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Psychometric tests - Testing times

In three weeks' time I have an interview for a managerial post with a sister company and have heard from a colleague that this is likely to include a psychometric test. I really want this job and intend to be as prepared as I can be for the interview. How, if at all, can I prepare for a psychometric test?

More than 50% of companies now use some form of personality assessment for training or selecting staff. Although such assessments have had a bad press - such as the recent case in which B&Q sacked a staff member who had failed a personality test - they are intended to make job selection fairer.

Most firms use psychometric tests to give them a fuller picture of an applicant, not to make the decision about whether or not to appoint them.

Neasa MacErlean, author of Get more from work - and more fun, published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), has some tips for coping with such tests:

Do not worry that your innermost secrets will be revealed - you might be asked odd questions, but examiners are usually looking for basic qualities, not psychological disorders.

Do not be put off by the length of the questionnaire. Designers of tests often put too many questions in deliberately, to make sure candidates are kept busy. If you panic, it could be taken as a sign that you react badly under pressure.

Find out in advance what kind of test you are sitting (see below). You can improve your performance by practising mental arithmetic, for instance.

Crosswords, puzzle books and even jigsaws can also help.

The most common tests are:

Myers Briggs type indicator (MBTI) - which aims to help you understand how different personality types behave. Like most personality tests, it is based on the theories of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.

Occupational personality questionnaire (OPQ) - looks at 32 different workplace characteristics - such as reliability, outspokenness and decisiveness.

Rapid personality questionnaire (RPQ) - assesses five personality traits, including how extrovert/introvert you are. It divides personality into action, thinking, relating, feeling and conforming.

Sixteen personality factor questionnaire (16PF5) - one of the UK's longest established personality questionnaires. It has 185 questions, which are mapped to give scores for each of the 16 facets of personality being assessed.

DISC/Thomas profile analysis - looks at four characteristics:

dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance (DISC).

Candidates are asked to respond to a questionnaire listing 24 adjectives - such as gentle, persuasive, humble or original.

Susan D'aish, of Hays Montrose civil and structural engineering division, writes:

'Psychometric tests are designed to match a candidate's personality to a specific company or job vacancy. The aim of the test is to get a realistic candidate profile and there is no test preparation that can be carried out which will improve your chance of success.

'As long as you are well prepared and still convinced that this is the job for you, the best advice is to answer the questions from instinct. Do not worry about what you think the right answer is - just be as honest as possible.

'Find out as much as you can about the company, job description and what your role will be within the company. Most employers are happy to discuss their company profile and modus operandi with candidates who are preparing for interview, as this shows enthusiasm and initiative. You should speak to somebody who works for or has worked for the company to find out about the culture of the organisation and its employees.

'Company websites are also a valuable source of information and the more you know about a company, the greater your chances of success at interview.'

Sue Morris, employment law helpline advisor at the Industrial Society, says: 'Used sensibly, psychometric tests are an additional tool to selection and not a replacement for interviews. In other words, it shouldn't be the deciding factor, but designed to test factors relating to the job.

'It is important to remember that proper psychometric tests are difficult to rig - so relax, be yourself and do your best.'

Key points Psychometric tests form only a part of a firm's assessment of a potential employee The tests are not intended to reveal psychological disorders Tests are used in addition to an interview, and being well prepared and confident of your abilities is still crucial The incident where a B&Q employee was sacked after a test is an exception.

If you want to take a test without waiting until you switch jobs, contact a careers adviser such as Career Analysts, tel (020) 7935 5452 or C2 - The Graduate Career Shop, tel (020) 7554 4555.

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