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Personality Testing For Employment 581

Posted by kdawson
from the strongly-disagree dept.
Thelasko writes "While I was in college, I had the opportunity to take an elective course in Industrial Psychology. One section of the course covered hiring practices and the validity of 'personality testing' to screen applicants (Google link for non-subscribers). The Wall Street Journal has a long article discoursing on how such tests are used in today's economy. While personality tests may be designed to uncover underlying personality traits such as honesty, critics claim that the tests instead reward cheaters." The article talks mostly about the tests' use in winnowing candidates for retail positions — deciding whom to interview. Anybody encountered them in an IT or more technical context?
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Personality Testing For Employment

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  • Not technical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @12:59AM (#26428059)
    Many years ago, I took one of those for a Sales job at Sears, an ethics test. The thing was completely worthless; Anyone with an IQ over 90 could have figured out the "correct" answers. Basically, suggest harsh punishment for any crimes, admit to committing one minor offense as a child and feeling guilty about it, and deny ever having broken a law since.

    In high school I took one for an avation class. Apparently pilots are required to take them. (?) That was a test of my sanity and equally easy to figure out. It consisted of tests like "you just killed a man. Why?" and the trick was to admit equally to each of four possible psychological problems so you look balanced. God forbid a smart lunatic or a smart criminal take those tests.
    • Re:Not technical (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lee1026 (876806) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:41AM (#26428437)

      Ah, so they end up hiring the either the balanced or the intelligent. Not a bad end for them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Manuel M (1308979)
        The problem is in the 'or'. Intelligent criminals and intelligent sociopaths are probably more dangerous than those who are less smart.
    • Re:Not technical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:31AM (#26428773) Homepage

      The thing was completely worthless; Anyone with an IQ over 90 could have figured out the "correct" answers.

      Perhaps you misunderstood the purpose of the test.

      Would you want to hire someone who couldn't even figure out how to lie convincingly during an interview for a position which would involve being in constant contact with the public?

      A big part of dealing with customers is figuring out the "correct" answers. Basically, that the customer's concern is important to you, that the more expensive product really is a better choice, and that you really are going to be right back after checking the reserve stock section which really is located right near the break room.

      If a simple test can filter out the applicants who are too honest or too clueless for a career in retail sales, why not use it?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nevurthls (1167963)

        But it can't. The test does most likely not correlate with actual behavior at all.

        To just say it bluntly: almost all personality tests are completely unreliable, the best ones are at most somewhat reliable. This means that most people, when they do the same personality test some time later, score differently. This is a terrible problem, as the point of these tests often is to measure a personality, something presumably stable over time. If a test used to measure a trait gives unreliable test results, it app

      • Re:Not technical (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @10:18AM (#26432427) Journal

        If a simple test can filter out the applicants who are too honest or too clueless for a career in retail sales, why not use it?

        You raise an interesting point, unfortunately these tests are usually used to prevent losses due to employee theft.

        My industrial psychology professor once told me a story about a group of nuns and monks that took these tests and failed. When they were asked questions like, "do you know anyone that abuses drugs," or, "do you know anyone who has committed a felony" they answered yes, and therefore failed the test. This group of monks and nuns volunteered at substance abuse rehabilitation centers and had answered the questions truthfully.

    • Re:Not technical (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ozbon (99708) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:42AM (#26430033) Homepage

      I took one of these tests years ago for a role in a support helldesk.

      The results came out that I was :
      a) excellent at problem solving
      b) crap at being in a team
      c) crap at being micro-managed

      When they fired me six months later, the reason given was "Despite being one of the best problem solvers (95% clean-up rate) I didn't fit with the team, and had a personality clash with the manager"

      I told them that was the exact result from the test, and they said "Well, we assumed everyone lied on the test". Way to go...

    • Role Playing test (Score:3, Informative)

      by js_sebastian (946118)
      I once took a personality test that was based on 8 or 9 people sitting in a room, and asked to roleplay a situation (planning for some sort of bogus project) in front of an HR woman who watched us.

