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Tue, Jul 26, 2011

Career Management

Beating the Test: How To Master the Pre-Employment Assessment

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As an organizational psychologist, which means that I am typically the final hurdle job seekers must clear before landing gainful employment, I often get asked how people can ‘beat the test’ and somehow manipulate the results of pre-employment assessments to get through this final obstacle unscathed…and employed.

Having sweated out the pre-employment assessment process myself, I can empathize with how nerve-wracking it can be to have an organizational psychologist stand between you and your dream job.  With the benefit, and hindsight, of having been on both sides of the table, I’d like to suggest that the whole idea that the process should be “beaten” is, well, wrong.

Attempts to ‘stump the shrink,’ as it were, assumes one fundamental premise – that you are deeply flawed and, without subterfuge, will not be found suitable for the job. My advice?  Take a deep breath and be yourself, because the thought process upon which this premise is based is completely erroneous.

Nothing is more off-putting, in my experience, in a potential candidate than someone who is trying to “game” the process.  Stepping down from my soapbox, let me tell you a little bit more about the process to help you be the confident, talented person you most truly are.

3 Key Components of Pre-Employment Testing

Most assessments consist of three parts:

1. Cognitive Testing:

The typical assessment process features some measurement of general intelligence (“g”). Some estimates cite “g” as accounting for 25% of the variance between average and exceptional performers. While there are a number of tests of “g”, most measure verbal and quantitative skill on a timed measure.

There is no real way to study for this sort of assessment, just remember to try to balance speed and accuracy and not let frustration and stress mask your true brilliance.

2. Personality Assessment:

Most personality assessments that are valid and reliable enough for pre-employment screening purposes are based on the “Big Five” model of personality. The five factors are Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism ( or ‘OCEAN’; funny how that worked out, right?  But then again, acronyms always do).

Smart organizations consider the Big Five in light of the requirements of the job rather than having any sort of arbitrary gold standard. That is, each of the five traits have strengths and weaknesses, which means there are no “right” answers that job applicants should try to guess.

The assessment process offers two-way protection to those who participate candidly – it should protect both parties from a poor fit.

3. Interview:

The dreaded sit down with the shrink. Come prepared with great answers to all of the standard interview questions and equipped with specific, behavioral examples of how you’ve implemented the things you discuss. The greatest advice I can give here is to be non-defensive and expose your weaknesses on your own terms.

Psychologists know that you are not perfect;  it is only a matter of how they will determine your specific imperfections. You can be disarming and cop to your own shortcomings, or you can be mentally poked and prodded until they emerge.

So, the next time you’re asked to undergo a pre-employment assessment, instead of rolling your eyes, use it as an excuse to introspect and think deeply about what you’re looking for in a job.

If you are assessed by a psychologist for a position, they have an ethical obligation to share your results with you, whether or not you are offered the job (and you don’t have to pay). Typically, those who are not offered a position never follow up, perhaps out of embarrassment or a fear of hearing bad news.

Assessment services are expensive, and the organizations that care enough to offer them are doing themselves, and you, a huge favor that you’d be unwise to try and get around.

About the Author: Dr. Daniel Crosby is an organizational psychologist and President of IncBlot, a consultancy that helps businesses select and develop exceptional talent.

You can follow Daniel on Twitter @incblot.

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