Questionable behaviour

HERE IS A test. Assign a score of 1 to 5, where 1 is “strongly agree” and 5 is “strongly disagree”, to the following statement: “I really care about my work.” If you have answered that kind of question before, you have probably applied for a job at a large company. Psychometric tests, as they are called, have become increasingly popular.

Eager job-seekers may think the answers to these questions are glaringly obvious. For any statement, give a response that creates a portrait of a diligent, collaborative worker. Of course, applicants care about their work, love collaborating with other people and pay careful attention to detail. But the people who set the tests know that candidates will respond this way. So questions are rephrased in many different ways to check that applicants are consistent and make it difficult for them to remember what they have already said.

Aptitude tests are not a new idea. Intelligence tests have been around for a century and were popular with government departments. Charles Johnson, who has been involved in psychometric testing for 40 years and was responsible for constructing the tests used to recruit British civil servants, says the second world war had a big impact. The British were impressed with the efficiency of German army officers and learned they had been selected with the help of...



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