Leadership: Gain a Psychological Advantage ; Personality Tests Tell Employers Whether Candidates Were Born to Be Wild or Mild. and There's No Cheating

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"The problem with leaders is that while most individuals hope they have it in them to be one, they are often the least likely person to be able to tell," declares occupational psychologist and specialist in leadership, Stephen Biggs. Enter the Personality Test. "Recruiters are increasingly replacing straight interviews with them to separate the men from the boys. And if you're curious to know before your employer whether you're the next Tony Blair, you can always do one of the hundreds of career-oriented personality tests online."

So do they work? The distinguished ones do, according to Mark Parkinson, occupational psychologist and author of How To Master Psychometric Tests (Kogan Page). "Personality tests are a part of the new trend towards psychometric testing and are constantly being improved. The best ones explore over 30 aspects of the personality and some even require extra information about you from your interaction in teams. They wind up with a vast amount of data and are analysed by authorities in the field."

Not only can top tests tell you if you'll be the world's best boss, but how you'll manage it. "There are five main types," says Parkinson. Perhaps you are a "directive" leader (think Margaret Thatcher) where you'll know exactly what you want and how to get it; a "delegative" leader, on the other hand, prefers the hands-off approach, leaving people to take responsibility for themselves. Meanwhile, a "democratic" leader favours consensual decision making; a "consultative" leader is concerned what everyone else thinks, although is keen to steer them; and a "negotiative" leader likes to negotiate the way ahead.

Stephen Biggs claims detailed measurement of this kind is ideal for the millennial workplace, where different industries and roles require increasingly different management styles. "Think, for instance, about leaders in the City compared with those in the social services," says Biggs, who believes personality tests are far less prone to bias or discrimination than interviews. "Race, disability or sex are not known at the time of the test."

Nevertheless, Charles Woodruffe, a specialist in assessment and development centres, says questionnaires used for recruitment purposes should always be followed by interviews. "Studies show there is a danger of over-reliance on these tests. Employers will never get the whole picture without face- to-face contact."

Occupational psychologist, Louise Fox, explains: "The honesty comes out in the test, which, in turn, helps the recruiter see past the nervousness, arrogance or other barriers which may be prevalent in the interview. The interview, in other words, should still be the chief recruitment tool."

Effective personality tests can separate those who are destined to be leaders early on and those for whom leadership is likely to come later, claims Colin Selby, director of Selby Melsmith, the test publisher and firm of occupational psychologists. "Neither is right or wrong," he insists. "In fact, it's no bad thing if the test shows you're not leadership material at all. No company will be successful if it only employs leaders. IT companies are even moving towards seeking people with individual expertise rather than people management skills. And the joy of personality tests is that they will show these other strengths up."

For those who are destined to become leaders, however, Selby Melsmith has found that reaching the top speedily requires four key characteristics, all of which will be revealed in their test answers. First, they have experience of being in a leadership role. "That can be in the school or community or simply because you're the oldest or most dominant sibling," explains Selby. …