You might have thought your test-taking days ended when you received that college diploma in the mail. But if you’ve been in the job market for more than two seconds in the past few years, you know that’s far from the truth. More employers than ever are relying on a battery of tests to help separate the best candidates from the rest of the fray, and it doesn’t get any less likely as you move into higher positions. There’s plenty of research out there that suggests personality tests aren’t the best method for choosing a candidate, but employers are using them regardless. Plus, human resources departments aren’t just testing for personality type — they’re trying to see if you’re competent, if you can handle stressful situations well, and more.
According to the 2014 Global Assessment Trends Report, about 76% of HR professionals said they used some form of testing to screen external hires before making a job offer. Entry level to supervisor positions are tested between 55% and 68% of the time, but HR managers used testing the most for middle managers at 72%. Even CEOs and other executives weren’t in the clear — 67% of HR personnel said they endorsed testing for those positions, too. In other words, if you’re gunning for a promotion, or looking to take a few steps up the ladder at a new company, expect a test or two.
Can you beat the tests?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and a professor at University College London and faculty member at Columbia University, wrote that employers are likely testing for three main things in these tests: competence, work ethic, and emotional intelligence. Many of the tests aren’t looking for the one candidate who blows the others away — they’re simply looking to make sure everyone meets the least common denominator. Actually getting chosen for the job will still have a lot to do with your resume, your references, and the interviews themselves.
“After 15 years of studying assessments and developing more than 100 of them for organizations, I can tell you there’s no easy way to game well-designed tools,” Chamorro-Premuzic writes. “That said, if you’re an informed test taker, you’ll be more likely to showcase your best self.”
So how do you showcase your best self? Here’s a few tips to make sure you’re prepared for any test that comes your way, and that you understand what they actually do. If you’re equipped with that information, you’re more likely to view the tests as another tool instead of a looming, potentially daunting part of the interview process.
1. Know what’s expected
There’s nothing wrong with asking a few questions to know what you’re about to do, Sparks Personnel Services advises. Ask what type of assessment you’ll be taking, and about how long it will take. That way you have a reasonable understanding of what you’re about to do.
Plus, remember not to get too freaked out that your job offer depends on one fill-in-the-blank sheet. “You’re not just jumping through hoops for the employer’s benefit. Tests can provide clues about an organization — how things work there, how success is defined, which traits matter most. You’re getting a peek at expectations, which is invaluable in any job search,” Chamorro-Premuzic writes.
If you have the luxury of a few days before you take the test, practice! If you know you’ll be taking a personality test, Sparks suggests taking an online version ahead of time so you gain a little more self-realization. Myers-Briggs is the most popular, though there are free versions closely modeled to it you can find online.
Resume Advantage Pro writes that one test-making company, Psychometric Success, has determined that dishonesty, a lack of integrity, an inability to control anger, and an inability to cope with stress are all undesirable in job candidates. The site offers tips on how to answer certain interview questions, though Chamorro-Premuzic writes that well-designed tests will have anti-cheating metrics that show the true you, anyway.
Either way, Psychometric Success offers free practice tests for any of the tests you might encounter. Even though you likely won’t be able to fake them out, Chamorro-Premuzic believes that the practice will give your self-confidence a boost. Plus, research is showing that practice can improve your skills, which means you’ll be better prepared when the real test comes.
3. Read and understand the questions
Even if you’ve practiced, you’re likely to be a little nervous when you’re sitting in a corporate office facing a sheet of paper or computer screen. Succeeding here goes back to the basics of any good test-taking advice. Read the questions throughly, and make sure you understand what’s being asked. “The most common mistake people make on any type of exam or test is misreading questions or failing to properly follow instructions. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you,” Sparks advises.
It also doesn’t hurt to understand the motivations behind some questions. Chamorro-Premuzic includes some sample questions, one of which is an indicator or work ethic. Take a look at the question (which you’ve probably seen in every personality test) and at his explanation of the answers.
Choose the most accurate statement below.
A. It is important for me to excel at everything I do.
B. I am good at everything I do.
C. If you want to be successful, you can’t always put others’ needs first.
Chamorro-Premuzic: “People who select B tend to be narcissistic — research shows that narcissists don’t hesitate to reveal themselves in assessments. Those who select C are likely to be overly ambitious. (If that seems obvious, you likely don’t fall into either camp.) Statement A captures a healthy degree of ambition.”
4. Know your strengths
Though you probably had to answer a question or two about your strengths in the interview process, this is a little different. In this case, know when you’re most likely to perform well on a test, and when you can focus the best. If you have any control over when the test takes place, schedule it for that period.
Chamorro-Premuzic writes that agreeable and conscientious people are likely to be better test-takers in the morning and should avoid caffeine during those hours, since they’re already firing on all cylinders naturally. Extroverted, creative people will most likely need the caffeine boost in the morning but won’t need it in the afternoon. If you’re scheduled for an afternoon test and you tend to drag during the hours after lunch, plan to indulge in an espresso beforehand. Otherwise, skip it — you’ll just end up adding real jitters to the butterflies inside your stomach.
5. Be honest
By now you should know the quickest way to lose a job is to lie. Attempting to get another one is no different. You might be tempted to alter your true responses to give a reply that you think the company will appreciate more. But in the end, it won’t do you any favors. “Don’t lie—you’ll just improve your chances of landing a job that’s not an appropriate fit. Good tests have anticheating features that detect anomalous or fake responses, and smart interviewers are quick to pick up discrepancies between test scores and real-world behaviors,” Chamorro-Premuzic advises.
If you’re taking a test and you’re afraid that your answers won’t line up with what the company is looking for, continue anyway. You might be surprised, as each company has its own rating scale when it comes to these tests. And even if you’re right, it’s probably for the best. The tests tell as much about the company as it will about you — careful readers will be able to see the company’s goals and priorities shine through based on the questions they’re asked. If your answers don’t line up, you probably wouldn’t have been happy in the position anyway.
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS