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I'm applying for a job and they have an online questionnaire. Each question in it is a statement which I must rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how much it describes myself (with 1 being not at all like me and 5 being very much like me). Some of them are rather bizarre

Luck has nothing to do with my success
I possess no bad habits
I have never been late for work or an appointment
I never envy others' good luck
I have never told a lie
I never say something unkind about people

Should I tell them what they want to hear or what? I mean what type of trick question is have I ever told a lie? To be clear, I can only choose on a scale of 1-5. I can't explain my answer. I strongly believe some questions (such as these ones) can't accuratly be answered with a number. It just doesn't make sense.

This isn't a duplicate question of How should I approach answering behavioural interview questions? because they are not open ended. I must select 1-5 on a form.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Apr 30 at 10:27
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    Either write 0 or 6 beside each.
    – Tim
    Apr 30 at 13:37
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    "Should I tell them what they want to hear" — you don't know what they want to hear. Apr 30 at 16:12
  • "should I tell them what they want to hear..." of course you should. The tricky part is to find out what do they want to hear. Someone has never told a lie? Such people don't exist. No bad habits? Telling this is a bad habit. Never been late to anything? One more lie again. So do they want to be told tales or the truth? These questions are quite stupid because the final evaluation of them depends very much on the extend and situation you did the named things. This perhaps makes the whole thing very location dependant. Could you tell the location?
    – puck
    May 1 at 8:59
  • What type of job is this for, and what country is it in? Specifically, is this a case where the employer may/(is allowed to) require a lie detector test as a condition of employment? Because that may significantly affect your approach. May 1 at 17:45

13 Answers 13

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Should I tell them what they want to hear or what?

No, just close the form and keep surfing until you find a company with a more professional outlook towards asking candidates questions.

Look for companies enquiring about experience, qualifications and things like that.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 29 at 20:51
  • Fyi - these questions are part of a pre-qualification survey operated by a company that claims to be able to select a batch of candidates worth interviewing from a large pool. If you declare be to play their game you join those that they consider failed their test. You may not mind :-). May 18 at 12:33
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Consider the "roll your eyes and just fill it in" approach:

Consider this factoid:

  • In pretty much every recruitment process, there is something that is plain dumb, silly, ridiculous, broken, or whacky.

Again. This is true of pretty much EVERY recruitment process.

People completely forget to come, they accidentally hire for the wrong job, they completely forget about you, they accidentally offer double/half the salary, they ask truly whacky questions, they set absurdly difficult whiteboard tests (in the wrong language!) and so on.

(On this site, you can find an incredible list of such "adventures in recruiting". Check out this memorable QA - Strange job interview, what were they really looking for? )

From information dug-up by a commentor, it looks like the questions are "well-meant", and from some whacky new-age recruitment assistance agency. So... oh well.

Some folks have said, "it's so whacky, forget this job."

However. One way to look at the situation: it's just "not really much worse than the inevitable 'whacky experience' in every recruitment process."

I would probably really just spend 2 seconds typing in the numbers. I'd just put in the "correct" ones and think no more about it, i.e., I never lie, never drink alcohol (HAHAHAH), etc — but it really doesn't matter what you put in.

  • there's no chance they'd literally exclude you due to the answers

  • pretty much every recruitment has some bizarre, whacky steps

  • it's completely harmless — just tick some box and submit your CV as usual

So, that's one way to approach this.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 2 at 12:30
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    "there's no chance they'd exclude you"? Really? That's almost certainly what this is intended to do, to exclude obvious liars.
    – Kat
    May 2 at 16:44
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About these tests

These are usually a cheap and simple pass/fail filter for hiring systems that handle massive amounts of applicants. Career Gym (Archived link here) has a writeup about them:

Personality questionnaires are a popular type of interview test for employers to get an idea of what makes you “tick” and whether your personality would be a good fit for the position they are filling.

(I disagree that they really help find a good fit that much. Almost everyone applying knows that they should not give "bad" answers.)

They also mention a few things to keep in mind. Some of the most relevant points are below:

Consistency: Most personality questionnaires will have several questions that measure the same traits, so it is important to answer consistently and truthfully – otherwise you will have very odd results which may raise the suspicion of you trying to manipulate the outcome.

(Anecdotally, I've heard exactly this from friends who are/were managers at retail chains. One of the main results they would see would be a grade on how consistent the applicant's answers were.)

Honesty: There are usually a few questions intended to measure your honesty, so be honest! For example “I have never told a lie” – everyone has told at least one lie in their life, so answering negatively may, ironically, be a red flag that you are being dishonest in your answers.

Speed: Although these tests are usually not timed, it is important to choose your first (or “gut”) reaction as this is the most likely indicator of your true personality. Note that for computer-based tests there may be indicators to let employers know if you hesitated on any answer, so keep that in mind.

Edit: Poking around a bit, you can find references to personality tests in subreddits like r/bestbuy and r/retail. There's also a company called Criteria that provides these types of tests. Here's one test that claims to be appropriate for retail, manufacturing, "and many more".

What to do next

Depending on your opinion of this type of test, I'd suggest a few options:

  • Refuse to take it, look elsewhere
  • Take it and give reasonable, consistent answers that you think will match their expectations
  • Take it and put down answers that actually match your behavior

If you're interested in the job and choose to take the test, answer consistently, honestly, and quickly, and remember that the system will probably judge a lot of 1s/5s as a bad fit either way.

Finally, I'd be interested to know what type of job this is. I remember seeing these when I applied for retail, food service, and other jobs at national chains, franchises, or entry level positions at larger corporations. In these cases, in my experience, the people hiring didn't make the decision to use this system, some HR director in the corporate office did. Most of the people on the team you work with will roll their eyes and say "oh yeah, that silly test" if you bring it up.

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    First post on workplace.se - any help on the downvote? What am I missing or how is this not helpful?
    – TylerW
    Apr 29 at 18:29
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    I helped on your downvote ... by upvoting this answer. It is thoughtful, and provides useful information Apr 29 at 19:13
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    @Sharpenologist ha, thanks, the downvote was the first vote the answer got so I was worried I missed something, but maybe I'll just attribute it to someone's whims.
    – TylerW
    Apr 29 at 19:44
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    I don't think this is worth adding to the answer, so I'll add here that this type of test isn't a super-recent cultural phenomenon. The article I linked is from 2011, and they seem to have been around since at least the time online applications became a thing for large companies. Do they help narrow down an already huge list of applicants? Yes. Do they actually help hire better workers? Doubtful.
    – TylerW
    Apr 29 at 20:24
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    They've been around for a long time. I remember working for a company in '05 that introduced a new fangled personality test for new candidates. We were recruiting for a programmer. HR rejected our preferred candidate on the grounds they were "too introverted"... Apr 30 at 11:10
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Yes, you should tell them what they want to hear.

But what do you think they want to hear?

If you answer "Yes" to all five questions, or even only to one of these questions, it will be obvious that you are either Jesus or a liar, and my guess is that Jesus won't be applying for a job.

Well, on a scale from 1 to 5 you can answer "4".

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    I guess even Jesus would probably not be arrogant enough to give himself all 5's :-)
    – Laurent S.
    Apr 29 at 9:57
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    "What do you mean you've never been late to an appointment, Jesus? It took you 3 days to rise from the dead, THREE DAYS !"
    – teego1967
    Apr 29 at 13:44
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    @teego1967 he didn't have any appointments during that time though... Apr 29 at 19:01
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    Jesus would be a terrible hire. He has no formal education. He only speaks Aramaic, not Greek, which is the lingua franca of government and commerce. He has a habit of wandering off at random times, forcing his co-workers to go looking for him (Mark 1:35). He doesn't communicate clearly, speaking in parables. He's moody, violent (John 2:15), and racist (Mark 7:27).
    – user14026
    Apr 30 at 1:05
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    @BenCrowell Please see me after class. [ :-) ]. Apr 30 at 10:00
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"Have you ever lied?"

"Yes, in this answer."

With luck you will cause an HR consultant to self-destruct.

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    As per the question: "I can only choose on a scale of 1-5. I can't explain my answer", so this suggestion doesn't appear to be a possible solution. If this wasn't meant as a serious answer, I would suggest just posting a comment instead. Answers are reserved for answers. Apr 29 at 21:42
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    "With luck you will cause an HR consultant to self-destruct." Nah, they'll just roll their eyes and toss your resume in the trash.
    – nick012000
    Apr 30 at 3:11
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If this questionnaire was designed by, or more likely copied from, a research psychologist, some of the generic / stupid sounding questions may be "controls", in the experimental sense. Or they may be dummy or calibrating questions used to establish a pattern (like the negation of a bad thing) for the purpose of setting up the question of interest.

This particular group of questions may be used to crudely study attitudes about luck, for instance, just to make up one possibility. But I assume many more questions are not shown.

Also that is something that shouldn't be done with an individual response set, but rather statistically, so there may be an element of pseudoscience behind it.


PS ... it should be obvious, but any org who point blank asks people if they never lie will either disproportionately attract liars (if they want a yes) or eliminate honest people (if they want a no). Few for-profit orgs would overlook that IMO, which is why I'm assuming it is a control or calibrating question.


