Very recently, I nearly got a job.

Of course, I have no way of knowing how close the race actually was, but only that there was at least two people still in it at the last hurdle, one of which was me. The final hurdle was my first interaction with a so called “personality test”.

Being new to this, I figured I’d do a little research, leading my to such articles as, Why workplaces must resist the cult of personality testing and The right person for the job? Weeding out personality-test fakers isn’t easy. I was left more confused and in any case, what I later encountered in the test could not have been helped by any research and left me with a distinct feeling of being cheated.

At first the test tried to put the applicant at easy by giving them a doughy question with the standard answering options of “True”, “?” or “False” to assure them that there are no wrong answers. This is quite clearly nonsense because, as there may be no absolute wrong answers, in such a race there must be relative wrong answers. Anyone in such a test would have to be aware of the fact that their replies will be compared to someone else’s who is also pitching for the same position.

In the same way, there are ultimately no absolute right answers either and in the obscurity of the answering system, I would suggest the relative right answer leaves a massive margin for interpretation.

Take, for instance, one of the questions that has stuck with me due to an overwhelming sensation of unfairness; “I have broken someone’s confidence”. Of course I have. I don’t think it’s so brazen to suggest that everyone has, at one point in their life. I know I would again if I felt someone’s life was at stake or an otherwise grave injustice is done through maintaining the secret. This is all part and parcel of being a human in our complex moral mine field.

On the other hand, if a mate told me a secret shame, a love their never pursued or something else of a personal nature, I would confidently take their information to my grave.

In breaking someone’s confidence, there remain vast tracks of land behind the inapt reply of “True”. Could the applicant use personal information to undermine others for their own personal gain or, as I feel about myself, judge the content of the information between being a mate and ensuring no social wrong is being done?

Remembering here that the applicant surely knows that their reply will be judged against others and it could be the difference between landing the job or not. Not wanting to lie, but fearful of unmerited judgement in the ambiguous reply, I quickly justified “?” as “it depends”. This is of course not the design of the reply but closer to the black and white replies offered.

Likewise there were questions such as; “I prefer romantic comedies / action films” (in this case the two options replaced the “true” or “false” replies). I don’t particularly like either. I’d prefer to continue reading non-fiction (for instance, I’m chewing through Tim Beatley’s, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature Into Urban Design and Planning), watching a documentary or what my wife would call a “stupid male comedy” movie for some light-hearted fun. Again “?” hardly answered the question or gave them insight to my personality.

The final hurdle in my race for this great job rested on 200 such ambiguous questions and a baseless reassurance that “there are no wrong answers”. After my efforts to construct a clear indication of who I was through a strong cross-section in my references, in my detailed reply to the job description and through the two interviews, it all rested on this.

It’s hard not to feel cheated.

At the end of the day, they judged my personality on a defunct test in which I tried to answer as best I could. It would have been more reflective to simply ask me what kind of person I am.

I know I’m inclined to be introverted, but I am confident and enjoy being given the opportunity in presenting ideas to an audience. My introverted behaviour, I feel, leads me instead to observe, construct ideas and share or lead as required. Anyone who knows me know I’m very opinionated, but not dominating in a conversation.

I know I find words far more easily when I’m writing than I do in adlib discussions – people who mainly talk to me are always impressed by my writing as it has a completely different tone than my spoke English (not that it’s bad, just different). Perhaps this is one form I have yet to overcome with my dyslexia.

I know I’m more a hands on person. I love tinkering with components or machines. I enjoy 3D rendering and graphic design. I embrace opportunities to be outside, climbing, swimming or cycling.

I continually demonstrate myself to go beyond my job description; so much so that I’m respected by my peers and colleagues in the field of atmospheric chemistry and meteorological research when I started out with a bachelor degree in ecology.

I’ll never grow out of that fascination for anything and everything around me, which initially drew me to science in the first place and has allowed me to shift focuses.

I’m very much a family and friends person. There’s little I won’t do for my family and close friends. It’s a small group, to be sure, but it is my world and I do what I can to strengthen the bonds as much as I can. I have a daughter on the way and it is for her sake that I’m now restless and job seeking so that when she is born, she is surrounded by as much family as possible with her dad working hard to support his family unit.

If I had been given the chance, I could have said all of this and much more (depending if they wanted to hear it) so they could better gauge my suitability in this role than was available in the personality test.

That I’m led to the conclusion that I tripped up on this test only to watch another race on to the finish line, with me holding nothing more than a generic rejection email (no call, no feedback, nothing) leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t feel my personality shone through in this test and so they never saw how committed I am to my work, to the improvement of biodiversity and the pursuit of an acceptable standard of living for all people and most importantly, to my friends and family. The personality test didn’t even skim the surface.

I have read a lot, in the nine months of my attempting to relocate to Victoria, on job success and the whole application process and from what I’ve witnessed, employers have been utilising very dry processes to fill a role. Perhaps it works, perhaps they miss potentially great investments in candidates, who am I to know (and of course, I am bias in my own case).

Ultimately, I doubt the personality test is a useful test. If such ideas are sort, why not mix up the interview process to throw a few curve balls to see how the candidate reacts? Unlike such a test (or giving the opportunity to concisely write a little about themselves) which would lead to them trying to manufacture a reply that they feel the employer is looking for, this leads to instantaneous instinctive responses. You can tell a lot about a person in such a situation.

Ask them what they’re more proud of or what brings them most joy – outside their career. Lead them casually on a tangent and see if they head off into fairy land or attempt to direct the conversation back to the course of the discussion (which will indicate how much they really want the job and / or their ability to master the situation). There are plenty of tools that can be applied in the interview process which are far more powerful than such “personality tests”.

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