The 8-minute quiz that could change your life...
Traditional interviews are being dropped by many companies; instead they are psycho-profiling potential job candidates.Ed Power takes the test - and is shocked to discoverhow accurately it assesses his strengths and weaknesses Would you rather bleed to death or live alone for ever? What type of fish symbolises you best? Have you ever picked your nose in private?
Answer carefully - your career might depend upon it. With the traditional face-to-face job interview increasingly dismissed as clumsily hit-and-miss, employers are embracing the murky art of psycho-profiling. Pitching abstract, obtuse and often just plain weird questions at prospective workers, the intention is to sort the go-getter from the slacker, the ambitious from the cynically self-serving. Because while you may think your favourite fish or nasal hygiene habits are mere quirks of character, psychologists believe they offer an insight into your inner geometry, revealing what sort of person you are and how you will behave under pressure.
For many companies, especially multinationals, a 'positive' psychometric evaluation has become a key qualification. You can walk through their door trailing all the fancy degrees and references in the world, but if your psychometric reading suggests you are to team-work what Fidel Castro is to market economics, your chances of netting a position are nil. If you were fish, it'd be the one lurking forgotten and friendless at the bottom of the ocean. However, advocates of psychometrics bridle at the suggestion that the science has handed the thought-police a casting vote in the hiring process. Far from serving as an impediment, they say, psychometrics is a useful tool, for individuals as well as employers. "Psychometrics can be extremely helpful in identifying our strengths and weaknesses and helping us to decide what jobs suits us best," explains Jack Griffin, of Career and Education Guidance.
One of the reasons for psychometrics' current prominence is that more and more of us are in the throes of professional angst. Despite, or perhaps because of, recent prosperity, the Irish workforce craves job satisfaction as never before. A steady wage no longer offers sufficient fulfilment - we expect work to be an expression of our individuality. Finding out what sort of person you are and where your talents are best directed is, says Mr Griffin, a huge advantage when choosing a career in which you will be happy. "This is a relatively new phenomenon because for many years people were glad to have a job at all. Nowadays we are looking for something extra. We want to be fulfilled in our work." Mr Griffin's clients include professionals who, facing middle-age and parenthood, suddenly realised they were miserable and wanted a new direction. Like many others, they had followed a career path without giving great thought to where it was leading. Years of subconscious dissatisfaction culminated in a moment of painful insight: they hated their jobs and went cold at the thought of spending the rest of their working lives trapped in the same pigeon hole. Psychometrics, explains Mr Griffin, allows such individuals step back and chart a different course. "It may sound like stating the obvious, but if we aren't doing something to which we aren't suited, we won't be happy."
To put his claims to the test, I agree to undergo a psychometric evaluation. As is often the case with journalists, I trained originally in a different discipline, which I quickly rejected as unsuitable. Would Mr Griffin's jiggery-pokery support the wisdom of my choice? Or, like those clients of his who wanted out, shall it suggest I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere? To my relief, the test skirts around the topic of favourite fish or my thoughts on nose picking. Instead, it asks me to choose from a list of personality traits the ones which I feel best describe me (generous, gentle, curious, forceful and so on). Eight minutes are alloted, but surely you can't capture a person's essence so quickly? "You'd be surprised," says Mr Griffin. "Actually, it's a little scary how accurate these things can be."
He's right. The findings are disconcertingly on the nose. It is as though a tiny camera was smuggled inside my head and has been secretly taking snapshots for weeks. According to the test, I am a creative self-starter, who tends towards abstract thinking and perfectionism (a polite way of saying I'm always missing deadlines, I think). Preferring to communicate in writing rather than verbally, I take criticism badly (apparently due to low self-confidence) and am best left to work on my own, away from other people. As I said, scary (although it is a relief to learn that sitting at home writing articles and interacting with the world via email and text message seems to be the only job to which I'm in any way suited). Yet recently there has been a backlash against psychometrics, particularly in the United States, where it has long been a respected hiring tool. "People are complicated," says Annie Murphy, author of Cult Of Personality. "The idea that you can capture someone's personality in a short question-and-answer test is ridiculous. Far too many factors can affect the results - the mood you are in, whether you choose to be honest or to give the answers you think will go down best. In most cases, the tests simply reflect the personalities of the people who set them."
On this side of the Atlantic, the reputation of psychometrics took a pummelling last year when it was revealed that a high-flying sales executive at a well-known chain store had been sacked after revealing in a questionnaire that his favourite colour was blue (which is associated with defeatism). It is also the case that interviewees often approach an employer's test as a series of hoops to be jumped through. When seeking a job with a science company, it is obvious how you will fare in answering a question such as "do you prefer arts and sport or science and engineering?" 'Fooling' a psychometric test isn't always as easy, says Jack Griffin. If your replies become too contradictory - if they suggest you are a laid-back person with enormous drive for example - it is clear you aren't answering honestly and alarms bells will sound.
We should not be overly cynical about this arriving science, he adds. For too long people have shuffled into careers to which they are patently ill-suited. Were more of us willing to give ourselves a frank appraisal and to stand back and chart our career, we would be by far a happier nation. "Psychometrics gives you a better idea of where your strengths and your weaknesses lie. That can only be a good thing," says Mr Griffin.
You can learn more about psychometrics at www.candeguidance.com