      My overall impression was that, although the whole exercise was rather silly, the HR woman was pretty smart and knew what she was doing. While I wouldn't use such a technique to select someone to hire, I might use it to discard those one or two people who have serious problems working in a group, or too little
  • by agy (169514) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @12:59AM (#26428063)

    I was given a couple of these at a company I applied to some years ago (a hi-tech job). I took them on condition they'd show me the results, which they were fine with doing. Nice guys, but kind of a creepy outfit. Amusingly, I scored slightly above normal in the hostility department (my inward reaction to that was "Who you callin' hostile, m___f___r?"). But they took all that in stride and offered me a job, which I didn't take.

  • google does (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:00AM (#26428073) Homepage

    Google makes you take a looooooong and in depth personality test just to apply for an IT position. It's really insulting.

    P.S. Fuck you, Google. Didn't want to work for you anyway. Put that in your personality test.

    • Re:google does (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:05AM (#26428107) Homepage Journal
      If I went for a job at google I would expect them to have my profile already. You have been visiting the following web sites...
      • Re:google does (Score:5, Insightful)

        by femto (459605) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:06AM (#26428615) Homepage

        I recently completed a postgraduate course on "organisational behaviour", which is the field from where the justification for these personality tests is supposed to originate.

        It turns out that there is no objective justification for the tests. The texts were quite clear that little if any benefit can be derived from subjecting individuals to such tests, as the tests were only ever designed to measure populations. While the aggregate score across many people might have meaning, a single individual's results are meaningless. Being subject to such a test is a useful indicator that the prospective employer you are interviewing has a clueless HR department.

        It was interesting doing a few job interviews with large companies after having completed the course. It was soooo tempting to answer each question with a page number from the text.

        • Re:google does (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:13AM (#26429061) Journal

          They are very valuable, They act as both an IQ test to see if you are too stupid to lie, and a drone test to see if you are the kind of person willing to sit in a cubicle and waste 40 minutes on something so stupid, with little to no promise of reward.

          I used to do these right(i.e. lie) but then I started to just answer them honestly, and know what happened? I still got the job, but they had to sit me down and actually go over the results. Apparently when a cashier gives you back to much change you are supposed to tell her! Of course I just lied to the HR reps face and made her happy.

          They are an interesting idea: make the person interviewing lose all respect and loath the business as incompetent within the first 15 minuets so they know exactly what they are getting. I guess that's why you only see these at entry level service jobs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I call BS. I interviewed at Google, for a dev position, fell through at the final stage of things.

      I never had to take a personality test. Lots of technical interviews (four levels, if I recall correctly), but no personality test.

    • by the_ed_dawg (596318) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:35AM (#26429661) Journal

      Google makes you take a looooooong and in depth personality test just to apply for an IT position. It's really insulting.

      Erroneous. Google does not make you take a personality test.

      P.S. Fuck you, Google. Didn't want to work for you anyway. Put that in your personality test.

      I'm sure that's why you opted to apply and interview with them.

  • by Klootzak (824076) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:01AM (#26428081)
    Here's something I thought was an exellent example of HR people tend to think (copied from here [theage.com.au]):

    1. Put 400 bricks in a closed room.

    2. Put your new hires in the room and close the door.

    3. Leave them alone and come back after six hours.

    4. Then analyze the situation.

    a. If they are counting the bricks, put them in the Accounting Department.

    b. If they are recounting them, put them in Auditing.

    c. If they have messed up the whole place with the bricks, put them in Engineering.

    d. If they are arranging the bricks in some strange order, put them in Planning.

    e. If they are throwing the bricks at each other, put them in Operations.

    f. If they are sleeping, put them in Security.

    g. If they have broken the bricks into pieces, put them in Information Technology.

    h. If they are sitting idle, put them in Human Resources.

    i. If they say they have tried different combinations and they are looking for more, yet not a brick has been moved, put them in Sales.

    j. If they have already left for the day, put them in Management.

    k. If they are staring out of the window, put them in Strategic Planning.

    l. If they are talking to each other, and not a single brick has been moved, congratulate them and put them in Top Management.

    m. Finally, if they have surrounded themselves with bricks in such a way that they can neither be seen nor heard from, put them in Congress.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by plasmacutter (901737)

      why not just leave them in there for 6 to 10 days and then hire the one or two still alive?

