Next time you go for a job or promotion, be prepared for a personality questionnaire. "The past decade has seen a huge growth in personality assessments at work and the number of instruments designed to do them," says Ivan Robertson, professor of work and organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (Umist). Indeed, whereas in the Eighties and early Nineties this form of psychometric testing was used by 10 per cent of large employers, today around 75 per cent of medium to large organisations utilise them.
"It's no good employing someone naturally impulsive for a role that requires mulling over decisions and incorporates meticulously detailed work," says a spokesperson for the Industrial Society. "Likewise, it wouldn't be prudent to employ someone over-cautious and analytical for a job that required thinking on your feet. That's why if candidates don't exhibit the personality profile an employer is after, some companies refuse to take their application further." Ally McBeal fans take note: their heroine's off-kilter attitudes would not go down too well during a real-life law firm's personality assessment.
Other employers also carry out personality questionnaires on currently employed staff to ensure that their talents are being best deployed, says Immogen Daniels of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). "In these cases, they would generally be used as part of the annual appraisal. You'd go to one of their assessment centres and go through a kind of MOT to find out where you're at, where you want to be and where you should be. It's in the employee's interests as much as the employer's."
Jeffrey Anderson, an occupational psychologist, advises graduates to jump one step ahead and do a personality measure off their own back. "There is a growing number of online questionnaires that are highly reputable and you can also take one at a careers consultancy," he says. "It can help you understand your preferred method of working, which in turn can help in matching the job and working culture that best suits your personality."
Anderson claims that graduates hold many misconceptions about personality questionnaires - notably that to "pass", you need to be extrovert. "First of all, it isn't a test because it's not looking at your abilities and therefore you can't pass or fail. And second, being outgoing is not always best."
A company might, for instance, be interested in someone who seems quiet and introverted but who also has vision and drive and can make decisions.