UPDATE- One of the comments pointed out the unusual double-negative formulation of the questions. Mixing the direct and double-negative formulations is common in personality tests to neutralize certain biases. Makes me think another possibility, which is that the test is a straight-up "Big 5" personality test, with the results repackaged by the test vendor with a "secret-sauce" correlation designed to maximize the yield for the recruiter or hiring department.

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    If you're applying for a low-level position somewhere, McDonald, security guard, etc. You do need to lie on some of those questions. You just need to find a balance. You can not lie on all of them, but you do need to lie on some of them. Apr 29 at 17:59
  • There are also tests like this to assess open-mindedness or "critical thinking." insightassessment.com/article/… If someone says they always lie, well, good bye. If someone says they never lie, that suggests a very dichotomous view of the world that may not be great for the position you're hiring for either. If someone says they almost never lie, draw your own conclusions. This sounds like that sort of thing. I honestly don't know if they want a "never lie" or "almost never lie," but I wouldn't expect to get an interview with any other choice. May 1 at 20:22
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Just be honest.

Well, certainly there's a lot to be confused about in how those questions are phrased and presented, but just read them carefully and give whichever answer you feel would be most accurate.

Taking "I have never told a lie" as an example, you should probably only answer 5 if you have never told a lie. The rest are more subjective: one could argue 4 means you very rarely lie and 1 means you very frequently lie, or 4 means you're fairly certain you've never told a lie and 1 means you're certain you have told at least one. I would say the former interpretation makes more sense, but the results may be interpreted differently and vary from one test to the next. Without knowing how a specific test handles it, I would recommend not overthinking it and just being consistent in how you answer the questions (which is hopefully more important anyway): don't interpret the answers you can give to one question one way and the answer to the next question in a different way.

Trying to outsmart these tests seems unlikely to go well, as they are designed to account for the possibility that people might lie and they'll pick up on inconsistencies in your answers. If they find such inconsistencies, they will be much less likely to hire you than if you were to admit you're not perfect and you've made mistakes (which is true for everyone).

As for the specific questions you mentioned, (basically) everyone should give roughly the same answers to those (e.g. everyone's told a lie at some point in their life and have at least some bad habits, although how that translates to an answer might vary a bit between individuals). If you lie in your answers to them, it could be fairly obvious and that would mark you as untrustworthy (i.e. "do not hire"). As a pro tip, they also generally don't want answers on the other extreme: if you admit to e.g. very frequently lying, having many bad habits or being late all the time, that's a bad thing too.


No comment on whether these types of tests are good or useful or whether you'd want to work for a company that uses them.

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  • Those questions don't take experience into account. Someone who worked themselves all the way up the ranks vs someone who interviewed and got the job are going to have two very different viewpoints. I personally know someone who went all the way up from working on a ship to becoming a senior executive. Apr 29 at 18:17
  • @Old_Lamplighter I don't quite understand the point you're trying to make. "Those questions don't take experience into account", so... you should lie? If so, I would suggest posting your own answer to that effect. Or the test is bad? But I specifically said "no comment" on the quality of the test and simply provided advice on how to answer those questions, as the question asks (which does also somewhat imply that I probably don't have the best opinion of these tests). Apr 29 at 20:27
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    How can you truthfully, or accurately answer any of those questions? Especially when there is an always or never? Apr 29 at 21:07
  • @Old_Lamplighter Edited. Apr 29 at 21:24
  • Exactly. I would respond "no bad habits" and "never lie". Everyone else should respond "no good habits" and "always lie".
    – emory
    Apr 29 at 22:55
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What's the industry and how badly do you want this job?

If this is just retail BS then paint yourself in a good picture; but not all 5's.

If this is for professional employment then go for mostly honest.

If this is for a top security clearance position with the F.B.I. then be brutally honest because they already know the answers.

I would never rate 1 for question 2 no matter how many times I've been late. New job, new chance to stop being late.

WTF is a bad habit anyways:

  • Smoking?
  • Biting nails?
  • Throwing dirty socks on the floor?
  • Tapping a pencil?
  • Is serial killing a bad habit?
    • I know it's obviously bad but is it habitual?
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These are unusual questions to ask and you have to ask yourself the exact reason they are asking it. It is just because they want to be quirky? Doubtful.

I like to think of these questions as insights into the company's culture. I'm willing to bet the person who left and opened that position probably had these problems, or at least they perceived the person had these issues.

So my personal opinion is if you find these questions odd, then you should pass on this company. Or at least answer it honestly, and if you land an interview, start figuring out if there are any signs of a bad work place.

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    If you see Tyler W's answer, "personality test" screening isn't that unusual. "Why are they asking this?" is probably because someone with good marketing skills realized they could make money by selling this screening tool to companies. Apr 29 at 19:45
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I mean what type of trick question is have I ever told a lie? To be clear, I can only choose on a scale of 1-5. I can't explain my answer. I strongly believe some questions (such as these ones) can't accuratly be answered with a number. It just doesn't make sense.

