How to Ace A Psychology Test

by Deborah Jacobs

More and more businesses are using psychological tests to decide who gets hired or promoted.

At best, these highly controversial tools identify the right person for a job and a “good fit” with the company’s culture. At worst, your answer to a single oral or written question could determine your next career move.

Both the tests and the ways companies use them vary enormously. Questions may be written by academics, industrial psychologists, or by company staffers. These authors range from “the blundering amateur to the highly trained expert.”

Companies say the questions have no right or wrong answers. But that’s only half true. What you say will reflect your confidence, communication skills, and ability to think on your feet. So it’s best to apply a little psychology in fielding the queries. When a salesman from New England sent me some that he recalled from a 45-minute telephone interview with an investment firm, I enlisted three experts to put psychological screening in perspective.

Some questions, such as, “Are you a loyal person?” are transparent, since they signal the expected answer. Here, the pros say, it’s best to give a brief, direct reply (“Yes, I am a loyal person.”), followed by a couple of examples. Straightforward questions also can be tackled head-on. For instance, “How is your day scheduled?” gives you a chance to showcase your time management skills.

Companies also like to test how a person deals with strangers. You might get a question such as, “In a crowded room there are five people you know and about 20 you don’t know. What do you do?” One expert offers this opinion. “First, I would greet those I know so they won’t think that I am snubbing them. By nature, I’m also interested in the others, so my next step would be to introduce myself to them.”

Even the experts wrestled a bit with, “How do you feel about making decisions for someone else?” One expert saw a potential pitfall for pushy people who tend to dominate a group. On the other hand you could stand out as a leader who’s prepared to take flak when others disagree with your decisions. Another expert would tailor the response to the particular job, which is always a good idea. For those selling to industry veterans, the expert replies, “I’m not comfortable making decisions for people who are capable of making their own choices – and want to.” In selling to newcomers, you should take a more assertive stance: “When someone is less experienced or informed, I’m more comfortable leading a person to what I think is the right decision.”

No matter what the question, be prepared to highlight past successes, your knowledge about the company, and what you have to offer. If a question sounds unclear, respond the best you can, rather than asking for more details. Chances are, the query is purposely ambiguous. Companies may want to know how you’d handle that.

Companies say the questions have no right or wrong answers.