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How Personality Tests for Job Seekers Work - WSJ.com

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October 29, 2012


True or False: These Tests Can Tell if You Are Right for This Job

An applicant's handshake may be crucial at a job interview. But a personality test can tell a company what's behind that handshake.
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Companies as varied as electronics retailer HHGregg Inc., rental-car agency Avis Budget Group Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. all use personality tests to help assess job applicants for conscientiousness, extroversion or other traits that may be useful in forging a successful careeror, alternatively, derail one.

The questions are rarely straightforward, and neither are the answers. Psychology is involved, after all. The New Shape of Big Data Applicants may try to give answers they think the Moneyball, VC Style company wants to hear, and aren't likely to admit to A Guide to Facebook's Privacy Options character flaws or bad behavior. So there can be a great deal of opacity regarding what the questions are even measuring, psychologists say. Moreover, test makers say a single answer holds little meaning in its own right and must be weighed alongside a series of other responses. For the best predictive results, companies often find out what traits their high performers display, and then test for those characteristics. Here is a sampling of personality-test questions, what psychologists and test designers say about what each question is really looking for, and how the range of possible responses could be interpreted.




How Personality Tests for Job Seekers Work - WSJ.com

Noah Woods

1. On television, I usually prefer watching an action movie than a program about art. A) Often B) ? C) Rarely This question, from 16PF, the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, addresses an applicant's preference for logic versus feelings and intuition, says Ralph A. Mortensen, chief psychologist of the test's publisher, the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing. Someone opting for an action flick may be more fact-focused, an important trait for analytical jobs. Those who answer "rarely" may have more creative personalities. If they choose the question mark on B, it doesn't tell you much: Perhaps they do both an equal amount or perhaps they simply aren't sure. 2. True or False: People often expect too much of me. This question, from the California Psychological Inventory, indicates a test taker's "conceptual fluency," or ability to understand complex concepts, says Rich Thompson, director of research at test publisher CPP Inc. Someone who answers "True" is likely to be easily overwhelmed and may not believe in his or her own talent. 3. True or False: I like parties and socials. A "True" response would be a positive sign for the "sociability" scale, indicating an outgoing personality. But it's a negative for "independence." It could mean "you like being part of a crowd," Dr. Thompson says. "And if you like being part of a crowd, perhaps you follow the crowd." 4. Select one statement that reflects the viewpoint most like yours. Then, from the remaining choices, select the one statement that least reflects your viewpoint. A. I don't necessarily need to define and control the agenda. B. It's almost never necessary to hurt other people's feelings. C. I'm usually the first person to strike up a conversation with strangers. D. I would never step over others in order to ensure my own success. This question, from the Caliper Profile, measures someone's need to be controlling (A), as well as their sensitivity (B), gregariousness (C) and aggressiveness (D). The assessment, published by Caliper Corp., compares groupings of 23 personality traits. While some people may be deemed more sensitive than aggressive, based on their responses to this question, that doesn't mean they're pushovers. Other statements may reveal those same people are more aggressive than they are self-disciplined. "It's all relative," says Herb Greenberg, Caliper's founder and chief executive, and certain traits will be more important for certain jobs. 5. True or false: I do many things better than almost everyone I know.
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How Personality Tests for Job Seekers Work - WSJ.com

Responding "True" to this question from the Hogan Personality Inventory could indicate confidence or arrogance, while a "False" response conveys humility or insecurity, says Jarrett Shalhoop, senior consultant at Hogan Assessment Systems. 6. True or false: I don't mind being told what to do. Someone saying "True" may follow directions well, or in the extreme may be incapable of independent action. A "False" response suggests autonomy, or could indicate the respondent is difficult to manage, Dr. Shalhoop says. 7. Answer the following on a five-point scale, whether it is more true or more false. "Is uneasy when receiving praise." This statement, from the WorkPlace Big Five Profile 4.0, measures humility and pride, helpful in identifying confident, successful salespeople. Pride is important, but humility is valued more in academic or religious settings, says Pierce J. Howard, managing director of research and development at the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, which created the profile. "Spit and polish and charm are not going to do it for that sort of audience," Dr. Howard says. Ms. Korn is a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York. She can be reached at melissa.korn@wsj.com.

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