In the December 10, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader has a friend who doesn’t do well on tests:

A friend of mine has an important job interview coming up. It’s for a pretty high level job. Before she goes to the interview, they want her to do a personality type of test, and she’s very worried because she doesn’t test well. Her idea is to have someone else do the online test for her because no one would know. I think that’s cheating, but I understand her concern — she could miss out on a really good job over a test that won’t mean anything once she starts the job. Is there any way they could find out it’s not really her taking the test?

Nick’s Reply

That’s a scary question.

cheaterWe live under an employment system where people think they can buy resumes, interview answers, keywords and clever methods to beat the filters employers set up when they’re recruiting.

There are about five issues of integrity in your question, but all I’ll say about this in general is, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t fake who you are. Even if you survive the guilt and even if you beat the risks, there’s a good chance that the “payoff” might be that you’ll “win” a job that’s not right for you because you misrepresented yourself. Doesn’t your friend understand that this is a big part of employment testing? It can be to her benefit as well as the employer’s to do the test honestly.

My second point: I don’t like employment tests. I wish employers didn’t use them. If they’re going to truly assess a job applicant, they should do it directly, by spending time with the applicant and observing them in real-life work situations. Not indirectly through tests. So there’s my personal bias.

Now let’s put all this aside and deal with the very real problem of getting busted, because cheating on employment tests isn’t an option.

I recently published a book everyone should read long before they go job hunting in earnest: Employment Tests: Get The Edge… when you compete for a job, by Erica Klein. It’s the first book under the Ask The Headhunter imprint that I didn’t write — and it’s a key “insider’s edge” to getting ahead of your competition.

Don’t wait until you’re faced with an employment test, because it’s not a matter of whether you’ll have to take one of these tests (and there are many kinds — Erica’s book covers the gamut) but of when. If you’re not ready to deal with employment tests, you’re toast.

Your question is the perfect example of how ignorance about employment tests could needlessly cost you a great job — or even get you into bigger trouble. (Yes, bigger trouble. Read on.) There’s a section of the book that addresses your very scary question very directly, and I’m just going to reprint it below.

From Employment Tests: Get The Edge by Erica Klein (pp. 9-10):

What about cheating?

High quality pre-employment testing benefits both employers and job applicants by matching them to help ensure mutual success. One way to think about cheating is that, if you cheat, you can hurt yourself by getting shoe-horned into a job that is not a good fit for you.

What is considered cheating? Usually the rules for taking the test are laid out for you before you start the test. Rules for test taking vary but usually require doing your own work, answering factual questions honestly, not accepting help from anyone else and not accessing other sources of information while taking the test. The rules for different tests will vary. For example, some tests allow you to use a calculator and some will specifically instruct you not to use a calculator.

Some tests are set up to catch certain kinds of cheating. One increasingly common practice is to provide two versions of the same test. The first test you take is “unproctored” — you take it from your own computer and nobody is watching you. If you are in the top group of applicants, you might be invited to take the test again, but in a proctored environment where you are watched while you take the test and your identity is verified. If your score on the second, proctored test is significantly lower than the score on the unproctored test, then the employer assumes you probably cheated and excludes you from further consideration.

[Get it? There’s nothing to stop an employer from insisting that your friend take the test a second time, with someone watching. -Nick]

Applicants sometimes try to get a better score on personality or integrity tests by choosing answers that reflect what they believe would be a perfect person’s answers. Test manufacturers are aware of this strategy and they have built in “lie detector” scales that catch applicants who portray themselves as perfect people with no flaws. This is sometimes called “claiming uncommon virtues” or “faking good.” If you score high on a built-in lie scale, you may be excluded from consideration for the position. One example of a question that could be part of an uncommon virtue/lie scale is “Have you ever told a lie no matter how small?” It is a rare individual who has never told even a small lie in his or her entire life.

I mentioned that ignorance about testing can lead to bigger trouble. Erica adds this warning in one of the many Get The Edge sidebars in the book:

If you get caught cheating on pre-employment tests, you might ruin your chances for employment not only in the job you applied for, but also with that employer, and even possibly with other clients of the test vendor.

That’s right: Cheat on one test, and you could get blown out of many jobs, because the test vendor can keep track of your results from one employer to the next.

It’s quite an industry, isn’t it? That’s why I asked Erica Klein to write this book. It’s rare for someone like her — a specialist in employment testing — to address job seekers. Industrial psychologists like Erica normally conduct and interpret research only for the benefit of employers. I wanted her to translate it and make it useful and understandable for job hunters — to give you the edge.

