Ask a silly question . . .


Competency and psychometric testing are an established part of the recruitment process, but a new survey has revealed that many jobseekers are being put through increasingly bizarre tests by employers.

Earlier this year, a UK advertising agency locked 25 short-listed graduates in the Big Brother house for a day to carry out a series of tasks designed to test their creativity and ability to work as a group.

Now a poll of 8,500 people by recruitment website has found that three-quarters of jobseekers say they have to undergo many more tests and assessments when looking for work than would have been the case three years ago.

But when they are done badly, assessments can increase stress, leave some applicants feeling humiliated, and reflect badly on the company

One would-be recruit was asked to impersonate an animal. Another had to make a bridge out of straws, while a third was asked to make a PR presentation to Attila the Hun.

An applicant for a job as a supermarket assistant was told to make a dress out of a bin bag, while a would-be engineer was asked to try to sell an umbrella to the interviewer. A potential trainee accountant was even asked to sit down and play the piano despite never having had a piano lesson in his life.

Reed’s Daniel Ferrandino said: "Looking for a job is a stressful business at the best of times, and people get justifiably concerned if they feel they face tests which seem unfair, irrelevant or simply badly organised.

"But when employers have clearly thought through the assessment process, fully explain what any assessments are trying to achieve, and offer feedback to help people improve their performance, they gain excellent feedback."

But type of questions that are being asked and the environment in which some testing takes place raise serious concerns about the basic competency of some recruiters.

Quite how questions such as "if you were a roundabout what song would you want to sing 24 hours a day?" or "if you were a fish, what fish would you be?" are supposed to give recruiters an idea of the sort of person they were interviewing is something that only the interviewer will ever know.

At least the recruiter who asked a candidate for a role as an IT consultant ‘if you had a wishing well, how would you find out how much money is thrown in by the day?’ could argue that they were exploring the individual’s problem-solving capability.

And while one in three applicants have gone through psychometric tests or work simulation exercises, being asked to site a 20 minute psychometric test in a cafeteria – as happened to one candidate – is not a practice likely to endear an employer to a potential recruit.

Nevertheless, most jobseekers believe assessments are fair and thorough. A third of those surveyed said they felt better about the organisation they applied to following an assessment and the majority agreed that it was a good way for companies to identify future employees.

The exercises that recruits find most valuable are those simulating workplace scenarios such as having a mock phone call with an irate customer.

Daniel Ferrandino added: “Jobseekers think more highly of employers who offer assessments, even if they do not get the job.

"Some even find the experience fun, as well as valuable in building their skills and confidence for the future."