When one of ICI's most competent young engineers announced his resignation during a workshop, Human Resource manager Trevor Cutler might well have been disappointed. In fact the opposite was true.
"We had just completed a personality test," Mr Cutler recalls, "which showed him to be much more a creative type than a scientific one. It turned out he'd decided to pursue a career as a musician. He was delighted because his instinct had been confirmed. I was happy because the test was working properly."
Mr Cutler's example is part of the rapid increase in the use of personality tests. The reason? In a world where firms compete in the race for a flexible, multi-tasking workforce, tools which can interpret the psychological "fit" of a firm's staff are worth their weight in gold.
At ICI, personality tests are used for spotting high-fliers. Mr Cutler says: "The test provides a common language of behaviour." This is especially useful when putting together project-based teams where individuals may not know each other well. "We ask people to complete the test early on in the day, then do some exercises and mark each other's personalities," adds Mr Cutler. "Afterwards, we compare people's self-perceptions to the scores others gave them. It helps the team to evaluate each others strengths and weaknesses objectively."
The biggest potential problems with personality tests tend to occur when they are used for recruitment. Russell Harper, business manager at Oxford Psychologists' Press, which publishes the MBTI and the CIP tests, says: "In an interview, often there's no time to follow up properly, so half the test isn't used and the report actually misrepresents the candidate. …