The different types of tests you might encounter during job search

Assessment days
Preparing for the tests you’re likely to face.

Personality tests
What does the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator say about you?

IQ tests
Tips for communicating your intelligence.

Psychometric tests
Feedback from employers is crucial if you want to understand your score.

Faking it
There’s no point in trying to outwit psychometric tests.

Group tests
When to speak up and when to stay silent.

Assessment days

Heard the one about the prospective investment banker who went to an assessment day and was asked what the euro/sterling exchange rate was that day and then had to translate euros into dollars on the spot?

Or how about the graduate who, after spending a day at an assessment centre run by a high street retailer was given 10 minutes to write a limerick about his experiences during the day?

Many of the big companies who have earned reputations for running good management training schemes, now put potential graduate recruits through a range of tests, often run over one or two days at an assessment centre.

These include case studies, role play, negotiation exercises and team challenges. In addition, psychometric testing is often used to test numerical and verbal aptitude.

Perhaps the toughest graduate recruiter is the armed forces, which puts its potential recruits through a three-day assessment known as the Regular Commission Board. As well as the physical challenges – recruits must complete an obstacle course that includes scaling an 8ft wall – the ordeal is mentally testing.

Candidates are tested on four areas of potential: elasticity of intellect under stress, problem solving, physical ability and personality and character – and most leave mentally and physically exhausted.

Many assessment centre tests involve strict time constraints that offer employers the added bonus of assessing potential employees’ ability to cope under stress. One such test is the In-Tray Exercise in which candidates are given 60 minutes to analyse and prioritise a file of papers. This is used by the civil service selection board, along with policy exercises and cognitive tests, to choose the annual intake of graduates who join the civil service’s fast stream.

In-Tray Tests and teamwork exercises are also used at investment banks. However, most also subject potential recruits to rigorous one-to-one interviewing which is likely to test economic understanding and up-to-date financial awareness.

So how do you cope? The growth in scientifically based tests means there is no point trying to act a part, because you’ll be caught out. So stay relaxed and enjoy yourself – most of these new procedures sound more terrifying than they actually are.


Personality tests

Many employers use personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to give them insight into the way you interact with people as well as the way you work.

The MBTI programme features 16 personality types that differ in the way they view the world. Candidates taking the test answer the same questions, each offering a choice of two answers. They include questions like:

Would you rather work under someone who is:
a) always kind?
b) always fair?

There are no right or wrong answers in personality tests, but the results will reveal your personality type. For example, you might be an ESTJ: Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking and Judging.

ESTJs are “practical with a natural head for business”, qualities that can lead to a great career as a sales manager, or administrator. Or you could be an INFJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging) – people with this personality type make good writers and editors.

However, knowledge of your type should never stop you from finding a job that appeals to you. People of all types can find success in all fields. What matters most is finding the best job for you within each field and the working environment that suits you.

The MBTI explains the personality types as follows. Extroverts tend to focus on the outer world of people and things, while Introverts tend to focus on the inner world of ideas and impressions.

Sensing types are prone to focus on the present and concrete information gained from their senses, while Intuitive types, their polar opposites, enjoy anticipating the future and like to focus on the big picture.

Thinking types are naturally quite analytical, tend to base their decisions on logic and aim to be fair when dealing with people. Feeling types are able to empathise and base their decisions on values and people’s feelings.

Judging types dislike working under time pressure, preferring a planned and organised approach to life. Perception types get energised by last minute time pressures and enjoy a flexible and spontaneous approach to life.


IQ tests

Do you know what your IQ is and if so would you ever mention it?

Intelligence – that innate quality which is not dependent on education – is regarded by some employers as an indicator of potential to succeed, whilst others dismiss it as meaningless.

It is assessed by tests that measure verbal, spatial, numeric and abstract reasoning. Although psychologists may be split over the issue, many employers believe in and make extensive use of such tests when recruiting.

Graduates who’ve spent years doing exams which have thoroughly tested their abilities may wonder why anyone should need to check if they are clever enough. Shouldn’t their degree say it all?

Employers use tests because they are either suspicious or uncertain about the value of a degree. The expansion in higher education has left recruiters less confident about what a graduate is capable of.

For many jobs a good degree just gets you to the starting line, and tests are the additional hurdles you have to clear.

How high they’re set depends on the nature of the work. Scientific research and some legal jobs for example require exceptional reasoning ability so employers look for high IQ when recruiting.

It’s less significant for positions such as retail management where interpersonal skills are more important.

Most IQ scales use 100 as the average score and those who go on to higher education usually score 110+. Around 5% of the population will score 125 and a score of 135 would place you in the top 1%.

However there are very few jobs where just being very clever is enough. The dream employee is one who combines a high level of conventional intelligence with other attributes such as motivation, emotional intelligence and communication skills.

For some roles being too intelligent can be a disadvantage; employers who are selecting with an eye to promoting effective teamwork look for a mixture of complementary skills.

It’s generally acknowledged, for example, that the chair of group should not be the cleverest person, as such an individual would be likely to dominate proceedings. There’s also an argument that the higher up you are in an organisation the less IQ matters.

Those in senior positions need an ability to deal with change, solve problems, make difficult decisions and talk the talk. Intelligence could get in the way.

Although you can’t significantly improve your IQ or natural aptitudes, knowing what to expect from a test and getting a bit of practice will help you do justice to yourself. Many people lose marks because they don’t read the initial instructions carefully.

Other tips for test takers include:

· Don’t worry about being a bit nervous. A little extra adrenalin can help you perform better.

· Don’t spend too long on any one question. If you can’t do it quickly move on and come back to it at the end.

