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Get Psyched

Mind Games

What exactly is psychological testing? One type is the personality test, in which applicants or employees are given a list of 100 adjectives and asked to decide how well each of the words describes their personalities. Another technique is the integrity, or honesty, test, where the employee taking the test responds "true" or "false" to a series of statements. (A commonly used test of this type is the MMPI, or Minnesota Multi-phasic Inventory exam.) Test takers' mathematically averaged responses are supposed to give you details about their character, work ethic and personality. The fees for psychological tests range widely, from $5 to $250 per test.

Jim Sirbasku, CEO and co-founder of Profiles International Inc., an employee-assessment company in Waco, Texas, says that while clients also use his company's products for promotion, self-improvement, coaching and succession planning, a good percentage use testing to aid in hiring decisions. Profiles' "Job Match," which assesses individuals' tem-peraments and suitability for certain types of work, determines whether, for example, applicants for a sales position might be introverts who will be unhappy in the job. "If you're hiring in customer service, a field that has 200 percent turnover every year [according to The American Teleservices Association Inc.], you want to know how applicants handle frustration, stress and conflict," Sirbasku says. "Testing lets you know and makes some recommendations."

Some small companies are sold on psychological testing. "Hiring is always a guessing game," says Marika Hamilton, 28, co-owner and human resources director of Fort Wayne, Indiana-based Britannia Inc., a $5 million computer products company founded in 1989. To Hamilton, it's a very important guessing game, one she felt needed more backup than just her initial impressions of job applicants. "We'd rather leave a desk empty now than make the wrong hire," she says.

Surfing the Net about one year ago, Hamilton came across Indianapolis-based Hire Success, a company that sells various types of aptitude tests, including a personality test based on four basic personality types: director, socializer, thinker and supporter. Job applicants take the personality test online, then e-mail it to Hire Success, which scores it and sends the results to the applicant's interviewer or supervisor. In ad-dition to a summary of the person's personality type, the report includes interview questions tailored to the applicant's responses. The cost per test averages $10 to $13.

Hamilton ended up taking one of Hire Success' online personality tests and feeling it offered a fairly accurate portrayal. In fact, she was impressed enough to have Britannia's 28 employees-who work either in the company's engineering or customer support departments-take the test. Hamilton saw certain patterns emerge and believes the test gave her a way to spot common traits in her successful (as well as her not-so-successful) employees that she can now look for in job applicants. Does testing make a difference? Although Hamilton can't directly measure the impact on turnover, she thinks she's seen a decrease.

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Psyched.

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