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Job hunters put to the personality test

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Next time you waltz into a job interview, be prepared to take a test. But don't think you can study for this one.

Increasingly, employers are hitting applicants - from file clerks to chief financial officers - with personality tests.

Consider these questions:

Does it bother you when people ask stupid questions?

Do you start up conversations in a waiting room?

Should a person who writes a check he knows will bounce be refused a job in which honesty is important?

In an effort to reduce turnover and weed out problem hires, a growing number of companies from Marriott Corp. to mom-and-pop stores are using tests to help put the right person in the right job.

Businesses argue that the traditional rsum and job interview aren't enough to determine such factors as: Who is a team player, who is too controlling, or who works well with little supervision.

And in today's ultracompetitive business world, hiring the wrong person is becoming increasingly expensive.

"Personality fit is highly important today because of the constant change that goes on in business," says John Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago. "Companies are realizing that they have to look much more closely at those kinds of issues because of increased pressure on productivity."

Personality testing, however, raises big concerns about worker privacy and the potential for discrimination.

And critics argue that some businesses put too much weight on tests and end up screening out qualified candidates.

The industry has seen enormous growth in recent years. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 20 percent of its members use personality tests for new as well as existing hires. The Association of Test Publishers in Washington estimates that personality testing has boomed into a $400 million industry.

Tests can cost anywhere from $10 a person to $2,000 for an executive-level test. Some are designed to test honesty - the most popular type of test. Others test attitude (Do you get great satisfaction out of serving others?) and aptitude (Are you highly competitive?).

"We're selling more of these tests [aptitude] than we ever have," says Harris Plotkin, president of The Plotkin Group, a management-consulting firm based in Carlsbad, Calif.


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