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:04AM (#26428099)

    "If you found a stranger "making out" in the park would you inform the authorities?"

    I answered "Yes" and that's what the hiring team wanted to hear. If I had answered "No," then this team would assume that I would engage in similar activity if I were in a place that I am not known.

    "Making out" here, was intentionally phrased that way to keep it vague, but we all know what it means right?

    I got the job, though I quit seven months later because this job was had began to run my life, something I loathed with a passion.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      They didn't ask you what you would do you you were out in the desert and you found a turtle on its back roasting in the sun?
      • and assuming that I were alone in the desert with scant food or water, my answer would be "drink its blood, and eat the rest".

        That is a completely sane and eminently practical answer. Oh, and "keep its shell for future collection of water."

        But I'll bet you just about anything that is not the answer they want to hear. They would rather see you dehydrate and starve, as long as you are "warm-hearted" and "ethical" about it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MichaelSmith (789609)
          You should probably watch the first five minutes of Blade Runner. I don't want to spoil it for you but the Q&A session ends badly.
          • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:38AM (#26428809) Homepage Journal

            Maybe you should watch it again.

            The whole point is that it is not a question.

            Holden: You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down...
            Leon: What one?
            Holden: What?
            Leon: What desert?
            Holden: It doesn't make any difference what desert, it's completely hypothetical.
            Leon: But, how come I'd be there?
            Holden: Maybe you're fed up. Maybe you want to be by yourself. Who knows? You look down and see a tortoise, Leon. It's crawling toward you...
            Leon: Tortoise? What's that?
            Holden: [irritated by Leon's interruptions] You know what a turtle is?
            Leon: Of course!
            Holden: Same thing.
            Leon: I've never seen a turtle... But I understand what you mean.
            Holden: You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back, Leon.
            Leon: Do you make up these questions, Mr. Holden? Or do they write 'em down for you?
            Holden: The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping.
            Leon: [angry at the suggestion] What do you mean, I'm not helping?
            Holden: I mean you're not helping! Why is that, Leon?
            [Leon has become visibly shaken]
            Holden: They're just questions, Leon. In answer to your query, they're written down for me. It's a test, designed to provoke an emotional response... Shall we continue?

      • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:37AM (#26428405)

        They didn't ask you what you would do you you were out in the desert and you found a turtle on its back roasting in the sun?

        it's a hackneyed question.

        Everyone knows you're hot helping because you're also a turtle on its back.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jeko (179919)
        Is this testing whether I'm an applicant, or a lesbian?
    • No... (Score:3, Insightful)

      we DON'T all know what that means. "Making out" as a phrase is terminally vague, and could mean many different things to many different people. That is precisely why these tests are so worthless: they presume to test things based on information that is not just imperfect, but horribly distorted as well.

      "I got the job, though I quit seven months later because this job was had began to run my life, something I loathed with a passion."

      Hint: I have heard that Google is "the exception that proves the rule"
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sumdumass (711423)

        I think the entire point of using the term making out is because it is so vague. IF you said no, they could figure that your willing to over look potentially wrong doing by other employees. If you said define making out, it could show that your willing to over look the actions that you agree of or the rules you disagree with. If you said something along the order of "if they were just holding hands and kissing, no, if it was more then that probably (or yes)", if could show that you know enough to know when

  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <taiki AT cox DOT net> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:07AM (#26428127)

    Given that these tests have if not methodological history, then atleast spirtual ancestry in stuff like the MBTI(tm) test, which is horribly flawed in it's concept and methodology, I'm pretty skeptical of these tests. these tests really only weed out the obscenely stupid or inept. Which I guess where they succeed, but I'm also wondering if they weed out honest and capable individuals. Although if you can't do some googling and get an answer in an IT context, maybe you shouldn't get that job as an admin or support rep.

