Psychological questions

There are reasons for the application of psychology in job interviews. This, incidentally, is real psychology, not quackery from snake oil salesmen.

Psychology, as a science, isn't based on pure dogma or the public image of people madder than their clients prescribing pills that make things worse.

It is a real science, and a real medical and therapeutic discipline, when conducted by people who are qualified.

It serves a practical purpose as an analytical tool in several ways, for job interviews.

Finding the right candidate can be a very difficult task in many jobs. In some cases, the jobs are known to have significant stress factors. In other cases, the questions are designed using psychological techniques to achieve accurate measures of answers. Psychology is also used to develop interview methods.

This can confront interviewees with some rather strange questions. Actually, as a way of analyzing the applicant's ability to think on their feet, these questions are also very effective.

Remember: None of these questions are random. They're being asked for a reason.

  • If you could be a hair spray, which one would you be?
  • Which football code do you follow?
  • Do you know anything about charity work?
  • Do you have a cat?

If you've come for a job as an electrician, you may be slightly surprised by these questions.

Don't be surprised. Just answer the questions to the best of your ability, honestly.

One of the reasons for this type of question is purely analytical like If you could be a hair spray, which one would you be? Answers will vary from I don't even know the names of any hairsprays to brand names. The answer measures communication, honesty, response type, and in some cases may be relevant to the business, if you're working in the industry.

A question like Which football code do you follow? can be purely social, or it may be part of a character assessment.

Do you know anything about charity work? can be a purely functional question, related to the employer's charity operations. It can also be a useful and simple way of finding out the applicant's orientation on the subject.

If a company has a strong social focus, and many do, applicants who know the basics are obviously preferable. The question also measures commitment, in some cases. The way the question is answered is also important:

No. Sorry, haven't had any involvement.

I do voluntary work for the local Red Cross at fetes.

The comparison is a disinterested person and a committed person. Not too hard to follow the logic, is it, when that question is asked to 20 people?

Do you have a cat? is a pretty straightforward question. Most people can answer that without too much trouble.

Why is it asked?
Interviews are comparative exercises by definition.

Using these questions, with predetermined criteria for answers based on psychological analysis, the comparison doesn't require guesswork.

The criteria for the questions above were:

The hair spray question, to an electrician, tests the ability to deal with an unexpected question out of thin air. A good answer would be a brand name, and perhaps a reason for preference. The applicant has had no trouble with the unexpected question.

The football code question relates to an in house study where it's been found rugby followers are better suited to the workplace culture.

(None of these questions are random, in any sense. The workplace culture tests are becoming quite common. Many positions are analyzed in terms of a psychological profile.)

The charity question was a character question. The study also found that the best workers were committed to charity in some form, either as workers or regular donors.

The cat question relates to personal commitment and relationships. The study indicated that long term employees were more likely to have, or have had, cats. The commitment and relationships issues are transferred to the employer.

So for this employer, you're the sort of person who isn't fazed by anything out of thin air, likes rugby, supports charity, and has a furry friend you refuse to live without.

Another quality control can be achieved by psychological questions: Checking for consistency. Liars are inevitably inconsistent. Reliable people are invariably more consistent than others.

Our much analyzed electrician gets another batch of questions, following the previous set. This time the questions are so low key they're barely recognizable as questions:

Which team do you follow, in the rugby?
Didn't Red Cross have a big fete last month? How did it go?
Oh, you're local, aren't you… do you know a good vet around here?

If you answer:

Manchester United
Yes, did quite well.
Not a local vet, no.

You're not getting the job. You've just been killed very conversationally. Manchester United is the best known soccer team on Earth. The fete was last year. Every pet owner knows at least one local vet, and you don't usually haul sick animals all over the place when you can get treatment locally, do you?

These questions are impossible to dodge, because you've already answered the previous questions.

This is a very simple version of the process, but it applies to the more advanced versions, where you claim to have mastered IT system design, but don't seem to know what a server is, or what it does.

The pattern, basically, is if you answer ABCDEFG for your psych questions, your corresponding answers to supplementary questions should also be ABCDEFG. If you answer BCADEFA, you're probably lying your head off, or just don't know what you're talking about.

Your knowledge should match your answers.

Which is why we said answer honestly. These profiles also work in your favor. If you're not really suited for the job, that will show. You miss getting a job you'll probably hate.

This really is a science. There's no guesswork involved, after the interview.

For interviewers, the ability to analyze answers makes their job a lot easier. They're looking for a pre-agreed set of answers, fitting their own study's best case criteria.

Sigmund Freud had a very wealthy client, with two possible courses of action to solve a problem. Freud suggested she toss a coin. The client was furious, and asked if that was what she was paying him to do. He explained that whichever answer came up, she'd know how she really felt about that course of action.

With psych questions, it's Heads you answer the questions properly and honestly, Tails you just don't get the job.