your business.
b) Join in. Everybody else is doing it.
c) Talk to you coworkers and ask them to stop.
d) Report the theft to a manager.
posted by indyz at 2:54 PM on August 28, 2008

Judging from the format and style of your question, you're doomed.

Just kidding.

Personality tests are not uncommon nowadays. Interviewing (from the employer side) is so difficult and random and uncorrelated with success that HR departments are getting ever more novel in their efforts to find the right people.

I was recently personality-tested at work, and I thought it actually gave an interesting and insightful result, along with some good tips and discussion of how people-like-me should deal with other personality types or particular types of situation.

Like you, I was originally concerned about the idea of being tested -- what if I fail, etc. -- but if you figure it, that's all an interview is, anyway...just less organized.
posted by felix at 2:54 PM on August 28, 2008

Yikes, just judging from this post, you need to calm down a bit. Yes, this is perfectly normal. It's not a testing company, it's scored by computer. The ones I've had have asked me questions like if I've ever lied, if I drink a lot, if I have trouble sleeping, if I enjoy talking to people. Some of the questions may be asked several times in different ways to see if you're consistent. They're trying to see if you're a good fit for the company and don't have any serious red flags. If you're a jerkass, they probably figured that out in the interview.

Seriously, calm down.
posted by desjardins at 2:57 PM on August 28, 2008

In my country personality testing is common for low-status jobs (like supermarket shelf stacking) but rare for high status / professional jobs.

There's a chance it will be something like Myers-Briggs; you can try the tests out at various places online. I've seen other tests, as indyz says, where there is an obvious answer they want to hear.

Are these things legit?

Legit as in legal? Probably. Legit as in a robust measurement of something meaningful? Who knows. Legit as in the test taker cannot control the results? Definitely not.

Oh, and when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "yes".
posted by Mike1024 at 3:03 PM on August 28, 2008

I've taken some pre-interview (not post) "personality" tests... consistency seems to be at least some of the point from the ones that I've taken. (i.e. they ask "How would you react to X situation" in 3 or 4 slightly different ways, with the 'X" situation also varying slightly with gender, name and other factors but the actual heart of the situation remaining the same). Basically, trying to see if you're just being on your best behavior simply because you're interviewing... You'll answer the "same" if you're being honest regardless of the generic details.

Also, for questions with answers like "Agree, Somewhat Agree, Strongly Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, etc." I've had people tell me alternatively that decisiveness is key in "getting these right," but I've had people also say to not be too extreme in your opinion. They both were in "hiring" positions for companies that use these... so, I guess it depends on the position and the question? I have no idea on those

as such, my opinion of these is they suck, but they do force honesty.. or reward good liars... Or are a good excuse to explain away nepotism... I guess the safest thing to do is to be as honest as possible (maybe more so than usual on a job prospect?) and stay true to yourself...
posted by Debaser626 at 3:04 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

My first job out of college, for an editorial assistant job, I took a personality test. The test concluded I was not very creative and might be suited to work with tools. In fact, I am awkward with tools and have since written and published a book.

Personality testing is a scientifically not-very-well proven method that seems designed to screen out those who submit extremely inappropriate answers. It's a big business and it helps add to the mystique of Human Relations.
posted by Kirklander at 3:07 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work for a human resources consulting firm that gives out these tests. A couple things to consider:

1) Don't bother lying. There's no way to fail a personality profile, they really are just looking to understand you. A good test has questions in there that are only used to gauge whether or not you're trying to game the instrument. Too many false answers will render the results invalid, and that's far more suspicious than any supposed "bad" answers.

2) They might be giving the test to learn how to manage you if you're hired. Knowing what you enjoy, what motivates you, how you work, and other personal details can help them tailor your work experience in a way that reduces the likelihood of turnover. It's expensive to hire and train someone, so it's in the organization's best interests to keep you around for a while.

Relax and take the test. It has minimal impact on the hiring process.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 3:07 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

or Resources, I mean.
posted by Kirklander at 3:08 PM on August 28, 2008

I think what's important to know is how much faith the company puts in these tests - not just for hiring - but for determining your future in the company. I worked for a company that gave everyone a PI after a first interview (Personality Indicator or some such). They took it very seriously and I was ruled out of different positions because I didn't have the correct PI for a particular job. There was a consultant who helped "read" the tests - we called affectionately referred to him as Rasputin. If this is an integral part of their human capital management processes - I would run away. Nothing good can come of that job.
posted by Wolfie at 3:37 PM on August 28, 2008

Don't listen to the people who are saying you should be completely honest. Better to be consistently dishonest than to be honest. I failed to get a job once because I was assured by the cool-seeming interviewer that "this is just a formality" and "you should just be completely honest because nobody really cares about these things." So I answered truthfully: no, I don't think it's wrong to steal to feed your family, etc. That friendly interviewer guy turned pretty chilly when I called back to see how things went; he said there were some "problems" with my test, thank you for applying, goodbye. Of course this was a pretty low-level job where they probably have problems with employees stealing out of the till. Maybe things would be different in a higher-status job. But maybe they wouldn't.
posted by goatdog at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I worked for a company that gave everyone a PI after a first interview

Predictive Index. Everyone who worked at my last workplace did one.