  • Let's See... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alaren (682568) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:08AM (#26428137)

    There was a "personality" test I had to take when I was a clerk for Radio Shack back in college... I remember the manager showed me the "results" and it basically said, "This person is either a very good person, or understood this test enough to give the answers we hoped for." But the questions were like, "Have you ever stolen from an employer" and "Should you swear at stupid customers" and the like. I'm not sure what it was supposed to ascertain other than, maybe how seriously applicants would treat a ludicrous and arbitrary test...?

    When I applied at GoDaddy, I was given an intelligence test--Thurston? Thurstone? I'm sure it's on wikipedia somewhere, but anyhow when I was in a position to hire other people, I found that these scores were a significant part of hiring, and the fact that I had one of the highest scores in my department played a major role in my rapid promotion.

    My father, a civil engineer, once worked for a Phoenix company that employed another kind of test--long, pointless, exhausting tests and interview questions for candidates, followed at the end of the day with one or two questions that were actually important. He, too, was in a hiring position, and informed that it was "all about wearing them down" so they would give honest responses at the end out of sheer impatience with the process. Put me in mind of the tests they put applicants through in Men in Black...

    I've heard of others enduring myriad personality tests--the color test, the four-letter tests, I'm sure these all have very nice names which I'm disinclined to look up at the moment. All of these are a kind of personality testing. But in my experience, from both sides of the hiring process, they're pointless exercises from any perspective but a litigious attorney's (and I say that as a law student). The idea is to create quantified evidence that can be used to back up whatever ad hoc decision HR (or whoever) makes.

    Rewarding cheaters may be a problem, but the bigger problem is that we're relying on suspect assumptions about the quantifiability of human relationships instead of the (more time consuming, costlier, but ultimately more effective) approach where you get to know someone before hiring them on a permanent basis.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      My father, a civil engineer, once worked for a Phoenix company that employed another kind of test--long, pointless, exhausting tests and interview questions for candidates, followed at the end of the day with one or two questions that were actually important. He, too, was in a hiring position, and informed that it was "all about wearing them down" so they would give honest responses at the end out of sheer impatience with the process.

      Part of the reason for those long exhausting personality tests is repetition.

      Important questions are repeated with the question/answer slightly changed. If you're 'cheating' (aka lying) then it is likely you won't give consistent answers and it shows up as a giant red flag when the answers are being evaluated.

      Of course, none of that matters when the testing procedure flawed. I.E. I've done monolithic personality tests where you can flip back and look at your answers. A proper test is broken up into sections

    • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:56AM (#26429365) Journal
      I always hired who ever I thought looked best in a tight sweater - without regard to race, creed, or color.
  • by mishehu (712452) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:13AM (#26428197)

    The one I really liked was the one in the movie "The Game"...

    You just can't beat the Consumer Recreation Services' true/false test with items like "I frequently hurt small animals." and "I feel guilty when I masturbate."

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:17AM (#26428223)
    I too took Industrial Psychology, and some other psychology courses as well. I remember that two of the courses covered the subject of "personality testing", and nearly all the material and cases we covered criticized the use of personality testing for any kind of serious use, as being notoriously unreliable.

    For example, my professors (and our course material) taught me that some corporations still use one or another form of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), or tests derived from it, for personality testing prospective employees and so on. In the words of one professor: "This test and similar tests were thoroughly discredited over 20 years ago. It is astounding that anybody would still give them credence."

    But apparently some still do.

    Some personality tests are easy to figure out, which indeed rewards cheaters. Others use various levels of trickery to try to combat cheating (multiple, modified forms of the same question scattered throughout the test, for example), which rewards the more intelligent cheaters. And so on. Often the tests are biased culturally, and some of them still in use are so old that their wording, assumptions, and scoring are questionable today.

