Are You The Right Man For The Job? / p3

Taking the psychometric test

Originally published in The Financial Times

<< Go back

But it’s not that easy. I make myself dizzy considering, say, Q142: I have a lot of friends. Do Will and Martin have a lot of friends? If so, would they put it that way? Would Will? Would Martin?

Other questions strike me as a waste of time because, the way I see it, everybody must answer them the same way. For instance any reasonable person could only honestly disagree with the statement: I never resent not getting my own way. Granted, my idea of a reasonable person may not be the same as yours – but could anyone answer “true” to the assertions Nothing good ever happens to me, or I can’t do anything well? Surely not, because to do so would certainly impair job prospects – and job prospects are what psychometric testing is all about.

In the event, though, I’m obliged to revise my opinions. To collect my results, I visit Trickey at his office in Tunbridge Wells, on the top floor of a stucco house behind the shopping centre. We talk in the bizarre meeting room – where the wall features gothic masks, one horned, the other with snakes in her hair. Today, Trickey wears no tie. His light-grey socks are decorated with some cartoon character – possibly Snowy from the Tintin books. As gravely as these circumstances allow, he says: “This is you,” and slips a report across the table.


On the second page, a bar graph breaks down my personality into seven categories. My strongest suit is scholarship, closely followed by agreeability. Good news? Not necessarily, because too much agreeability, in managers, can be problematic: “It means you don’t like to be unpleasant to people,” says Trickey.

“You give yourself three out of six on leadership qualities,” he adds. “At interview, someone can pick up on these details: ‘You don’t see yourself as having leadership characteristics, would you say that’s realistic?’”

To show how the test can be applied to specific jobs, Trickey has analysed my result against an ideal for retail management. Since I am not interested in a career change, my low-to-average score is neither surprising nor upsetting. On the contrary, its barmy specifics make me laugh. With me in charge, “the management, control, and security of stock may be no more than reasonable, and the same may be true of store cleanliness and general care.”

Theoretically, a test with 206 statements has an enormous number of outcomes. But in practice PCL’s reports are use a fairly small number of generic prose passages. Trickey considers this a good thing. “With a more complex narrative, you lose sight of the algorithms – the actual answers to the test. This version keeps those clear. It doesn’t give you the person’s deepest psychology – but that isn’t what it’s about.” So even if profiles don’t perfectly match the individual, the actuarial approach remains helpful to employers. Trickey draws an analogy from the world of insurance: “If you fill in a lifestyle questionnaire, you lie about how much you drink and smoke. Everyone does. But it still works, even using that dirty data. If it didn’t, the insurance companies would go bust.”

For my own test, as it happens, I aimed to be truthful. On the validity scale, I scored 14 out of 14. On the others, my faking showed through. “When you fake, you tend to caricature a person. You made your salesman a delinquent – high on sociability but low on adjustment and prudence. Zero out of five for impulse control. Your salesman is Arthur Daley.

“And I wouldn’t give you a job as a librarian. You scored so low on ambition, it’s unlikely your librarian would even bother to get up in the morning. And her sociable scale! She’d never come out of her mobile library – she’d just shout ‘Your books are here!’ and drive off.”

Impersonating my friends, I turn out to have underestimated Will in every category, and my version of Martin is entirely out of whack. Comparing the bar graphs is depressing, because it suggests I don’t know my friends so well after all. “It’s harder to do this than you think,” says Trickey.

What's this? Full colour.

Up till now, I’ve taken only one of the Hogan tests, the one which, for marketing purposes, Trickey calls the “Bright Side”. Another, the “Inside”, relates to a person’s interests and values. “The sorts of thing you say at parties: ‘I don’t eat meat because of Linda McCartney’, and so on.” Joyce McNeill, assessment adviser at the VSO, has used the Inside test to identify stark differences between volunteers for overseas service and the population at large: “Volunteers are more strongly motivated by altruism,” she says. “They’re less interested in money, and power, and professional standing.” By running the test before sending people abroad, it should be possible to weed out the ones who would otherwise give up and return home.

The third Hogan test – generally used only for top-end appointments, and never on its own – identifies qualities which, under great stress, can become extreme. Confidence, for example, becomes arrogance; shrewdness – usually an asset in managers – can become suspicion and paranoia. Officially entitled the Hogan Development Survey, this third test is marketed by PCL as the “Dark Side”. With its overtones of Darth Vader, the label is tremendous for grabbing attention. It might possibly scare off some clients, but not me. I can’t wait to try it. How does Trickey think I’ll score this time? “I suspect that, if you do have a dark side, there’s maybe only one. But I wouldn’t like to guess what that will be.”

A couple of days later, he phones with my results. In three of the 11 categories, I score below average: I’m not cautious, detached or arrogant. I’m averagely enthusiastic, shrewd and diligent, and I have elevated score for vivacious, imaginative and dutiful. In two categories, the report finds that I do have a dark side.

On the scale which runs from “focused” (good) to “passive aggressive” (bad), I figure in the 94th percentile of people who have taken the test. “On a positive note,” the report says, “John-Paul will be obliging and pleasant towards colleagues while able to remain focused… probably very good at maintaining a socially acceptable façade even when things are bothering him.” Less happily, it continues: “People with high scores on this scale may… ignore constructive criticism, as part of [a] tendency to be quietly, and defensively, self-indulgent.”

On the charming-to-manipulative scale, my test puts me into the 97th percentile. “Spontaneous, provocative, good fun, charming, persuasive, independent and self-assured”. Quite so, but honesty demands some account of the report’s gloomier analysis. Under pressure, it asserts, “high scorers may use their considerable social skill to manipulate or even to deceive others… taking extreme risks… prone to ignore past mistakes… apparently casual disregard for others…” That’s enough. You get the picture.


“This is very difficult stuff to feed back,” says Trickey, “because it’s so negative. Responses vary. Some people say: ‘That’s so me.’ Others deny it.” It’s important to remember, he adds, that this is what I am like only occasionally. “And the report plants a thought in the mind. From now on, you’ll recognise things when they occur.”

So there’s not only a benefit for employers but also – at least theoretically – for the people who actually undergo the assessment. That’s hugely reassuring, because outside the human resources business many people might consider it distasteful to sort human beings by algorithms, bar-graphs and boilerplate prose. Speaking for myself, I don’t mind it. I didn’t find the online test coldly impersonal. Nor would I deny the report’s findings, though they don’t exactly strike home painfully either. Perhaps I would have disliked the process a little more if I was applying for a real job.

Richard Lister, for one, prefers the Adlerian process that he went through. More than that, he positively enjoyed it. “I do think it was quite objective. This was not one of those tests where you compare people’s answers with some data set. It wasn’t just ’(a), (b), (c), (d). Thank you very much, we’ll now tell you if you are a cheeseburger, or whatever.’ For me,” he adds, “the assessment was very worthwhile. It made me feel like I was getting closer to my new employer. It was a positive sell.”

Thanks For Reading. May I Introduce Myself?