Don't be completely honest on those. One side of the paper has a list of words that you would use to describe yourself, and the other side has a list of words that you think other people would use to describe you. So, obviously, don't include a lot of negatives. Likewise, don't make both sides identical or too different. If they use the PI to determine if you're suited for a job, like Wolfie says: run away.

Like goatdog, I did one of those multiple-choice personality tests at a low-end retail job about fifteen years ago and answered truthfully, only to get a chilly response because of my answers. Yes, I do think of ways that someone could steal from the store. Of course I do -- I'm trying to prevent people from stealing from the store!

To sum up: being completely honest on those tests is not great advice; unlike what the HR guy said above, you can actually fail them.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:19 PM on August 28, 2008

Adding to what ten pounds of inedita said, sometimes there is a disconnect between the way these tests are designed and the way they are actually used.

Most of these tests have a couple of questions intended to reveal the more obvious liars, like:

Have you ever thought of doing something illegal?


Have you ever broken a law (for example, by driving faster than the posted speed limit)?

The test designers expect you to answer "yes" to these questions, because that's the truthful answer for 100% of the population. A "no" answer should set off a red flag.

But these tests are often administered by idiots. So if you are applying for a security job in small city X, and the supervisor takes a look at your response, he may think "I can't hire this lawbreaker!"

That's fine. No one wants to work for an idiot anyway.
posted by ferdydurke at 4:39 PM on August 28, 2008

Yeah, my first job in high school had one of these. My application was "flagged" because of 1 answer out of 60, apparently indicating that I was anti-social. (I believe the question was something like, "I prefer the company of 3 or 4 good friends to a big party.") These things are a ridiculous, and unfortunately commonplace, part of corporate America now. Anyone planning on taking them should do their research online and find out the "correct" answers, because as others have said, honesty might not work for you.
posted by naju at 4:41 PM on August 28, 2008

I've worked with many of the supplied tests and services, and found most of them to be crap that tells me the same commonsense things I can observe in a person. More recently I've been working with a startup that designs such tests specific to a company's needs or preferences and it's been a lot of fun and pretty damn interesting.

As folks say above, the best approach is to not worry about it much, answer honestly and try to avoid trying to "outthink" the test, because that leads to scattered results that make you look neurotic. It'll be full of annoying questions that don't have nice tidy answers (answer from first reaction, don't try to guess what they "want" you to say), and it will seem to repeat itself often... just roll with it.

You'll be fine.
posted by rokusan at 5:01 PM on August 28, 2008

File this under workplace BS like saying "nice weather" and "how was your weekend." It's ordinary, it means nothing.

Just pray to whatever god you have that this new job doesn't require, at some point, sending a day in a conf room with your co-workers taking tests and going over the results as a group... or at least that, if it comes to that, you get breakfast and a decent lunch.

There are employers who make their employees climb ropes.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:07 PM on August 28, 2008

In California there's a decent chance that pre- and post-offer personality testing is not legal. See Cal. Gov't Code section 12940(d), (e), (f) (requiring that psychological inquiries or testing be job related and consistent with business necessity). If I could wipe them off the planet I would.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:52 PM on August 28, 2008

Is this the best job offer you have available? Personality tests are a huge red flag for me - any company that wants its employees to have a standard personality is a place in which I would not want to work.
posted by davetill at 5:05 AM on August 29, 2008

At least one very large consumer products company gives these to every applicant, including "career" type positions in engineering and management. (I'll give you a hint, the first name starts with P and the second one with G). I've been told about this company in specific that they take the tests quite seriously, and use them to determine if you are an appropriate fit to the type of people they want on their Team. It's of the Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree type, that naju and Debaser626 mentioned.

(Frankly, that's a team I wouldn't want to be a part of...)

So, that said, it's not worth freaking out about, and it's best realizing that if they take it that seriously, well, you probably wouldn't enjoy working with them anyway.
posted by whatzit at 5:33 AM on August 29, 2008

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