I think the lessons Erica Klein teaches in her book are so important that I’ll give you a 25% break on the price to get you to read Employment Tests: Get The Edge. Use this discount code when ordering: EDGE. I’ll happily subsidize 25% of your cost of getting the edge.

Have you ever been surprised by an employment test? How did it turn out?

: :

  1. I have been through many pre-employment tests and in most cases the best thing to do is just complete them. I am talking about the psychological and on the job (Starbucks has the most complete) as the answers are already inside of you. I have done the SAT type as well and those you are better off doing some prep for. I must say every company that has asked me to do tests that are of this type gave me advance notice and even an outline of what to prepare for so that was great.

    One company that had me do multiple rounds of tests and an assessment with a psychologist claims annual turnover of less than 4% so I would say their system works for them.

  2. I hate employment tests! I have seen them sink careers of people who were already on the job. And I’m certain many people have lost out on jobs they could have done very well and been happy in.

    Here’s my question: Are C-level applicants given the same tests in the recruitment process and flat-out eliminated if they score wrong?

    I bet not.

    Employment tests enable executives and HR to delude themselves into believing they can delve deep into the candidate’s mind and make fail proof hiring decisions through their supernatural powers. It’s an ego belief that they can look into people’s souls and make God-like decisions backed up by the power of the computer.

    Considering the inadequacy of their computerized resume reviewing, why would we expect their employment tests to be oh so wise?


  3. What about the fact that the test results can be re-used by the test vendor? How is the information used? Who is it shared with?

  4. My first question would be…how good of a friend is this person and how much do to you trust her? This is a character question, as well as an individual confidence/intelligence question. What makes your friend think someone else is better equipped to take a test to represent her in the first place? Either she’s very trusting or feels she’s not worthy of the job in the first place. When you start a job, it’s as significant as starting a new relationship/friendship. Even considering the idea of starting one by lying is NOT a good start and should be very telling to you about how far you can trust this person. How would she feel if they lied to her about the job and salary? Conning herself and a future employer spells disaster down the road. Does she really not believe in her ability or is it a fact that she’s been lying and cheating her whole life at her jobs and possibly friendships.
    I learned as a child that lying only leads to bigger lies and eventually being found out. We all should have learned this by now. Something significantly as lying during an application process is a huge warning bell for more than just a potential employer.
    I’ve found the best thing one can do is take responsibly for ones choices and own your actions/choices. My recommendation is to tell her to be honest and take the test herself. She’ll feel better doing it herself and knowing she deserves the job when it’s offered to her. If it’s not a good fit, then she’s better off else ware. No amount of money can make up for hating where you work and what you do day in and day out. I’m fortunate enough to love what I do and the company/people I work with. It’s because we are honest about our abilities and respect each other. No one is perfect and no one comes in knowing everything, but you have to have a desire to grow and be the best you can be. Having a positive attitude, an honest approach towards your work and always willing to learn new things goes along way. I’m not perfect by a long shot, but I got my job honestly and I’m sure you did as well. Each day we should try to be the best we can be. She should do the same and she will feel even more confident about herself and ability.

    Character is doing the right thing, when no one is watching or when you think they arent.

    Best wishes on her choice and yours,

  5. You can beat the psychology tests that employers give you – I was a “ringer” for psychology tests given in the military. I was trained on how to answer the tests as if I were a manic-depressive and a paranoid schizophrenic to verify if the tests could detect cheaters. I was able to fool the tests because I was coached. (Or maybe the results were correct?)

    That’s assuming you are taking the test only once. As noted, if you are taking it many times, the law of convergence towards the mean applies and the results will be somewhat more consistent. But not necessarily “true.”

    Ph.D. Microbiologist Alex Berezow wrote a piece at about how psychology was not a science. It rankled many feathers, but its criticisms of the failings of psychology as science are accurate.

    Humans are not electrons, as one rebuttal to Berezow’s piece noted, nor are they widgets in a bin. Statistical methods that apply to inanimate and non-rational objects do not apply to self-conscious entities that are aware they are being tested and can anticipate the expectations of the tester and prepare accordingly.

    Nick’s long-running theme on this blog, however, still applies. As Socrates admonished, “Know thyself.” If the company you are applying for rejects you because of their mumbo-jumbo testing, recognize that they have done you a favor. If they tell you that you would not be a good fit, they are correct: Their company is not a good fit for >you<, keep looking for one that is.


