Personal Best

By David Wilson
Sydney Morning Herald
With a bit of planning you can get the results you want from pre-employment psychometric tests, writes David Wilson.

Good news. The job of your dreams has just become available.There's just one hitch.
Your potential new boss is using psychometric testing to screen candidates and you suspect you're not quite what they're looking for.

Perhaps you're not so good at being a team player or you're not as outgoing as some people.
Or perhaps you have a fiery temper and are prone to fly off the handle.

Can you beat the test and come across as the model employee you wish you were?

Yes, experts say. Within limits, you can improve how well you perform.
And with psychometric testing on the rise, it's in your best interests to understand how the tests work and what companies are looking for.

"They're very popular," says organisational psychologist Christopher Shen, who believes the tests have become widespread because they simplify the weeding-out process.

Commonly quoted testing industry figures suggest three-quarters of the companies listed in the US Fortune 500 and The Times Top 100 in Britain are testing potential staff.
One Australian test administrator put the number of large Australian firms using the process at more than 70 per cent.

The nature of pre-employment tests can vary. Job applicants may be screened for numeracy, literacy and intelligence.

Most telling, though, is the personality test that assesses factors such as honesty, sociability and conscientiousness.

Shen says tactics are important. Try to present a positive, extroverted face but avoid putting yourself across as impossibly honest and conscientious.

Practise for the test by doing comparable tests and reading relevant handbooks. "That's very important, because it gets you into the mindset of how to undertake them," Shen says.
Familiarity with the process and type of question is important as some tests are timed and place you under pressure.

Practising can reduce anxiety and help you feel more at ease with intrusive questioning.

If your session includes an intelligence test, practice can help boost this area. By familiarising yourself with sample questions you can improve your score.

If you have time for mental gymnastics, try boosting the agility of your brain with crosswords and Sudoku.

Make an effort to feel in top physical form. Ensure that you are well-nourished, hydrated and rested for the appraisal.

When you are fatigued, you think less rapidly and efficiently.

You should avoid foods that are high in sugar as you'll crash after the quick-fix lift.

You can prepare your mind for the tests in the same way elite athletes get set for a race. The night before and minutes before the appraisal, recall a time when you felt confident and assured and performed well.

It could be the time you aced your driving test. Retain that mindset and carry it into the testing environment.

Candidates need to respond in a consistent style because many personality tests have lie scales, also known as social desirability scales, built into them to ensure applicants are responding honestly.
However, try not to dwell on your responses in a conscious bid to second-guess the examiner.

"Respond rapidly with the underpinning focus of being positive and outcome-oriented," Shen says, warning that you can appear too considered.

When answering, try to focus on the role you're applying for. If possible, remember how the job was advertised.
If, as is usually the case, you had an interview before the test, think about the main qualities and competencies listed in the ad. Keep them in mind.

If, say, the role is in customer service, then strive to appear client-oriented rather than individualistic.
Generally speaking, answering most questions positively is a great tactic.
Many employers screen for a can-do disposition, which can't be taught and must already be instilled in the candidate.
"It's helpful to answer with positive responses, particularly if they're multiple choice," Shen says. "Always pick the optimistic, outcome-oriented option. It's not rocket science."

As a rule, it is good to come over as sociable, even over-sociable, rather than a wallflower.

"In just about any role I know, except maybe being a funeral undertaker or prison guard, it would be helpful if you were socially comfortable and adept," Shen says.
"Extroversion and social comfort are highly desirable in occupations that involve working with people, which is most jobs."

An easy trap to fall into when sitting a psychometric test is trying to portray yourself as a saint, says organisational development consultant Alan Weiss.
This will only set alarm bells ringing with those evaluating the test.

The secret is to admit to small flaws. Answer along the lines of: "I have taken pencils but don't steal computers," Weiss suggests.

Another tip according to Mike Bryon, the author of The Ultimate Psychometric Test Book, is to not select too many "agree or disagree strongly" responses. Extremism makes you look bull-headed and liable to have personality clashes.

Bryon also advises that you practise answering misleading questions.

One to watch is being asked whether you agree or disagree with the statement: "It's not true that honesty is not always the best policy." The question is putting forward the notion that honesty is always the best policy.
The correct response is that you disagree, Bryon says.

If the test is not timed, do not rush through your answers.

Whatever happens, try to answer all questions. "I respond to every question so as to sell myself as the best candidate for the position," Bryon says. 



Published: 13 September 2008