Runaway: am I in the right job?

In the interests of leading from the front, Personnel Today sent journalist Anna Burges-Lumsden to be psychometrically tested and offer you the potential recruit’s perspective on the ever-more popular recruitment tool.

Do you remember taking your first IQ test at school? I do, and it was no fun.

Staring blankly at dozens of strange shapes on a frightening-looking exam paper in an attempt to find a pattern between them. Reading and rereading statements that made no sense to me under the scrutiny of a dismissive school mistress. Above all, the feeling that I was failing to make sense of something that everybody else understood.

Well that’s exactly how I felt after sitting through a 10-minute psychometric test. This time there were no shapes, patterns or statements to test my intelligence. Instead I faced something equally difficult, something which provoked in me the same stomach-churning feeling I’d last felt in the classroom.

In front of me was a long list of adjectives. I was expected to choose those which best described me. From these, the company behind the test said they could build up a portrait of my abilities. The company, ClickATest, claims it can help you to pick out the best candidates for a particular job.

Most of its work is done with call centre providers, sales teams and administrative organisations although it is looking to expand that to include recruitment consultants.

So, back to the test. There, on my screen, was an online form comprising 24 questions. Among them were questions like – and I’m paraphrasing because ClickATest would not send me the completed form: “Choose one of the following words or phrases which most and least describes you at work. Gentle, persuasive, humble or a foul-mouthed axe-murderer with abominable personal hygiene and a hatred of authority.”

Of course this is an exaggeration, but as the one taking the test you feel your prospective employers are going to read between the lines this way. Another series of questions asked me if I was restless, neighbourly, popular or faithful.

The tricky bit was having to say which of these adjectives I was most like and which least described me. Sometimes I’m restless, sometimes I want to fall asleep at my desk. Sometimes I’m neighbourly, other times I want to drill through the wall and confiscate my neighbour’s collection of Westlife albums. So far I have been faithful.

Frequently the test made me feel uncomfortable, because I was forced to give answers that did not describe me accurately. Like most people I am a mixture of qualities and weaknesses and defy pigeon-holing. In some instances I felt all of the words described me equally well – in others, none came close yet still I was compelled to select from them.

One thing that occurred to me is that anybody so minded could answer untruthfully to build a favourable description of their character. Given the choice between listless, irritable and dynamic self-starter with immense potential, who would not go for the third option?

But Yngve Traberg, managing director of ClickATest, said it is possible to spot candidates who “construct” their own profiles.

He reckoned about 5% of tests have to be redone for this reason. Traberg also said the sensation of discomfort I felt is an important part of the test.

“The test needs to be provocative to successfully flag up individual personal traits. If the test was not challenging, it would not be accurate.”

And he stressed psychometric testing should only make up 20% of the recruitment process.

Traberg said you are not supposed to use psychometric assessments ‘alone’, but when considered alongside factors such as the candidate’s experience, education, plus first impressions and gut instinct from an interview, it can prove to be very useful in giving you a fuller picture.

So what about my psychometric profile? Parts of it were uncannily accurate while others were way off the mark. I liked being told I was diplomatic, quick to detect errors and enthusiastic. I was unhappy at being told I found “tasks stimulating even though repetitive in nature”. And I was positively furious at this: “lets personal problems fester too long before taking action”.

The test concluded I would make a fine airline pilot or a dance choreographer. I remain unconvinced and unsure whether such test would give a prospective employer the real me.

Or maybe I mean the ‘me’ I want them to see. Perhaps there’s something in it after all.

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