    "If you get caught cheating on pre-employment tests, you might ruin your chances for employment not only in the job you applied for, but also with that employer, and even possibly with other clients of the test vendor."

    This quote is the scariest part of the whole thing. Since psychology is a form of medical practice, shouldn't HIPAA laws come into play? Can the vendors share your test results with any employer who asks for them, not just the one you are applying for? The quote is about cheating, but maybe I've been unemployed for a long time and I'm desperate to get the job? People "enhance" their qualifications all the time to get over the HR hurdles. Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes it doesn't.

    The two things wrong with the test vendor telling all the employers that I cheated on one test are this:

    1. It's similar to my former employer talking about me to the rest of the industry. Yes, I may have done something wrong at one job, but it's then up to me to improve my behavior and demonstrate that I am trustworthy in the future. If all the potential employers are sharing gossip about me, when will I get the chance to recover my reputation?

    2. If the tests really can find cheaters, then shouldn't the vendor just rely on the test I take for the next employer to see if I am cheating again? It undermines the test vendor's credibility if they say, "We're not going to let you take the test again because you cheated last time and we think you'll cheat again," …and you won't catch me this time?

    • As a lawyer, I agree with you. I believe an employer who tells other potential employers that an applicant cheated on an employment assessment test has probably violated the applicant’s right to privacy, it would be like telling others that the applicant was not hired be because his credit score was 600.

  6. Hold on. Did she not say in the question that it is a personality test? Why would you even need to need to cheat on a personality test?

    I agree personality tests are flawed and probably not worth using when trying to pick a new employee. But cheating on one? Are you serious? Would you go into work pretending to be someone else for the rest of your life?

  7. Candidate:

    “How many communication, financial, foreign language, geography, history, management, math, military, personality and psychology tests did any US president take to get hired for arguably the toughest job in the world?”


    “I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

    Res ipsa loquitur…

  8. I expected the criticisms about employment tests, so I’m glad to see Martin’s note about a positive experience. Like anything else in business, so much depends on the integrity of the people involved. There are companies that use test results as a starting point to help them with candidate assessements. But far too many people in business are “awed” by testing — and they shouldn’t be. Lots of HR consultants sell the sizzle, while failing to inform their clients about the pitfalls of relying on test results the wrong way.

    An employer might test you and use the results in an informed way. Or it might not. What’s so valuable about Erica Klein’s book is that she shows job applicants how to approach testing in an informed way, and how to ask the right questions before agreeing to take any tests.

    For what it’s worth, I met Erica years ago when she e-mailed me about a column I wrote about testing. Her note was so thoughtful that I asked her to write an article for Ask The Headhunter. For the next several years that article, “Employment Tests: Get An Edge,” was one of the most visited pages on the website. I researched books about employment testing — written for the test taker — and I was really surprised to find there was virtually nothing out there that surveyed employment testing across the board. (As a publisher, I was actually shocked.)

    So I asked Erica to expand her article into an in-depth guide to testing — and that’s where the book came from. I never expected to publish other authors under Ask The Headhunter, but this has been a great addition to “the bookstore!” Check out Erica’s (excuse me — Dr. Erica’s) creds: And read the intro to her book, to get an idea of why I wanted her to write it:

    Just don’t expect that, even though I love to cook and bake, I’ll be publishing any recipe books in the near future… on the other hand, if I find the magic recipe for scones that I’ve been looking for… well, you never know…

  9. A) Why would you start out your relationship with a new employer by cheating? If you have to cheat to get the job what the hell are you going to have to do to get a raise?
    B) more important:
    Pretty Easy Scones
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 Tbsp. lemon zest
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter**, frozen
    • 1/2 cup dried cranberries or dried blueberrys – go with the cranberries, trust me.
    • 1/2 cup sour cream
    • 1 large egg
    What to Do:
    1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
    2. In a medium bowl, mix flour, 1/3 cup sugar, zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingers to work in butter (mixture should resemble coarse meal), then stir in dried fruit.
    3. In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg until smooth.
    4. Using a fork, stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball. (The dough will be sticky in places, and there may not seem to be enough liquid at first, but as you press, the dough will come together.)
    5. Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tsp. of sugar. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on a buttered cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper), about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature. (I never have any parchment paper – buttered worked fine)
    ** I’ve done these with salted butter and with unsalted butter…can’ tell the difference

    from Pam Anderson in Weekend,2004 slightly varied – found somewhere on the net.& messed with a little – used with absolutely no permission

  10. An employment test would be irritating to me but I could see why companies do it. They should have candidates perform it directly in their offices so that eliminates cheating. It’s the personality tests that really tick me off but after reading this post, I’m beginning to understand that more, too. I had to take a required personality test online the night before an interview. When I arrived at my interview the next day, I could already feel the distance between me and that person who would be my boss. Really? The face to face didn’t clear up things? I didn’t get the job and that was fine with me.

