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The Careerist Goes on the Couch

Vivia Chen

February 1, 2011

IStock_000006709008XSmall I'm a virgin to psychological testing. But after reporting on McKenna Long & Aldridge's use of personality tests to assess recruits, my interest was piqued. Might a psych test tell me what I should do with my life?

So a few days ago, I took the 30-minute McKenna Long test on my computer. The questions focused mainly on work habits and attitudes, like "Do you believe in authority?" (I don't), but there were also non sequiturs such as"Do you like flowers?" (I do). The result? Let's put it this way: It's probably a good thing I'm a journalist/blogger.

The computer-generated assessment says I'm tense, pessimistic, and a work-in-progress on issues of maturity and responsibility--and those were the positive points! But I can't say that I was completely surprised by the result. For one thing, I didn't hold back. For example, I admitted that I tend to dwell on past mistakes, which, as any Psych 101 freshman can tell you, is pointless, obsessive behavior.

I was honest about my neurosis, but should you be? Put another way, can you "game" the test to increase your chances of getting hired by a law firm?

Psychologist Rick Brandt of TalentQuest, the company that developed the test for McKenna Long, doesn't think so. "You can try to game it if you know the firm, but it's not that easy," he says, adding that it's "not self-evident" what might count as a negative or positive trait in a particular law firm.

For instance, lawyers usually give themselves a high rating on the conscientious scale. But Brandt adds, "lower-performing lawyers were ones who were overconscientious" because "they were too rigid."

The test doesn't give a complete picture of a candidate, warns Brandt, though he says it can be an effective tool if the data establishes a correlation between certain personality traits and success at a particular organization. If you have a reliable profile of successful lawyers at your firm, "it would be silly not to use it," he says.

Sounds reasonable. But I'm not convinced that you can't "game" the test to some extent. So here are my tips for "passing" the test:

Resist the urge to be too revealing. The assessment is part of the job interview, not something for your own enlightenment. If you are curious about your psychological profile, take one of the tests out there on your own dime.

Be a social animal. If you need to lock yourself in a soundproof room to do your work, don't admit it. These days, law firms are very keen on team work. Never mind that most of the big rainmakers tend to be solipsistic egomaniacs. The buzz word is "cooperation."

Be sunny. Lawyers are paid to look at the worst-case scenarios, so they tend to be skeptical, if not pessimistic. Despite your inclination to look on the dark side, try to project a positive, "I'll-find-a-solution" attitude. That's what clients want to hear.

Be cool. If you get angry or take criticism badly, don't admit it. Grit your teeth and say you welcome criticism--and that you always learn from it.

Review math. Yes, there was a math section on the test that completely threw me. It might help to buy one of those SAT prep books.

So is the personality test coming to a firm near you? Apparently not, if you plan to work in New York. Most firms that use it tend to be big firms based in the South, says Brandt. He says New York firms tend to be more traditional.

Readers, do you think law firms should do psychological assessments of recruits? Are they useful in identifying future stars or another corporate gizmo?


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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected].

Photo: Debora Pisani/iStock


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how do I locate the test?

Yes, I do think so.

That McKenna et al requires the test is further proof that there's nothing too stupid and too useless to sell -- surely at a vastly inflated price -- to the management of a law firm. If those folks don't trust their own judgment of recruits they should probably stop hiring.

I've never "believed" in authority, absolutely hate working in groups, have a serious perfectionist streak, and would flunk this test just by being honest. Wonder what happens when you flunk - does an alarm go off and the floor fall out so the person falls into the trash incinerator (like what happens to the bad eggs in "Willy Wonka?").

where do we get the personality test? I want to try it.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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