Handwriting tests 'useless as guide to job suitability': Psychologists are scathing about value of graphological analysis. Celia Hall reports

PSYCHOLOGISTS have decided that analysing the handwriting of candidates applying for jobs is no more predictive than astrology or reading chickens' entrails.

A report issued yesterday by the British Psychological Society says that graphology rates zero among a group of tests and procedures used in 'personnel decision-making'.

Dr Donald McLeod, a psychologist and member of the society's division of occupational psychology, said: 'Graphology comes right at the bottom of the heap. You might as well take a stake of applications and throw them out of the window and then choose those that land face up.'

Dr McLeod, formerly a chief psychologist with the Civil Service Commission, now works for the Independent Assessment and Research Centre - a business centre - and specialises in developing skills in senior managers.

He said the society was trying to set standards for people interested in using techniques for assessing staff and was trying to find which kinds of tests could be shown to be consistent and reliable. The best form he said was known as the assessment centre method when candidates spent two or three days doing a series of tests and exercises.

'It is clear that graphology is being used increasingly in business. We have simply drawn together the existing research. You feel that handwriting ought to be able to show you something, but sadly whenever we look for it, it isn't there.'

In one piece of research, no graphologist could tell the writer's profession from his or her handwriting. In another, two graphologists failed to identify the candidates chosen by selectors using the assessment centre method.

Dr McLeod said he believed that companies were wasting their money if they employed graphologists - and that they could be recruiting the wrong people.

Warburg Group plc, the international bankers, has been using graphology for more than 30 years in employee selection. A spokesman said: 'We use it in the selection of personnel at executive level and above. It is one element in an extensive series of interviews. We stand by our belief in its validity - clearly if we thought it was of no value we would not use it.'

Lawrence Warner, chairman of the British arm of the International Graphoanalysis Society and a psychologist, said: 'They have not made fair comparisons and they have been selective. I am disappointed that they have not included a more recent survey that rates graphology alongside personality questionnaires. Handwriting will tell you something of the personality and is an element of assessing suitability for a job. Many people may have all the technical and cognitive skills for a job, but their personality may be totally unsuitable for the circumstances in which they have to work.'

The professional adviser Claire Rayner, who volunteered her handwriting for analysis, said: 'I see hundreds of letters as an agony aunt. Handwriting does say something of the writer and their state of mind. I think it would be a pity to discount it altogether.'

Leading article, page 17

(Photograph omitted)