  11. I think that there could be some value to some of these tests, like Nick and some of the commenters mentioned… but I’ve never taken one that was worth anything. However, those experiences are limited to fast food and retail, which are industries with really weird, and often horrible, HR practices anyway.

    For one retail job, it was clear they only did the test to satisfy a corporate requirement, because the manager who gave me the test told me the secret to passing it: that everything should be either a 1 or a 5. Each question was a scale, with 1 being agree totally, 5 being disagree totally, and apparently the death of applications was in those 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. I thought that was fascinating. I did, indeed, pass and get the job.

  12. Thanks for this article, Nick.

    I hope you don’t mind if I ride on the back of your expertise in this area by shamelessly using your article to help me take the great candidates from the ***** who use these stupid tools on professionals.

    A new line to be added to my job reqs, once I amend the handbook,

    (Insert my company name here) does not believe that psychological testing is either appropriate or useful in the hiring or employment process and its use is forbidden by company HR handbook.

  13. Don’t cheat on a personality test – simple as that.

    It may get a little more grey on a knowledge test.

    But, If they are going to put a ton of stock on a “test,” possibly where they won’t even discuss the results with you or your thinking on the answers, then they did you a favor.

  14. 1. Peter, thanks for the recipe on ‘Scones’ good pause from it all!

    2. I had to take a test at a Big PC Mfg Company and they were so big on speaking to me, seeked me out, and I was job searching at the time. So I went to the HR department to take their !@#$!@$ test of which I DO NOT do well on these things at all… so you can imagine… at the end here comes the HR gal who apparently had been able to see everything I answered all along (I’m not great at math, however I can ‘stack the blocks’ and I have a decent personality LOL) and she said, you didn’t pass so we DON’T want to talk to you… how’s that for boosting the confidence level when you are looking for work! That’s really how she said it to me.

    3. So years went by and I had been working then another company wanted to speak with me so I went through the process, then walaa we need you to take this test, you can do it at your home, then if we want to proceed further with you you will need to go (like was said to a proctored facility) an hour plus drive away on your time and take it AGAIN to prove it is you taking the test (that’s exactly what I was told). Now mind you this was a three (yes 3 hour) test! So remembering my previous experience I hesitated, then thought ok, let’s see, then here comes the test and I looked at it again and thought, NO WAY and answered a few questions, then stopped and never finished. I decided my 3 hours could be used for something more productive and less stressful. Funny thing is that this same company came back to me four different times and was begging me to take the test and even said they changed it and it was really short, etc. They really liked my background and skills and said I would be a perfect fit! I refused to take the test and nicely explained to the gal why.

    4. If I’m such a ‘perfect fit’ thank you very much then why do I need to take a test! My credentials and business references should be able to stand for whether or not you wish to hire me, and of course the interview itself! This is not my first rodeo!

    5. I’m unfortunately on the job search at the moment and had a nice phone interview with the hiring manager (who said he really liked everything and wanted to move forward) then I spoke with his manager and was informed I would need to take a ‘test’. I simply listened and was very professional and thank you for your time, etc. I never and will not follow-up with them simply due to this test taking criteria. I know he ‘did not’ have to take the test, so why do I?

    These are some ‘bad’ experiences I had, however, I would highly recommend DO NOT ever have someone else take any kind of employment test for you. Somehow, someway I believe it would catch up to you and the long term repercussions might just be worse than simply walking away from the opportunity if a test is in the criteria and you are not comfortable. My thinking anyway :).

    Additionally, I will never ever tell a prospective employer I can do something that I have not done before or not sure I can really do, because that as well will catch up and bite ya, not worth it. My reputation is very important and valuable, not these tests.

    Even though I’m in an active job search, I am more than willing to walk away from an opportunity rather than to attempt to ‘pass’ some psycho/stack the blocks/line up the numbers and letters, etc. to prove my worth. It’s stressful enough job searching. As someone mentioned already, it will have absolutely nothing to do with the job duties. There are enough games played out there, it’s unfortunate that companies feel some kind of need to add this crazy testing to the mix.