    In short, I would look at personality tests for pre-employment screening the same way I look at drug testing and standard polygraphs: If you are an "innocent" person, you should NEVER volunteer to do these things. They do absolutely nothing to help your situation, and all you can do is lose. Statistically, they are also biased toward false positives more than false negatives, and the odds are not in your favor. And finally, I thoroughly despise the "guilty until proven innocent" attitude that is firmly set by the use of these tests when there is no prior suspicion of wrongdoing or problems. It sends the wrong message to employees, and their families, and their children.
    • by Torodung (31985) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:32AM (#26428357) Journal

      And, as a follow up, these tests notoriously reflect a person's "self-image," not necessarily the way their personality actually functions and how they will interact with others. The indications a test determines must be carefully verified in an interview, not taken at face value like a piece of litmus paper.

      The basic fact is that a single person's testimony is demonstrably unreliable, sometimes even (or in many cases especially) when it regards themselves.

      --
      Toro

  • Snake oil... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alyeska (611286) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:21AM (#26428251) Homepage
    Research tests that are supposed to judge sociological phenomena, designed to be issued to mass numbers of people for data, are being sold to employers as tools to judge individuals. It simply doesn't work that way. Might as well use Astrology....
  • Inept management (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hwyhobo (1420503) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:22AM (#26428275)
    I am deeply convinced (a euphemism for "I have no proof") that most of this nonsense is driven by the fact that a lot of today's management does not understand the subject matter of what they manage; therefore, they cannot appropriately interview candidates. Instead, they engage in meaningless "personality tests" and other psychobabble, which is mostly what they learn during ever-popular "management" (read, "I-have-no-aptitude-for-science") studies.
    • by lorelorn (869271) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:28AM (#26429177)
      Sort of. The goal of such convoluted hiring practises is not to hire the 'best' candidate for the position but instead to protect the person making the decision of who to hire. This will crop up frequently in large, bureaucratic organisations, where following a process is valued above all else. HR people love them.
  • Yep... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by painehope (580569) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:26AM (#26428307)

    I was recently turned down by a recruiting company when they discovered that I had 2 DWIs (both of which were 10+ years old) and 2 weapon possession cases (one of which was legitimate, the other was total bullshit that I signed a plea-bargain on so I wouldn't have to sit out the time and lose my job).

    Now, personality tests aren't a big worry to me. I'm pretty crazy (by "normal" standards) but intelligent and diligent, so not only do I make a good (if outspoken) employee, but I figured out a long time ago how to manipulate psychological tests. I did it as a teenager, when I was incarcerated in numerous state institutions. If I wanted out of the place, I just picked the answers that made me sound as sane and healthy as an indoctrinated drone. If I wanted to beat a criminal case on grounds of insanity (that's the shortened term for it), I simply picked answers that would make sense for the given situation.

    Human beings are pattern-recognizing creatures by nature. And the more intelligent a person is, the more aware of a situation they are and the easier it becomes for them to manipulate a test.

  • by TheModelEskimo (968202) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:31AM (#26428347)
    I worked for a place that gave interviewees - right down to the front desk secretary - an IQ test.

    I was hired as part of a sort of package deal (they were stuck with me regardless of IQ, lol) but I found it incredibly scary that this company judged their employees by an IQ test.

    For the record, the employees at this company were no brighter than at any other company I've worked for. I had lunches stolen by employees, and the top non-C-level earner in the company was a wreck, taking just about every medication in the book to keep up with the stress. In fact, the company was almost universally hated by the people who worked there, but the pay seemed to be sufficient for them to stay.

    What the IQ test came down to was, the guy at the top who was administering the test was constantly reminding everyone in private that he hadn't met someone yet who had a higher score than him. He was defending his little piece of ground, pyschologically speaking. And he was the type that, had he met someone with an IQ higher than him, he probably wouldn't let that person alone until he found a deep character flaw or piece of trivia they didn't know about.

