IQ and Personality Tests

Not long ago I interviewed for a community manager position with a company that's pretty well known in open source Canonical. They opened by asking me to write paragraph-length answers to some fairly innocuous questions, but in the second round, they asked me to do an IQ test and a personality profile test.

Both of these were managed by a third party and done online; after dithering for a few days I decided to put my reservations aside and get on with it. That’s when I discovered that the first page of each test required me to enter my name, my email address—and choose my gender, with “Male” and “Female” being the only options.

At this point my reservations broke out of the basement I’d locked them in and began clamoring for attention. As far as I could tell, the IQ test consisted of number-matching problems; I’m not going to believe scores in that need to be adjusted by gender without seeing (and checking) the data. Second, any company in the HR business today should know better than to restrict gender choices to a binary “M or F”.

So I mailed the recruiter, who connected me with the head of HR, who told me that they were using tests to eliminate unconscious bias in their hiring process. When I asked if they had any evidence showing a correlation between test scores and on-the-job performance, the HR manager said no, and that such evidence would be very hard to come by.

It took me less than a minute of searching online to find companies that would give me an unlimited number of practice sessions for both the IQ and personality profile tests for a mere £75. One of these sites hinted very strongly that for a negotiable fee they’d be happy to provide “exam assistance”, which meant “we’ll write the exam for you” back when I was a prof. My conclusion was that the company I’d applied to was more concerned with appearances than with eliminating bias, so I withdrew my application.

I’m very privileged in being able to turn down jobs I don’t want. You might not be able to do that—you might have to set aside your queasiness and do the tests even though your gut tells you their flaws are dangerous—but I want you to know that your instincts are right. And if you are able to say “no” when you’re in a situation like this, please do so, because every time someone senior says “yes”, it’s that much harder for someone junior to refuse.