    Happy Holidays everyone…. My job is right around the corner… Karen

  15. When faced with a personality test, I generally adopt a mental attitude somewhere between Monty Python and the Fourth Doctor while taking the test. It has served me well. Any organization that uses anything other than job-related testing really doesn’t know what they are doing in the hiring game anyway.

  16. @Michael raises a great question about HIPAA and employment testing, especially psychological testing. I’m not a lawyer, I’m an industrial psychologist. HIPAA kicks in when a test can diagnose medical conditions – for example, the MMPI can be used to diagnose depression and other DSM disorders. Those test results have special legal protections, and usually those tests cannot be administered prior to a conditional offer of employment (there are exceptions for police and related work.) Testing that is designed to assess personality as it relates to work related behaviors is not generally covered by HIPAA laws.

    That said, it would be unusual for a test vendor to share your test reults with other employers – it would be against the economic interests of the test vendor. But it is not impossible, not illegal, and not unheard of.
    Erica Klein PhD

  17. Okay, since there’s some serious ‘fessing up about test experiences, I’ll ‘fess up mine. No, it wasn’t a personality test. Not a stack the blocks test. Not even a skills test.

    They wanted me to give them permission to talk to people from my past (grade school teachers – good luck finding Mrs. Rogers) and they wanted me to piss in a cup. So, I figured, what’s the big deal? I signed the form, visited their doctor, peed in the cup.

    This was after a series of detailed interviews that went very well. We were discussing compensation and other key details, like when I would start.

    Maybe they found Mrs. Rogers, but I definitely didn’t deliver anything in that cup that shouldn’t have been in there. (Well, I was very fond of habaneros in those days… and some say they have hallucinogenic properties.) End of story. I never heard another word from the company or the manager who sought me out. Not even “You failed” or “Mrs. Rogers told us everything.” Nada.

    I realized how surprised I was at myself for consenting to stuff like that, and how disappointed I was at my willingness to pee in a cup for somebody. How did I even get to that point? I felt like I had just escaped from a sales pitch that had altered my judgment. Or from the proverbial beaker of water that was being heated up so slowly that I – poor frog – didn’t even realize I was about to be boiled alive.

    I swore I’d never again pee in a cup for anybody but my own doctor, or hand over names of people who should never be bothered.

    My one regret: I never went back to their offices to check to see whether the employer had disappeared or even existed. All I know is, the Nick who subjected himself to ridiculous prying was long gone. Then I went and started my own business again.

  18. Actually, DISC profiles, or the Gallup Strengths Finder tests can be very helpful in uncovering real strengths and compatibility with job requirements.

    Well designed tests can benefit both the taker and the potential employer, if properly applied.

    That said, I’ve been terminated because of a test result interpreted for political reasons, when I was the highest performer in an organization. What I wasn’t was a kiss-ass go along and feed management canal water to get along, employee, because that isn’t the job function.

    That little party cost me upwards of $400,000.

    Short form: It ain’t the tests, it’s the idiots that use them for their own ends.

    and yes… I DO think they would be considered an “entity” under HIPAA. Providing test results to another person would be actionable.

  19. @Diane S: YES in many cases C-level applicants are given the same and MORE tests. C-level often face an assessment center which is a collection of tests and interviews. It can be as much as 2 full days of testing! Usually the testing will include a cognitive abiliity test, a personality test, several interviews, at least one role play and a presentation.

    Testing can help employers make better predictions about job success and retention, so for a big investment like a C, many employers invest quite a bit of $$ for extensive testing, often by a third party.

    Of course, your mileage may vary – many companies hire without collecting and analyzing the right information about applicants – but it is not at all unusual for high level positions to require quite an ordeal of testing.
    Erica Klein PhD

  20. @Martin, @Peter, @Michael and @Erica:

    I have a more fundamental reason for being afraid of personality tests.

    I don’t want to be locked into one set of skills and experiences the rest of my life. I especially do not want to be limited to the strengths I’ve always had. This is especially true for social and emotional skills… Which pretty much can only really be improved by life experience. Like actually working a job and making a success of it.

    How are we supposed to learn and grow if we are prevented from those life experiences in the first place? We can’t. We stay stuck as we are. And those who are supportive of personality testing seem content to let that happen, on the grounds of making both company and employee the happiest. Which is a very hard argument to counter; why would anyone sound like they’re against company morale?

    Now, many would say that it’s not the company’s place to help you grow as a person and gain life skills. Another hard-to-counter argument. But what would be a company’s interest in a user never becoming either accomplished in their field, or stronger of character?