· Be honest in personality tests rather than trying to provide the answer you think is wanted. Tests incorporate Impression Management Scales that make dishonesty glaringly obvious.

· Ensure you’re provided with a detailed interpretation of how you did and what that means. There’s much you can learn from test feedback.

Psychometric tests

Many employers now use psychometric testing to assess the personalities of potential employees. There are several kinds of test but usually candidates have to answer questions on their preferences and interests.Their answers provide information about their aptitudes and how they get on with colleagues.

Understandably, many people are wary of being exposed in this way. Sam had completed an MA in investigative journalism when she applied for a job as a reporter on her local newspaper in the Midlands. At the interview, she was asked to complete a psychometric test.

“I have a real suspicion of these tests because I don’t like being pigeon-holed,” she explains, “but I went along with it. I found the questions way too simplistic.

There were things like, ‘Do you like being with people? All the time, some of the time or hardly ever?’ It was difficult to answer because I’m different at different times.”

Sam didn’t get the job and when she received the test results, she was gobsmacked. “It wasn’t flattering,” she says.

“I was described as decisive, aggressive and impatient, among other things. It seemed to be about someone who wouldn’t be able to work with other people but I work hard to get on with people. Ironically, I’d applied for the job because I didn’t want to work on my own.”

Disillusioned and frustrated, she sought help from a professional careers adviser who also used psychometric testing. This time, it was a more positive experience. “I was given a different test which had been designed for professional, highly educated people,” she says. “I was also given a motivational test and asked to trace the course of my life so far.”

“The consultant talked about the findings in depth and gave me a lot of useful insights. He confirmed, for example, that I couldn’t work alone and that I’m motivated by a need for social change. I came out of it with a new sense of direction.”

One of the suggestions made by the consultant was that Sam might be suited to working in the voluntary sector. She now works as a coordinator for community advice centres in the Midlands and enjoys her job.

Sam’s experience is a common scenario. Many people find psychometric testing very useful for careers advice but have had bad experiences with job interviews. The problem is that tests are often used in the wrong way. It can really knock someone’s confidence.

Psychometric tests should only be one part of the recruitment process and employers should spend at least fifteen minutes elaborating on the test results. Feedback is crucial.

If you are given a test at interview, don’t be tempted to fill in the answers you think the interviewer is looking for. If you’re too perfect, they’ll smell a rat. And if you have to misrepresent yourself, is it really the job for you?

If you try and fit the profile of their ideal candidate, there might be problems if you get the job because there could be things you won’t be able to do.


Faking it

Assorted studies have shown most people to be rather cynical about the business of personality questionnaires.Suspicion centres partly on the very notion of personality being “measured”; surely logic dictates that quirks and affectations cannot correspond to digits on a graph. But also there are serious doubts about the motivations involved.

Why should employers need to know the masculinity rating of their staff if not for reasons of Orwellian snooping?

There are some very ropey psychometric tests around and candidates have little way of knowing if they are being tested with a reliable one. But once they have sat a test, it is often commonly acknowledged that testing can produce a reasonable degree of accurate information about the person’s character and, by extension, how they are likely to behave at work. It’s self-assessment, after all.

Which brings us to the point of this article: how to fake it. Even the test producers themselves agree that it is quite possible to fake a psychometric test. All you have to do is pretend to be someone you are not, just like you would at interview and on that fantastically embellished CV.

Naturally, it involves second-guessing the ‘person-specifications’ the employer wants, which is not always as simple as it is tempting to think.

Employers don’t necessarily want a million colonels and no bishops. And then, many of the better tests have in-built mechanisms to guard against fibbers and second-guessers. They ask the same question in a variety of different ways at different points in the questionnaire and then look for major discrepancies.

Psycho-fakers have to be quick-witted. For instance, two questions asking whether you agree or disagree with the statements “New ideas come easily to me” and “I find generating new concepts difficult” would normally be expected to yield similar results.

There is no selection procedure in the world that can guarantee that people won’t dissemble. In any case, everyone does a bit of impression-management. But given the notoriously poor reliability of interviews in predicting future job performance, all the evidence indicates the better tests do have some value.

Because so many employers are now using tests as well as interviews, job-hunters need to be asking questions about the tests they are given.

They should be asking what the employer is assessing for, the qualifications of the assessor and whether there will be an opportunity to discuss the results.

The golden rule is that a psychometric test should never be used on its own as a sole basis of selection.

Group tests

By the time you reach the final stages of the recruitment process, you have probably already demonstrated that you have the skills required to do the job.At this stage employers may take a closer look at your communication skills, your ability to analyse problems and how you work in teams with people you don’t know.

At this point, it’s time to ease off the self-promotion bit as recruiters are looking for candidates who are conscious of others in group exercises.

So what qualities do you need to sail through group tests?

· Be a team player – a cliché but demonstrating that you can work successfully in a team and listen to other points of view is vital.

· Confidence – you could be dealing with both clients and candidates on a daily basis and you can’t do this if you’re lacking in this department.

· Communication skills – you need to be articulate enough to express your views coherently. If you find yourself stumped for an answer, don’t ramble on or give a monosyllabic response. It’s better to say, “I’d like some time to think about that. Can we come back to it?”

· Analytical skills – the ability to analyse a problem and identify solutions is crucial. In many jobs it’s important to be able to understand a client brief and the client’s objectives.

· Understanding of the industry in which the company operates

If all this sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry. No employer is expecting you to be perfect and come top in every group test. If you are strong in some areas, but weak in others, employers can focus on those weak areas in their training programmes. Group tests are very much about the individual – employers don’t want an office full of clones.

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