Passing the Psychological Test

By Joe Stein

It is quite common, after an offer, to have to undergo some testing (such as a drug screen or a background check) prior to starting a position. Job Seekers have come to expect this occurrence, and it typically is a situation where you will know if you pass or not prior to even taking the exam. 

The situation becomes a little murkier with other tests under the psychological umbrella. These tests may include a personality (are you “wired” for the job and/or culture), integrity (can they trust you), skills (can you do the job), or aptitude (can you learn the job).  With these tests, Job Seekers are generally unsure of themselves, wondering what will be asked and how the questions should be answered. 

The reasoning for testing is fairly clear - it is an attempt, by a prospective employer, to secure more information about you. This is done in the desire to reduce the risk that you will be a “bad” hire.  By “bad”, it may mean that you will be a theft risk, unreliable, lack necessary skills, or a poor cultural fit.  All what seem to be (on the surface) valid reasons not to hire you.

Now, of course, any test administered has to have proven to be statistically valid and must not discriminate due to race, age, gender, etc.  Assuming all of this is true, what can you do as a Job Seeker to improve your performance on these types of tests?

• Separate Personal v. Business – For most of us, our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors at work differ (at least a little) from home.  When taking any of these tests, use your “work mindset” when answering the questions.  Answer each question with the filter of “how should I handle this”, or “what should I say at work?” This will probably allow you to answer the questions more like what is desired, while maintaining your integrity.  You really do feel/act that way while at work! 

• Hiring Manager Perspective – Assuming you are completing this test after having spoken to the Hiring Manager and knowing a bit about the company culture, what are the areas most important to this person.  What are they looking for?  Emphasize those points of your work behavior when answering each question.

• Visualize Yourself – After reviewing the position, visualize what you will need to do and what to avoid, in order to be successful in this role.  What are the best attributes of your behavior?  Those are the areas to stress when answering questions.  You can assume, with your new found self-awareness, that those areas of opportunity will begin to fade away and will not be relevant.

• Take Your Time – Unless you have a hard stop time that will force you to be quick, take your time and think about each question and how you should answer.  This is not the time to be answering off the top of your head, despite what the instructions may want you to do.  When you respond quickly, you will (most likely) not provide a well thought out answer.

• Don’t Lie – There may be some questions that are purposely inserted to determine if you are trying to “beat” the test.  These questions are typically on the far end of the scale, such as “Have you ever had a disagreement with a co-worker?” Of course, everyone has had this type of situation, so don’t lie and so “no” just because you think it places you in a better light.  Also, refrain from the temptation to be someone you clearly are not…if you are hired, you may find yourself unhappy and not a good fit for the organization. 

• Stay Calm – These types of tests can be real stress producers.  Remember, you will want to be thinking clearly when completing, so do not lose focus due to nerves.  Come to the test well rested and ready to succeed.  Pace yourself so you are not rushed.  If you are not time bound, then read the exam (or in a skills test, take the practice round) without answering the first time, in order to familiarize yourself with what is being asked. This will also serve to alert you if the same question is being asked more than once, often a test to see if you will answer them both identically. Be comfortable with the realization that there is little you could have done, prior to the exam, to further prepare.

Even though many would debate that psychological tests should not play a hire/no hire role in the process, the reality is that they can be important.  In today’s competitive environment, where often there is little to differentiate between candidates, this is one more tool that employers use in order to make the hiring decision.  Remember to take the test using your “work mentality” and you may find yourself rising above the competition.

As always, best of luck in your job search!