  21. I assume that the dislike about tests were particularly about the personality/sound of one hand clapping tests.
    This blog often makes the point of doing the job. There are tests that lean that way. For instance a major software company is well know for asking programmers, or even managers to either cut some code, or find a bug in code. to walk the talk.
    The small company I work for will give drafting/designer applicants a task they’d work on if they worked at the company, and one aligned with their skill level, using the system and software they’d use if they joined us.. No time limit. Do the job.
    We give tech writers a small writing test, do the job. We give machinists basic math tests, on math that journeymen machinists need to do their jobs.
    They are fair, & they are the same for everyone.
    I’ve had applicants tell me they liked the chance to show their stuff, because the flip side of not testing well, is not interviewing well, an a test that represents what they’d do on the job evens the playing field for the nervous, the introverts etc.
    So testing is not all bad.

  22. @Don, Great point about tests that have applicants perform elements of the job. Those are called job samples and I have a chapter about them in the book along with links to some practice job sample tests.

    One critical tip for doing well on the job sample is to carefully read and follow the instructions. This may seem obvious, but job applicants can be nervous and may tend to skip over details that are critical to performing well.

    Sometimes job samples include an element of role play which can stress out a lot of people. I’ve got a number of tips for doing your best in a role play – for example – listen for clues from the other role players – if you are going down the wrong path they will sometimes nudge you back on track. You need to be open to those suggestions, not unwavering on your path.
    Erica Klein PhD

  23. Interviewer: “Tell me about a time when XYZ happened and how you handled it?”

    Me: “I was in what was supposed to be a technical interview, and they started asking ‘Tell me about a time …’ questions …”

    It has gotten me an offer and the manager generally understands that the “questions we ask everyone” are dross.

  24. “I swore I’d never again pee in a cup for anybody but my own doctor, or hand over names of people who should never be bothered.
    . . . All I know is, the Nick who subjected himself to ridiculous prying was long gone. Then I went and started my own business again.”
    I wondered if I were the only one who finds any personality test invasive. Even the idea annoys me. I had one once, more understandable in the context of that high security clearance for a government job. Still I wouldn’t do it again. Anything anyone wants to know about me they can ask in person.

  25. I was required to get a physical and pee in a cup (supposedly to test for sugar/diabetes) for a new job (a job I had two jobs ago). The private sector employer called it a required pre-employment physical and said that their insurer required it of all new employees. I was told that they weren’t doing drug tests, but I really had no way of knowing. It wasn’t even as thorough of a physical that I got from my own doctor, and thinking back on it now, I’m sure that their (health) insurer and HR got together and decided what they wanted to look for. And yes, I’d been told that if a “serious” medical/health condition were uncovered, then I wouldn’t be working there. My working there was conditional upon a successful pre-employment physical. I don’t know what constituted “serious”, but I don’t think the bar was very high. I’m sure that the reason for it was to 1.) protect the (health) insurer, and 2.) protect the employer. They just wanted to make sure that any new hires wouldn’t end up costing them lots of money.

    Many years before that job, in one of my first jobs out of college, I worked for a management consulting firm. I ran the office; we had a bookkeeper, a full time salesman, and a rotating full time salesperson. By rotating I mean that people didn’t last because they had to make a certain number of sales in order to keep their job, and since our services were basically psychotherapy for businesses, the salespeople got a lot of rejections/not interested. This was before the internet, so we used cards with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of businesses in New England, New York, and New Jersey from Dunn and Bradstreet. The salespeople sat in an office cube and made cold calls all day. Then we also had salespeople in the field. If one of our tele-salespeople got someone who was interested, then we sent a local to the business salesperson to meet with the owner in person. Even then, there wasn’t always a “sale” in that the businesses listened and decided not to engage our services. Only once they decided to hire us did we assign them local consultants with expertise in the area(s) in which the businesses were struggling.

    I used to send out and score the MBTI tests (if the consultants deemed it appropriate), mail the results to the consultants, who then met with the clients again. It was long ago enough that I used a stylus to score them, not a computer! I remember my boss encouraging me to take it myself and send it along to a consultant….I did, and I found it interesting. Our consultants didn’t use the MBTI results to tell clients who or how to hire, but rather as a means to end, to help them understand their employees better, to help the employees understand why they work the way they do, etc. Sometimes they could be used to suggest an “easy” fix (if the problem was one that could be easily fixed)–for example, one client had a habit of pairing employees to work together who fought like cats and dogs and hated eachother. The consultants, after spending time with employees in groups as well as individually and looking at the results of the MBTI tests, were able to suggest different pairings, and voila, the animosity went away.