    The company had previously gone through related lawsuits, so it's surprising that the collective ego of those at the top was so great that even such a poor hiring policy escaped scrutiny.

    Personality testing strikes me as a rather good idea, but it also seems to indicate that corporations are firmly planted in afraid-to-fire-people land now.
  • by moore.dustin (942289) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @01:43AM (#26428449) Homepage
    Information gathered from personality tests should be used by intelligent managers in order to maximize the potential of their subordinates by playing to their strengths? Using the information to screen out certain individuals could be useful in some _very specific_ situations, sure. Generally speaking though, it is just misuse of valuable information that thus educated person would apply in their management practices.

    You do not ask an Idealist to proofread your financial documents, you do not ask a Pragmatic person to make long term strategic plans and you certainly are not going to get anything from a Realist if you ask them to brainstorm. Knowing how someone constructs their thoughts is _invaluable_. What does not do much good, however, is filtering your candidates to only one type. You are only asking for failure there, as every personality/thinking type has its vices.

    Every single type.
  • by PSUspud (7236) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:21AM (#26428713) Homepage

    When I was trying to get a job in teaching, the hardest jobs to apply for were the ones that used a personality screening. I never got past that, it was obvious why -- the test was looking for suck-ups and yes-men, teachers who would do exactly what the principal said, and never rock the boat.

    And isn't that one of the problems with education today? Not to brag, but I guarantee that I was in the 98th or higher percentile on my Praxis tests. But I know for a fact that other teaching students with me got jobs teaching math while I barely got interviews. People that barely can follow along with the book are going to do a better job of showing the joy of mathematics than I am? When the school is selecting for sheep and not smarts, what kind of teacher do they get? What kind of school do they get? And what kind of "educated" students do we turn out? Shit, shit and shit, of course.

  • by mkcmkc (197982) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:26AM (#26428751)

    I first saw this in the early 90's or so. Text included, to avoid melting the server (which I don't believe is canonical anyway)

    http://kuoi.com/~kamikaze/Hacker/interview.php [kuoi.com]

            * "How do you work in a team situation when all the other team members are fools and idiots?"
            * "How well do you program under the influence of hard drugs?"
            * "Have you ever beaten or killed a co-worker?"
            * "Give me a rough estimate of the maximum dollar amount that you've stolen from each of your previous employers."
            * "Do you object to bullwhips in the workplace?"
            * "Emacs or vi?"
            * "You have a large network of Suns being used by secretaries for word processing in FrameMaker. Which GNU packages would you install for your own entertainment, and how would you justify them later?"
            * "You see a wounded puppy bleeding and whimpering on the side of the road while you're running to work to fix a downed computer that tens of users are waiting for. Do you let the puppy die?" "Why not?"
            * "How much of your workday would you waste by reading news?"
            * "Recite the GNU Manifesto."
            * "How many clients (30% diskless, 60% dataless, 10% /var/spool/mail only) can a Sun 600MP server serve simultaneously, and what relation does this have to angels and pinheads?"

  • by br00tus (528477) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:43AM (#26428845)
    In "Nickel and Dimed", Barbara Ehrenreich, who is an author and professor with a Phd, spent several months living as a blue collar worker for her book. She talks about applying for Wal-Mart, and while how she answered mostly correct, she made the mistake of on a scale from 1 to 5, giving a 4 saying she would "Almost Always" "Follow rules to the letter" as opposed to 5 "Always". Despite that, she got the job. At another place, the question was if "management and employees will always be in conflict because they have totally different goals".

    I applied for a job in a large chain store a few years ago and got a question almost exactly like the last one, it was something a long the lines of "Do workers and management have the same interests at heart?" Woe to the blue collar wage worker who has read the first page of the Communist Manifesto, which says "Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other -- bourgeoisie and proletariat."

