I once wrote an article for TechRepublic in which I discussed types of employee assessment tests and how they’re used. I got an eyeful from responders on that one, most of whom deplored the use of such tests. A lot of good points were made against them, including one from TechRepublic member Worker_Bee who called them a form of a "psychological strip search." He pointed out something that I hadn't considered:
"Once your manager has your test results in hand what will prevent him from using them to manipulate you? Let's see, Joe here has a confidence problem so I will constantly remind him that he is lucky to have a job at all and he will be grateful for that zero percent raise."
A good many managers responded, however, saying that they find the test results useful and would never manipulate someone based on the information. Those points aside, the problem I have with these tests is that they themselves so easy to manipulate that I question their accuracy. If you're looking for a job and the test asks you to answer true or false to the question, "I get extremely impatient when things don't go my way" are you really going to answer "True" even if it is true?
You can tell there are not-very-well-hidden goals in these tests, that the same questions or statements are repeated in varying iterations to try to establish a behavior pattern. If you really wanted to mess with someone, and if a possible job wasn't on the line, you could answer differently for each of those statements. But then the test would reveal, I suppose, that you've got some kind of multiple personality disorder.
Sometimes however, you may contradict yourself unconsciously. For example, one statement may be "I like my environment to be neat and tidy." Then four statements later it will be "My working area is very neat and tidy." OK, this won't work with me because I'd LOVE for my environment to be neat and tidy (which would call for an answer of True for the first instance) but it's not neat and tidy because I'm too lazy to keep it that way (which, of course, would cause me to answer the second statement with False).
I also don’t know how to answer the statements that ask how others see you, like "People think of me as highly effective." Well, who really knows how they are perceived by others? And what does that prove anyway unless the test actually asks those people you know how they perceive you in order to compare the two answers? What does it mean if you think people see you as effective but in reality they think you're a wimp of the highest order? Does it mean you're delusional or just eternally optimistic?
And don't get me started on the effect of human moods. Let's say on one morning you get up and your spouse tells you she's leaving you, your dog bites you on the way out the door, and then you get caught in a traffic jam for an hour. Wouldn't your answers differ if instead you'd gotten up that morning, signed your child's straight-A report card, found $50 in the pocket of your coat, and got to work in record time? You have to wonder.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.