More than 70 per cent of companies now use so-called objective testing of potential employees. The aim is 'managed subjectivity' - to remove the unfair element from the subjective interview.
On the day of my interview for the job of assistant to a charity PR consultant, my nerves were compounded by finding that the office was close to a hospital with particularly unhappy associations. Luckily, I had obeyed Job-seeker's Procedure and got there early so that I was able to compose myself before a secretary rushed me upstairs for my test.
Keeping to a strict time limit, I had to assess groups of adjectives, marking which most and which least matched my perception of myself at work. Choosing one quality out of four when all seemed appropriate was difficult, more difficult than the interview that followed - though I felt I hadn't impressed.
Confirmation of this arrived a week later. My rejection letter was accompanied by a copy of the Private and Confidential Personal Profile Analysis - two-and-a-half sides of A4 paper, based on that 10-minute test.
The Profile's presumptuous inaccuracy and its judgemental tone were harder to accept than the fact that I had been turned down for the job. Apparently, I have 'no eye for detail'; I am also 'a forceful individual . . . who leads rather than directs' and am 'motivated by monetary reward to cover good living'. The words 'impatient', 'restless' and 'strong-willed' also cropped up.
'A portrait of a lean, power-crazed yuppie,' said a psychologist friend of 15 years to whom I showed the Profile. She said it was miles off track.
I know myself to be a plodding, industrious checker. I am plump, in my forties, meek but jolly, and a bit over-anxious to be thought creative. I am not a lean, power-crazed yuppie.
What would I do, I worried, if I had to take another test for another job, and this unattractive personality emerged again? Surely it wasn't really me?
I sent the charity a polite disclaimer of the Profile, purely for the record. Meanwhile, I made a few enquiries.
Had my emotional state of mind sent the test results off course? I had been perturbed to find the office so close to a hospital that held unhappy memories for me.
'State of mind will have an impact,' says Shane Pressey, of the occupational psychologists Seville and Holdsworth, 'but on the whole its effect will be relatively minor. It appears that the test was an inadequate tool for the amount of information they were trying to get out of it, and it is not surprising that there were inaccuracies.'
Too late for that particular job, I arranged to sit another psychometric test. This one took much longer and was more thorough; the profile was also more detailed and accurate, even insightful - it picked up on my eye for detail and the fact that I have a problem meeting deadlines.
But a bizarre result is hard to challenge without seeming paranoid; it is simply not on to refuse to take a test, lest the job candidate seem unco-operative and eccentric. The interview, with its yes/no gut feeling, is here to stay, but so is objective testing.
If my experience is anything to go by, the job candidate should be wary of 10-minute tests that result in sweeping - and possibly wildly inaccurate - judgements. I accept that it would be costly to arrange for face-to-face discussions of test results with all job candidates, but a telephone call would be preferable to simply receiving a written 'profile' through the post and having no opportunity to discuss its contents.Reuse content