Psychometric tests and the unemployed

I occasionally get my students to do more or less bogus versions of psychometric tests – they provoke discussion, if nothing else, since people are usually glad to talk about themselves. However, it seems that the British government now forces job-seekers (the unemployed, to you and me) to do bogus psychometric tests as well.

A number of reports in newspapers and on blogs yesterday suggest that a mandatory test for the unemployed gives answers in no way related to the inputs. It seems that the test has been designed with only one thing in mind: to boost the self confidence of those seeking employment.thinkvanwww-scarfolk-blogspot-com

It would appear self-evident that if the unemployed are unemployed because there are not many jobs, not because there is a national drain on animal spirits; so why this emphasis on self-esteem and confidence? It is all part of the government’s ‘nudge’ theory of human behaviour, which argues that engineering significant and long-term change is best achieved by small deflections in the starting conditions – give someone a ‘nudge’ and over a long period of time, the angle of deviation (or in this case convergence on normative behaviours) will increase. (read a bit more about nudge theory here)

Perhaps that is true, I don’t know. I do know, however, that my father was subjected to psychometric tests in the 1950s when he was a junior manager at the General Electric Corporation (the British version of GE). The company had hired in an American firm to administer these new tests to their junior and middle management, and the result of my father’s appraisal was uncannily accurate – I remember reading it after he had retired many years later and marvelling at the intimate description of a person I knew well. I particularly remember the lines ‘he seems to have an inflated view of his own importance’ and ‘punctuality is not a priority’. My father, when I read this to him, laughed. ‘I still think pretty well of myself,’ he said; ‘and in fifty years of work, whatever else I did, I was never on time.’ However accurate the assessment, it told him nothing he did not already know, and evidently made not a jot of difference over his lifetime.

You can do the test here if you like – I did it, submitting the most pathologically negative response in every case, and it informed me that I was a good team worker, modest and well-organised.


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