  • by RGRistroph (86936) <rgristroph@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:49AM (#26428879) Homepage

    These types of tests have been used ever since professional management was invented as a skill separate from actually being able to do anything economically useful.

    I suggest that anyone who has to work in an organization that uses these types of tests read "The Organization Man" by William H. Whyte. Some key chapters are online here: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/whyte-main.html [upenn.edu] However, what is not online is the Appendix, titled "How To Cheat on Personality Tests". The book was published in 1956.

    Whyte doesn't suggest that you cheat on personality tests just because you are greedy, or because corporations are evil and you have to survive, or anything radical like that. It is clear from the book that Whyte is the kind of guy who presumes that most people are well-intentioned, that managers probably want to hire the best, and they need these scores to cover their ass, so people should give the correct answers on tests so managers can then pick the good guys and promote them.

    Meyer-Briggs and Minnesota Multi-Phasic whatchamacallits have never been shown to be of any practical use, and their pointlessness has been known for decades.

    "The Organization Man" is one of the funniest books I have ever read, but I think it is only funny if you have been exposed to Organization Men enough to recogize the traits he points out, and it is a kind of dry, no-punch line humour that I associate with old men who are constantly laughing at you inside. For the enjoyment of Slashdot I will reproduce here a couple of paragraphs from the "How to Cheat on Personality Tests" chapter:

    "The important thing to realize is that you don't win a good score: you avoid a bad one. (...) Sometimes it is perfectly all right for you to score in the 80th or 90th percentile; if you are being tested, for example, to see if you would make a good chemist, a score indicating that you are likely to be more reflective than ninety out of a hundred adults might not harm you and might even do you some good."

    "By and large, however, your safety lies in getting a score somewhere between the 40th and 60th percentiles, which is to say, you should try to answer as if you were like everyone else is supposed to be. This is not always too easy to figure out, of course, and this is one of the reasons why I will go into some detail in the following paragraphs on the principal types of questions. When in doubt, however, there are two general rules you can follow: (1) When asked for word associations or comments about the world, give the most convential, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian answer possible. (2) To settle the most beneficial answer to any question, repeat to yourself:

    a) I loved my father and my mother, but my father a little bit more
    b) I like things pretty well the way they are
    c) I never worry much about anything
    d) I don't care for books or music much
    e) I love my wife and children
    f) I don't let them get in the way of company work"

    You know what is the saddest about these personality tests ? This guide to cheating on them was written just a few years after the basic ones became popular (they were developed in the 20's and 30's, came into use and were standardized (and also statistically tested and proven worthless) in the bureaucracy of WWII, and The Organization Man was published in '56), but the cheat guide works perfectly well even for tests developed long after the cheat guide was written.

    You can take a computer administered test developed in the last few years by the best minds in modern management theory, and cheat it with a guide written over 50 years ago.

  • by Sonyturbo (981615) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @03:22AM (#26429123)
    I can certainly sympathize with people who have been subjected to a poorly thought out hiring process - whether it involves a person or a test asking questions which seem unhelpful to the process of making a match between employee and employer.

    I own a small IT firm and in the past 10 years I have hired perhaps 40 people and interviewed hundreds. I try hard to be a good guy and part of that is hiring people who will be a good fit for our firm. Making bad hiring decisions is very painful - for me, for the other people who work here, for our customers and for the employee who is more than likely not enjoying himself. And you know, in our type of consulting, where everyone knows lots of passwords to lots of firms, you can lose some sleep over wanting to let go someone who might have bad feelings over the matter. Its important to get the decision to hire right in the first place for everyone concerned.

    I have some pretty smart and experienced guys as coaches, guys who have built and run businesses with hundreds of employees - whose counsel I respect. And one day when I had had a particularly painful experience with someone who was not working out, I asked one of these guys "what did you learn in your 40 years about hiring". And they pointed me to one of these firms. And you know, believe it or not, the good firms out there(we use Caliper) can pretty much do what they say. While its by no means the only criteria, our experience has shown that the insight from these profiles can provide useful input to the hiring decision. I should add that I am a research engineer by training - and so I had historically approached these things from a perspective of extreme skepticism. Further, I would not stand up and count myself as a very good reader of other people - I mean after all, there's a reason I'm an engineer instead of a social worker or psychologist.

