Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gaming the job application test

Today, a teen job hunter in Hey Cherie is confounded by her first encounter with those lame job application personality tests.
Q. I am a 16-year-old girl who is applying for an after-school job at a supermarket... I talked to the assistant manager, and she told me that I should fill out an online application. I went to the website and did all the easy stuff, like what my job history was (not much!) and where I am in school. That part was easy.

The hard part was what came afterward. There were all kinds of questions of psychology with multiple choices. Things like, did I like to talk to strangers? If I saw someone slacking on the job, would I tell him or her off? Do I like to work as part of a team or on my own?

Cherie, these questions stumped me. I didn't know the right answers, so I haven't send in the application yet. I have talked to my friends, but they all have conflicting ideas about how to answer these kinds of questions.

A. In the olden days, back when your parents were teens and trilobites roamed the earth, applying for a job was pretty straightforward. You filled out a written application and did your follow-up. Now it's a lot trickier with online applications.

First of all, answer every question. As you do, think about what your employer wants in an employee. If it's a supermarket, your boss will want you to be neat, clean, presentable, work in a team, and know that your every move is a way of representing the company.

Have you ever stopped going to a business because of a rude employee? When that happens, not only do you stop going, but you also tell your friends that you are not going anymore. There is a negative ripple effect that all employers justifiably want to avoid.

So, think about your answers to those psychological multiple-choice questions from the point of view of your new boss. That will make all your answers easier.
Lulu: I mean, as far as I recall from doing this kind of application, it's usually pretty straightforward. Say NO I NEVER STEAL.

Ashley: Except that if you're too perfect, that gets flagged too.

Lulu: Does it? I know on like, the MMPI, it does, but on a standard job application test? I feel like they usually want you to superhumanly saintly.

Ashley: Say you never steal, that's fine. But if you say you never lie, that's not believable.

Lulu: Once I had one where it tried to trick you into thinking stealing was normal. "What is the cash value of the items you have stolen from your employer in the last year?"

Ashley: I have stolen things worth ZERO DOLLARS.

Lulu: I just stole people's hearts! And pens. They have like no resale value right?

Ashley: If it's directly job-related like stealing, then you definitely should say you never steal.

Lulu: It also seems from the question she cited that they are looking for her MBTI personality type: the "Do you work best individually or as a team?" "Do you see the forest or the trees?" kind of questions. In that case, I would guess what personality type they're looking for and answer that way (for a supermarket job: ESTJ?), but I know MBTI well enough to see through the test. But Cherie's advice, to try to imagine what kind of person they are looking for and answer as that person, applies.

Ashley: Yeah. Although I still think "individually AND as a team" is the right answer for every. job. ever.

Lulu: This ehow article on how to answer these kinds of questions is pretty comprehensive and straightforward. They provide sample questions and correct answers:
I work my best under pressure.

Most people will second-guess this question and think "Well, if I answer 'true', then they'll expect me to work extra hard." Remember, it's just an assessment. The score is interpreted as a raw number. The individual answers have no bearing on your job placement; the only thing that's important is that the answers are right. Therefore, when a question like this arises, always answer favorably.
They seem to think that you can't be too perfect--that the software isn't actually subtle enough to include or identify lie-catcher questions. My feeling is that for the most part the kind of test used by a supermarket, and the people interpreting the results, may be too unsubtle to notice an overabundance of perfection. You don't want to be screened out for being too honest on the test to find out if you are a liar!

Ashley: Some of them are weird, too, because there are factually-correct answers that are not what they want. You're supposed to strongly disagree that "Most teenagers go through a shoplifting phase," but that's a fact! You can't disagree with a fact!

Lulu: Well, for the purposes of the test, you'll just have to learn! And to go to a bizarre place of moral rigidity. Oooh, here's an answer key!

Ashley: Ha ha. This is the most useful post we've ever done.

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