Job hunters, don’t try to outfox personality tests

Do you stay in close contact with your friends from high school?

That’s just one of thousands of questions you might be asked when you apply for a job. How do you answer it? Honestly. What answer does the employer want? Don’t even try to guess.

Pre-employment personality assessments are tied to about one-fourth of all jobs these days. Employers who believe in “people analytics” use an array of open-answer and multichoice questions to find workers who they hope will be best suited to the job.

Test makers in the $2 billion-a-year industry say to relax — there are no right or wrong answers. But that’s not entirely true in context. Employers will rate your answers against the characteristics they think will lead to success in the job, often comparing your answers to those from people who have succeeded at that work.

Assessment administrators say you shouldn’t try to outfox the text, to imagine what answer the employer wants. The more sophisticated instruments have built-in checks — “validity scales” — that can help detect inconsistencies in your answers.

For example, if you’re applying for a sales position, you might assume it’s good to say you stay in close contact with old friends. It shows you keep relationships going. But you also might think it’s better to say no. You don’t want to look like it’s hard for you to make new friends.

That’s why it isn’t worth overthinking the questions. Relax. Be yourself. And hope that the employer — according to the best industry advice — uses the personality test to influence only about one-third of the hiring decision. Other factors, including face-to-face interviews, your experience, reference checks and skills testing, should be considered in tandem.

If the test is a good one that is professionally interpreted, your results ideally will predict whether you’re a good fit for the specific job. People sometimes aren’t very good at assessing their own strengths and weaknesses. Job hunting can be a quest to find the position where they’re most likely to do well.

Job hunters understandably bristle at the time it takes to complete lengthy assessments, usually on a computer. Administrators say it’s wise to sit down with a positive attitude and set aside quiet time. It won’t help your chances if you’re irritated or speed through just to get it done.

Once again, don’t even try to guess what the question means. Go with your first answer that comes to mind. Human resource officers say valid tests can detect people who basically end up faking themselves out of consideration.

Equally unfortunate, if you do manage to fool the test, you may end up in a job that is completely unsuitable for your personality or character.

Experts also say you can refuse to take a pre-employment personality assessment. But don’t. The employer wants that information, and you put yourself out of contention by refusing.

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