Some of these methods are more weird and wonderful than others. In several countries in continental Europe, the use of graphology is relatively common, with candidates being asked to provide a sample of handwriting as part of the selection process, while in the USA there have even been several cases of companies using professional astrologers to help with the final decision. However, these days the prospective job-seeker is more likely to be faced with a hurdle that is more conservative, but perhaps more scientific, in the form of psychometric testing.
Broadly speaking there are two types of psychometric tests in operation at present, those that assess aptitude and those that investigate personality.
Aptitude or ability tests
Of the two the aptitude test is the most straightforward and consequently, for the majority of people, the least daunting. These tests are often similar in format to the sort of examinations experienced at school, in that they consist of a series of questions where there is a definite right answer and a time limit is set for their completion.
The purpose of an aptitude test is to establish whether a candidate has the basic technical ability to undertake a particular job by measuring such factors as numeracy, powers of verbal reasoning and problem solving skills.
Altogether more intimidating for the average job applicant are personality tests, which cover such areas as how you relate with other people, your thinking and problem-solving style, how well you operate in a team and your motivations and drivers.
The most popular types consist of a list of questions asking whether you agree or disagree with statements about yourself or of pairs of words from which you must select the one that describes you best or appeals to you most. The fundamental difference between these and aptitude tests is that there is no right or wrong answer.
The point of personality testing is to establish whether you really are the person you are pretending to be in an interview, or for that matter, whether you are really the person you think you are. Many of us can play a part, pretending to be more dynamic, more aggressive, more controlled than is really the case. We may even fool ourselves that we have these qualities, but personality tests will reveal the truth.
Despite appearances, these sorts of tests are also extremely difficult to cheat at. At first sight it may seem possible to fudge the results by giving what seem to be obvious answers and consequently creating the impression that you must be wearing a Superman costume under your work clothes.
But if you are tempted, forget it, as the psychologists are already way ahead of you. Psychometric tests are scattered with traps designed to catch the dishonest and what are termed 'lie scales' easily pick out unusual or inconsistent results.
By their very nature, psychometric tests are difficult to prepare for and cannot be 'swotted up' for like a conventional examination. However, it is possible to hone your existing numerical and verbal abilities by practising with tests widely available in books, by doing crossword puzzles, reading financial reports, studying data in tables and graphs and the like.
At the testing session listen carefully to the instructions and do not be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear. Read each question carefully before answering and then work quickly and accurately, trying to cover as much ground as you can.
In recent years psychometric tests have received bursts of bad publicity which have increased the atmosphere of suspicion that surrounds them. There have been reported cases of employers actually using tests to decide who to make redundant as the fashion for 'downsizing' took hold.
For example, one local authority in the South-East apparently forced staff to take aptitude tests to determine whether they were competent to do their jobs, while another made employees re-apply for their own positions and face a whole battery of psychometric testing in the process.
However, despite these misuses of the system, the benefits of testing actually far outweigh the disadvantages for both recruiters and applicants alike. Personality tests, for example, are not about winning or losing but about whether you are likely to fit into the culture of the company and into the specific team you would be joining.
Personality profiles deliberately avoid negative or highly critical terms, favouring a statement such as 'John tends to take full account of the opinions of others' over 'John is easily dominated'. Consequently there have been instances where a test has ruled out a candidate for one job, but has identified them as an obvious choice for another in the same company.
The most important thing to remember is that tests are not used in isolation, but as a part of a decision-making process, which is still largely based on interviewing. Taking some form of test means that you are undergoing a much more objective and consequently fair form of assessment than any interview can provide.
Properly handled this can stop you losing out on your dream job just because the person on the other side of the desk had an argument with their spouse the night before or is suffering from a particularly bad hangover!
This article is based on a variety of BCS published material, plus a BCS article by Richard Platts and information provided by Blue Sky PR.