    At another job I had three jobs ago, the employer was shutting down and shipping jobs and operations to Albany. They hired a consultant to meet with employees who wouldn’t be moving and she gave us some kind of a personality test, then assessed us individually as well as in groups. None of us found the test stupid or intrusive, and, if anything, the consultant gave us all some things to consider…how to balance out a team with different personality and work types so your team is efficient, competent, etc. as well as the types of people who are best suited to certain tasks and to bosses so they know what kinds of traits to look for, how to manage the different work types to the best advantage of the business, etc.

    With those kinds of tests, there’s really no wrong answer. If anyone here has ever undergone clearance by the federal government for top secret security, that’s an entirely different matter. In my last job, two of my students (one was AD Army; the other was a commissioned officer in the USPHS) were getting new posts/commands/duties and needed top secret security clearance. I ran an online master’s program, so I hadn’t met either of them in person and my interaction with them was limited, but a federal investigator still had to come out to the school and talk to me. Now many of those questions were intrusive! But both of my students passed, got the clearance, and have both moved on in their careers.

    I wouldn’t try to cheat an employment test, be it a personality or work test or a health/physical. If an employer truly can’t make up his mind whether to hire you and wants you to undergo more psych tests, then I think there’s a problem. But if the reason to make sure that you’re placed with the right team, or your job requires you to meet certain physical requirements, then I think it really boils down to how you tend to use them. They can be a colossal waste of time and of no help to anyone, especially the employer, or they can be valuable. But would I use them as the final determining factor? NO! There are better ways of figuring out of a candidate can do the job (give her a problem and her how she’d solve it) or whether he would fit in with the company’s or agency’s culture (we go out for drinks every night and hang out together; we all like to bowl, play pool…we rough-house, whatever–try being HONEST with candidates what the culture is like, then you have to bother with personality tests).

  26. I got a variation of this question recently at my current job. An incoming student asked me about the placement tests and wanted to know what kinds of materials we had so he could “beat” the tests. I understand that he didn’t want to take remedial courses, but I thought he was missing the whole point of the placement tests and told him so. I suggested that he meet with his advisor (not yet assigned), that he REVIEW the basic English and mathematics but not study/cram for the tests. The whole point is to make sure that he’s ready for college level English and math (if so, he’ll be placed in the appropriate level), and if not, then the English and Mathematics depts. will look at his weaknesses and determine what remedial courses he’ll need so that he will be prepared for college level courses. I explained that if he tried to cheat/beat the tests, he might be placed in courses that he won’t be able to handle because those courses will assume that he will be at a particular level and be able to apply the lower level concepts to the work. If he cheats/beats the tests, it will become obvious to the professors in his college level courses, he’ll struggle, maybe drop courses, maybe fail, maybe even drop out of college. If he struggled with algebra and geometry and it has been 15 years since he used math, then he may not be able to step right into college level calculus or statistics…yet. It’s fine to review (the college encourages it) for the placement tests, but don’t encourage trying to beat the test/cheat. It doesn’t work.

    As for companies or agencies that require these tests (sometimes ethics are part of them), I wouldn’t lie or cheat. It will come out eventually, and some employers make honesty a fireable offense.

  27. Hello Again,

    Well these posts are quite interesting and span everything! In my earlier post about my bad experiences of these ‘personality/math/stack the blocks’, etc. tests. In each case that I came across, the potential employer was very clear to let me know that they ‘would not’ be sharing any information from the testing with me. Now that I find offensive because if there is an issue, heck, let me know so I can address it if possible. That’s pretty one-sided and I will shy away from any employer that operates in that mode. In my opinion we are all in this together! How I am treated during the interview process tells me a lot about how the company culture is and how I might be treated as an employee.

    Now as for taking some ‘flavor’ of a test, i.e., show me how you would solve this problem, or in the case of a developer/programmer type, please show me how you would code this… no problem with that! I’m a Sr. Sales Engineer (Solutions Consultant) in the software industry and in almost every interview I have had I have been asked to do a presentation and/or product demonstration of some sort. And if I was not asked, I even offered. Again NO PROBLEM in that regard because it is directly related to the type of work I do. I have also been asked to provide examples of content or documentation I have created and again NO PROBLEM because again it is directly related to the type of work I do. I have absolutely no concerns whatsoever to do a presentation or product demo for them in a role play mode to show them that I am for real. In fact my last job when I interviewed I wasn’t sure that was the requirement, however, I prepared ahead of time and then I did all of it and when I finished the PPT presentation the VP of Sales said to the rest of the team… “now that’s how you do it!” and when I was in the middle of the demo portion, the CEO came in to see what I was doing and asked questions. And I did get that job! Again, all that I did was directly related to what I would be doing!

