Generic Personality Tests For Software Engineers

I rarely rant on my blog, but when a friend of mine brought up that he had to take a personality test as part of the interview process (a step prior to being given an offer), it just frustrated me so much. So at this point dear reader you may move along if this isn’t of interest as this is all my opinion on personality tests for software engineers.

Summary and Disclaimer
Unless your organisation has thought long and hard about designing a personality test specific to software engineers, don’t subject candidates to a generic personality tests. It reflects poorly on your understanding of software engineers.

If you use a generic personality test…

Q: Do you care about hiring and retaining the best software engineers?
A: test A resounding – No.

Q: Do you understand what it takes to be a good software engineers?
A: A clear – No.

Q: Does your organisation care about the previous two questions?
A: If no, then fair enough. Continue using the test, and move along.

Otherwise:

You have to be kidding me. When a professional organisation subjects any reasonably qualified software engineer to the same type of tests they subject potential employees in their specific field to then they are not concerned about hiring and retaining the best, or they have been ill-informed on how to recruit top software engineers. What got me fired up about this information was that the type of questions he described. They were so broad and irrelevant to what it would take to do his job. This frustration was further compounded when it was apparent that this test carried some significant weight in the recruitment process. They didn’t even bother to undertake more suitable programming/problem solving exercises that an Engineer would actually do in day to day activities in this job role.

At this point you may counter my argument with, a general statement such as “why not just use any and all tools available to help make a decision“. To this I answer: such questions are not relevant enough to accurately judge a good software engineer, and do more harm than good.

Here are some categories we derived from the discussion after he sat the test, and we analysed the questions that invoked the anger that’s feeding this post.

  1. Questioning the norm.
  2. Long standing ideas.
  3. Repetitive routines.
  4. Breaking rules.
  5. Data analysis.
  6. Being creative.

Here we are both speculating a bit, but the type of questions that represented the first 4 categories seemed to attempt to discover candidates that would be deemed as rebellious. As a software developer answering these questions you have to completely put aside what makes you a good software developer. I would give credit if the organisation was actively seeking ‘rebellious’ software developers ready to challenge the norm and bring improvements. But based on their sector, and other information this seems highly unlikely. The questions that matched the last 2 categories seemed reasonable.

A very brief search uncovered this reasearch paper; very SDLC and waterfall focused analysis of personalities (pdf), there didn’t seem to be any concept of applying Computer Science knowledge/research into this personality test. In fact several questions were difficult even to interpret for your typical software engineer.

If I was subjected to such a test as part of an application where the test wasn’t clearly justified as relevant to engineers, it would be safe to say right there an then to avoid stress I would decline and withdraw my candidacy.

Take away: treat your engineers with a bit more respect.

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2 thoughts on “Generic Personality Tests For Software Engineers

  1. I’d add that software engineers tend to be people who like to think about and understand “systems”. Give them a test (any test) and they will be thinking about how to game/defeat it. It’s just the way they think.

    • Very true Mike, and that’s what happened with in this case, you go further an analyse the intent of the question, in order to determine what answer is what the test creator wants to know.

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