    Before I started using this for hiring I paid to have three people already on staff fill out a profile. I knew these guys, we had worked together for at least a year. I was astonished by the detail with with the person interpreting the test could describe the personalities of our folks. Things like "Joe is a pretty smart guy but he tends not to over exert himself, and yet no-one ever gets mad at him because he is so charming.". Maybe you had to be there and maybe you need to know Joe but the description was spot on. And time has just proven this was not a fluke.

    Our folks are all consultants, they have to be good problems solvers and good "people" people. Based on our experience, we have found that these tests can be helpful in understanding
    • Analytical capability (that's pretty easy to believe eh slashdotters? Just ask some "what number comes next in the series" and similar questions
    • Empathy - how much do you care to understand the other guy's perspective?
    • Gregariousness - its harder to fool the 1 hour test than it is to fool me in a 1 hour interview I have found.
    • Priority setting - a key charateristic for bringing projects under budget.
    • Self Confidence - another important trait for people in our business since the only way to never make a mistake is to stay home in bed.
    • Trust in other people - do you believe the people around you are likely to act in your mutual best interests or are most people out only for themselves? You want team members to be the sorts of people who havfe inherent trust in their fellow human beings.

    These tests can help tell you if you are inclined to be a good sales person vs a good engineer for example.

    And its not mumbo jumbo that drives this. Its just freaking statistics. You do a lot of research characterizing lots of people and then you find a set of questions whose answers correlate the characteristics you have observed.

    Having added this testing to our interview process, we have dropped our bad hiring decisions from 30% to less than 10%. Personally, again, I think its a courtesy to all concerned to do eve

    • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @04:37AM (#26429673)

      I can see points of bias in your tests already.

      The exclusion bias.

      You have no idea how many people with different personalities from those you know were excluded. Perhaps people who had personalities with more facets than the test could examine, or with facets none of "kennedy's wiz kids" (who designed the test the same way they ran vietnam) have ever seen.

      The inherent inaccuracy of self-confidence.

      self-confidence is a relative thing.
        People who are interviewing for a job generally have their fundamental ability to eat and pay rent at stake. Those are much, MUCH higher stakes than "this is a new client, let's do a good job" and as such is subject to greater risk aversity.

      Analytical capability:

      Various positions require various levels of analysis, and my experience is those robotic tests do not provide adequate clues as to the level of analysis which should be applied.

      And its not mumbo jumbo that drives this. Its just freaking statistics.

      because we all know statistics cannot be manipulated, misrepresented, improperly gathered, etc.

      Employment prospects are more like a scatter plot with high variance, and these tests are like the most simplistic best-fit regression lines. They WILL exclude wide swaths of excellent candidates based on arbitrarily placed limits. This is especially true for testing services contracted from outside.

      o everyone a huge favor by helping to ensure that the people we offer jobs to will do well in them and be happy

      Isn't that what interviews and training programs are for? acquainting them with company policy, teaching them the procedures, filling them in on how to do their job?

  • Oracle use them (Score:4, Interesting)

    by asc99c (938635) on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @05:27AM (#26429935) Homepage

    I applied for a job with Oracle in the UK after University - over 6 years ago now. The first thing I came up against was this online personality test.

    I decided to be honest with the answers. Evidently not the right decision as I failed the test and they were not interested in talking to me (despite at that time being almost guaranteed a 1st class degree in CS from a top university).

    Q: "You have to give up on some things that you start."
    A: "Strongly disagree."

    This was one of the questions in the Oracle test - I put strongly agree. Occasionally new information appears after you've begun something, and possibly tells you that you're heading down the wrong path. You learn from this and start again.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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