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A human writes issue

YOUR CAREER: Graphology

Most British newspapers eagerly reported the various graphological analyses of Osama Bin Laden's signature. But is handwriting analysis credible, or is it just a load of mumbo jumbo? And is it a good thing that only a small minority of UK firms use it to assess the personalities of new recruits?

The British Academy of Graphology claims that the percentage of firms using handwriting analysis as part of their recruitment process has increased from 2% in 1994 to 20 % today, with banks and financial firms among the most likely to do so.

It certainly has a long history.

Originally practised in Roman times, the first book on the subject was written in 1622 by Camillo Baldi, an Italian doctor of medicine and philosophy, and the term graphology was first used in 1871. In the 19th century, French academic Jean Hippolyte Michon researched the subject for 30 years, assigning each letter he recieved with its own meaning. Meanwhile it was shown that those who can no longer write with their hands due to illness or accident, write in a similar style when using their mouth or feet.

During the 20th century, graphologists looking at space and rhythm in handwriting developed the framework for the type of graphology employed today. However, recent research by the British Psychological Society and the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development has concluded that the technique has yet to prove itself.

On the other hand, experts who detect forgeries have proved handwriting cannot be faked, so there is a close link with personality. Researchers have also found that our handwriting stays unchanged for long periods.

Even if the jury is out on the effectiveness of handwriting analysis, globalisation and increasing involvement in Europe may mean we need to take a second look. Around 50% of French firms use graphology to help select the right staff, as do many employers in Italy and Germany.

And it could benefit candidates who are not naturally communicative, or who find interviews daunting. But employers in construction are taking a cautious line. Major firms like Balfour Beatty and Maunsell have yet to use graphology, although Maunsell's human resources department stresses it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

Balfour Beatty says it is happy to use personality tests to assess new candidates hoping to join the 24,000 strong organisation.

'We use a range of personality profiles and ability tests, and it's up to the operating companies which ones they choose, ' says Marjorie Hooper, group media manager. 'When we looked at graphology, it was not accepted wisdom that it was a good predictor of applicants' behaviour.'

According to graphologist Penny Lipson, firms such as Balfour Beatty would do well to reconsider handwriting analysis.

She stresses that, far from being akin to reading horoscopes or consulting a palmist, this is a serious academic discipline.

'This is a science - it takes at least two years to become accredited to an organisation like the International Graphical Association, ' she points out.

Lipson says graphologists can detect literally hundreds of personal qualities by looking at a piece of writing.

'For employers, there is a lot at stake. They have applicants sitting through two or three days of tests in some cases. We think adding handwriting analysis would help give them a very useful overview.'

Key points Firms in the banking and finance sector are increasingly using graphology as part of the recruitment process Supporters of graphology claim it could benefit people who do not interview well Graphology is not widely used in the construction industry where personality tests are favoured

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