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Put Your Personality to the Test

One-third of employers use some form of pre-employment personality testing to find workers who are a good fit. Our writer took two common tests to see what job candidates might face.

I'm an innovator with a healthy dose of the banker inside me. Or, depending on which day you ask, it's the other way around.

The labels were bestowed by the Core Values Index assessment, a personality test formulated by a Seattle company called Taylor Protocols. The company has administered the test to more than 10,000 people over the course of nearly two decades of work with hundreds of companies. Taylor primarily used the tests to help turn around companies that were in trouble. The scores would help determine who was let go, and who was kept or brought on board to help right the sinking ship.

These days, Taylor's focus is on helping profitable companies stay that way by hiring the right people. That's a task that some firms are deciding is best not left to reacute;sumeacute;s and interviews alone. Studies have shown that hiring decisions are made subconsciously, within the first 30 seconds of meeting a candidate. And one recent survey found that 43% of reacute;sumeacute;s contained "inaccuracies."

Why companies test

Tests "take the guesswork, the subjectivity out of hiring and firing," says Taylor's director of business development, Brian Rutherford. Don't even think about fudging answers -- most personality assessments have built-in lie detectors.


One-third of U.S. employers, from Fortune 100 companies down to mom and pop shops, use some form of pre-employment personality testing to find workers who can prove they're a good fit. Testing is a $400 million-a-year industry, growing 10% to 15% annually.

Bosses know what they're looking for by profiling the high-achievers in any given job, then testing candidates to find a match. One company's goat can be a competitor's hero. In one classic study, successful financial consultants at a major New York brokerage had personalities that were opposite to those of the best brokers at a smaller Midwest-based outfit.

Another study from CDR Assessment Group in Tulsa found that the profiles of prosperous energy traders, including some former Enron employees, turned out to be remarkably similar to those of incarcerated felons. Both groups push boundaries, break rules, scoff at procedures and are emotionally detached -- proving that there are few bad test results, just bad job fits.

Tests run the gamut: Taylor's takes less than five minutes online and is scored instantly. A three-part, nearly 600-question test from CDR, which might be given to executive-level job candidates or to company managers looking for leadership training, takes almost two hours to take online. A few days later, results are presented (to the prospective employer, typically, not you) in three spiral bound notebooks brimming with charts and explanations. A personal debriefing can take a couple of hours.


My results

I took both tests to see what today's job candidates might face. I took Taylor's test two times, just to see if it gave me the same results twice. Rutherford says that 95% of subjects get the same results no matter when they repeat the test, a pretty high validity score. My results, about a week apart, were similar but not identical.

The test presented me with 36 groupings of four words each, asking me to check the two that had the greatest value to me. I wasn't supposed to spend more than five seconds per box. For instance, I ranked "candor" and "advise" over "diplomacy" and "process;" "problem solving" and "substance" over "charisma" and "conservation."

I'm no psychologist, and although the test seemed a little reductive to me -- not quite as simplistic as a newspaper horoscope or a personality quiz you might find in a pop culture magazine -- some of the findings were spot on.

"Bankers" like to act with specific knowledge and historic evidence. Having the right information is important, as is passing knowledge on to others. (Whew! Looks like magazine writing is the job for me after all.)


However, I see in myself fewer of the "innovator's" qualities -- an emphasis on strategic thinking and on enjoying people and things working well together. I learn that innovators can be stubborn (moi?) and that bankers rarely make good entrepreneurs.

The two qualities taken together make me the "cognitive type," (as opposed to the creative type, say, or the practical type), according to the Taylor model. We cogies value making decisions based on assessment and analysis, on what we know versus what we feel. No "gut feelings" for us!

The CDR assessment is much more detailed. The complete assessment is in three parts: a character test, a test that measures what motivates you and gives you satisfaction, and a test that measures the risks of putting you in charge. CDR founder Nancy Parsons, says the patterns in our profiles don't change much -- decade after decade -- once we become working adults.

The questions, most in a true-false format, range all over the map and frequently seem to bear little resemblance to anything having to do with my job. But just as you don't know the code written by the software designer that informs your computer program, neither can you divine the psychological underpinnings of the test questions.


Do I like classical music? A yes answer, along with other inputs, might indicate eclectic tastes and an inquisitive nature. Can I multiply large numbers quickly? It shows a quantitative learning style (or in my case, not.) Would I rather go to a party or stay home and read? That might help answer whether I'm extroverted enough to enjoy making presentations, or conversely, whether I'd yak too much at the water cooler to get anything done.

Interpreting the data

The CDR data can be overwhelming, confusing and, at times, seemingly contradictory -- just like human beings. I learn that I can be hard-nosed and task-focused, applying a consistent sense of urgency to my efforts, sometimes in a frenzied way. (Hmm. Sounds like any journalist on deadline.) I prefer predictability and follow the rules but am definitely not a yes-gal and don't care all that much what others think of me. I'm an avid learner but not particularly adventurous (won't even go on the Ferris Wheel.)

I have to watch out that I don't worry too much, over-process decisions or fall victim to moodiness (but, hey, my kids could have told you that.) I seem to be passionate about the arts, am driven by a strong interest in scientific analysis and discovery, and luckily -- for me and for you, too, I guess -- I take a lot of pleasure in personal finance and economics. I like to "talk money." I asked CDR's Parsons if my business and finance scores were high because I'd been a business and finance writer for so many years (20, but who's counting). She said, no, it's the other way around. I'd covered the beat for so long because it was innately rewarding.

My scores, in other words, told me I'm not "swimming upstream" in my position or in my field. That's not a bad thing to find out, and these days, that's more and more likely to happen before you even get the offer.