    My point of sharing this is that like other posters have stated, to solve an issue that would be directly job related is fine… it’s this stack the blocks, line up the letters and numbersin the correct order and circles that I will not do… has nothing to do with the job and how I present and help win customers over! AND given how I experienced such poor treatment in the past, I will stick to what works for me.

  28. Testing can help employers make better predictions about job success and retention, so for a big investment like a C, many employers invest quite a bit of $$ for extensive testing, often by a third party.

    Really? My experience is this is a CMA activity that has no serious followup evaluation comparing performance with test results in a scientific way, except for some cloistered academic papers removed from reality of the workplace. Completely inappropriate for professional hires.

    Top employees have to be hired AND retained…testing for those ‘likely to stay’ will give you second rate employees.

    My managers have learned that anyone who uses the word “hired” without adding ” and retained” will get called out by me.

  29. @VPSales

    Couldn’t agree more.

    Testing has it’s place, but many places do it wrong, IMHO.

    I have had technical tests given by HR that basically amounts to administrivia about random technology that I haven’t used in years and I would most likely look in a book or do a quick Google search.

    I’ve also had tests that amount to “write me some perfect code on the board to do XYZ – no psuedo code allowed.” Again, some of us would to better if we had some time with no one watching.

    Lastly, what porks me off about testing is that many places do no review results with you to understand your thought process. Half the battle is understanding what you did wrong and/or seeing if you are on the right track. It can also be a measure of soft skills – i.e. “can we work with this person”

  30. @Karen: I, too, prefer to have a more accurate “show us what you can do” kind of test vs a psych test or some other weird test, and like you, I’d rather not be pigeon-holed by whatever the findings are on some kind of job-skills test. A couple of years ago, I re-took the MBTI as one of several tests I took at my alma mater’s CDO to see if there had been any changes (I took it when I’d been working for the management consulting firm all those years ago, and I wondered whether life and experiences would change my score and outcome). It didn’t, and the CDO counselor who met with me reminded me that although the MBTI results can show you what kinds of skills you have and what kinds of jobs and careers might be good fits for you, he had never seen people’s personalities and how they view the world change all that much. As I thought about it, I realized that the jobs I liked best, that were the best fit for me and where I was a good fit for the job were the ones that had tasks and required skills that suited my personality and skills best. Does it mean that I can never do a job that involves being out there more? No, but having had those kinds of jobs (sales, for example) and hating them, I’ve come to realize that I do better in jobs that make better use of my skills. So no, I’m not considering sales jobs because I know they’re not a good fit, which eventually means a less than stellar performance on my part and a not as happy employer. Put me behind the scenes, doing research, figuring out/solving problems, and that’s a good fit–for both my employer and for me. Sometimes being “pigeon-holed” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  31. I just came from a work ready class that a volunteer did at a shelter: she works for a government agency that helps disabled people find jobs and claims that she regularly takes assessment tests for people she is “helping” find jobs. This is what brought me to this webpage. She justifies this by saying that they would be unable to take the tests themselves and lists success stories. I was shot down when I suggested that this was cheating. Any suggestions. I could use some advice here.

  32. Oh it’s definitely cheating! I’m a Marine & you qualify on a rifle range yearly. What she’s doing is the same as if the coach fired for you…which has been done and which cost the coach dearly.

    Tell her to take her success stories to the company with contrition, & volunteer to work with them to derive tests that address the disabilities she says prohibits the disabled, but are provide the same insights as the tests for the non-disabled.

    In the long view she’s messing with the credibility of the non-profit, which is counter-productive

  33. I’ve recently started a website, the information you provide on this website has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work. “Yield not to evils, but attack all the more boldly.” by Virgil.

  34. Perfectly written articles, Really enjoyed examining.

    • After reading many of these comments, i agree with some and I get it. However, I am old School, I like face to face interaction. How I would answer some of these questions is not necessarily the way someone else would answers them. I believe if I am not what you need get rid of me, period. I get the time consuming process of hiring and the cost, but how many good people are not considered because they didn’t answer questions the way an employer thought they should. I have taken a few and feel trick questions are thrown in, not about what you know, it is no her head up and down. For the record I have passed them!!!!

  35. I think that is wrong if the system wants to cheat me it gets cheated back.