Here's my advice on a point I haven't seen addressed yet. If you're like me, then possibly part of what's bothering you is that the questions are all strictly binary, but the answer system has this 1-5 range (Likert scale) for responses, which doesn't make sense. Based on the phrasing ("I have never..." type stuff), a strict reading really only allows for a 0 or 1 response.

Okay. So my suggestion is, if you do engage with this survey, to re-interpret the questions as they should have been written, and assume the intention was to talk about relative frequency of the transgressions (or perhaps "fuzzy logic" if you prefer).

Some of my suggested translations/interpretations/corrections would be:

  • "I possess no bad habits" -> "How much do I avoid bad habits compared to others?"
  • "I never envy others' good luck" -> "How often do I avoid being envious?"
  • "I have never told a lie" -> "What percent of the time do I tell the truth?"

That would be broadly how I'd need to make sense of the poorly-phrased questions here.

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> Should I tell them what they want to hear or what?

Absolutely!

This is likely a simple weed out test, if you pass it, it is doubtful anyone will mention it ever again. If you don't, they will automatically cull you as a candidate and the won't even look at your resume.

A few years back I was reading an article about this type of test. The author was interviewing someone from HR in a large company, and he took the test and the HR person scored him. I remember one part of the article they discussed the question:

"I always obey the rules"

He gave himself a score 4/5 because he wanted to seem kind of honest, but the HR person told him the correct answer was 5/5.

To quote coach Buttermaker "Just tell them what they want to hear. I didn't take that stereo, I don't smoke, she said she was 18. Stuff like that."

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    What is "what they want to hear"? 5 for every question? How can you be so sure that they don't want to hear you being honest and capable to self-reflection instead of you pretending to be completely perfect / ignorant? Is that just based on the one anecdote of an anecdote in your answer? I know if I were to ask such a question (which I probably won't, but still), I would be looking for cautious honesty. May 1 at 12:15
  • @Bernhard Barker Lol, no I'm not suggesting that you answer 5/5 for every question. Let me put it this way, back as a kid when I was applying for a job at a grocery store, I literally saw the question "How much have you stolen from your previous employer?" I'm not saying you write 5/5 nor put the largest dollar amount possible, I'm merely saying it's advantageous to tell them what they want to hear. May 6 at 5:33
  • @Bernhard Barker You are way overthinking this. Why would anyone answer 5/5 for a blatantly negative attribute like "I steal from my employer often"? It's obvious they would want to hear the lowest number on the scale like 1/5. These survey's aren't rocket science, but you have to exercise some common sense. May 10 at 0:28
  • You are going down some weird rabbit holes here Bernhard. Maybe examples would help you. Questions like "I always obey the rules" put down 5/5. Questions like "I always steal" put down 1/5. I'm not sure how much more clear I could possibly be. May 13 at 22:55
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Here's how I'd consider answering it. This may or may not inform your choice :-)

Aim - Coveys that you have small dents in your armour but no chinks.

  • Near perfect.
  • Admits to not being superman.
  • Maybe make a 4 a 3 in the least crucial case.

So - maybe 4 4 4 4 4 4 .
Or perhaps 4 4 4 3 4 4 .

Shows that you are thinking about it.

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Maybe we are overthinking it, not thinking out of the box! And the question is not about which numbers are put in, but about how the person handles an ill defined contradicting task!

In this case, the timing of giving the answer would be valuable.

But even without timing, I think one can gain some insight into the character of the participant:

  • One could try to actually answer the question in ways discussed in other answers,
  • or refuse to answer it by filling in something like 5 5 5 5 5 5 or 4 4 4 4 4 4 or 1 1 1 1 1 1
  • or be serious about giving a meaningful answer by filling in meaningful values and taking care to add an detailed explanation at the next opportunity.
  • or reject and later explain why the question is bad
  • or abandon the test at the question
  • or ask a supervisor for explanation
  • or search for a suggested answer in a discussion of the test
  • or research at workplace StackExchange how to answer it

To get the most information out of it, the test could be in person, so it can be found wether the candidate gets angry or desperate. Getting angry would certainly be a very significant result.

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  • In most cases these questions form part of a test that needs to be completed without any help, discussion nor opportunity to discuss it later (apart from possibly technical support) and they expect a sincere attempt to answer the questions. If that's the case, many of these suggestions will either not work or lead to you failing the test. May 6 at 10:41
  • You're presenting a bunch of things the asker might be able to do, but which one should they pick? If you want to simply give them a few options, that can also be okay, but then you need to explain when they should pick which option and/or discuss the pros and cons of each one so they can make an informed decision. May 6 at 10:53

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