Can You Trick Behavioral Assessments?


As if phone screenings, multiple job interviews, and coding tests weren’t enough, a growing number of tech employers now use behavioral assessments to weed out job candidates early in the screening process. The tests might even come before an in-person interview or an assessment of someone’s project management experience.

It’s certainly disheartening to get kicked out of the running by a computerized personality test, even before you show off your tech skills. But what can a candidate do to ace a behavioral assessment?

It’s All About EQ vs. IQ

There’s a mix of opinions over whether or not behavioral tests can be gamed, given that most behavioral assessments are designed to ask the same questions in many different ways just to avoid inconsistencies. But according to Brandon Smith, a workplace coach and founder of Atlanta-based The Worksmiths, there is some benefit in understanding just what the employer wants to accomplish with the behavioral assessment.

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While a resume, references, and coding tests are all meant to assess hard skills, getting a sense of someone’s emotional intelligence and ability to fit into the office culture is a very different animal. Behavioral assessments can certainly differ from one to another, and there are many, but most run about 10 to 30 minutes in length, testing everything from communication skills to collaborative style. The popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, for instance, measures your emotional quotient; there’s also the Caliper Profile, DiSC Personality Profile, and Hogan Development Survey, just to name a few.

Know the job and company well before you sit down and take the test, Smith suggests. Does the role require someone to be an outgoing team player? The behavioral assessment will need to reflect that.

Do Some Homework

Tony Beshara, president of Babich & Associates, a Dallas-based placement and recruitment firm, recommends job candidates consider the “sort” of person who traditionally serves and succeeds at a desired job. Software engineers are expected to be thoughtful and persistent, for example, while project managers have to be excellent communicators. Behavioral assessments are specifically about soft skills, and communication and teamwork skills are always high on the list. “It’s often about the work style or if you share the same values,” he said. “You can be technically smart and still not play well with others.”

For candidates, it always pays to ask a few simple questions before you meet the prospective employer for the first time; the recruiter might be able to tell you what test you’re going to take. While Beshara doesn’t recommend candidates try to be something that they’re not, he does note that candidates should familiarize themselves with the various types of behavioral assessment: “It’s easy to Google the type of test and find out what it’s looking for and what it’s designed to do.” If the employer is using one of the more popular ones, you might even find a copy online to practice.

Behavioral assessments, whether they’re standardized or specifically created for a company, aren’t looking for mediocrity. If the test offers options for a specific personality trait, and it’s a soft skill you think your potential employer wants in an employee, Beshara thinks it makes sense to give yourself the maximum possible rating.

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Get Used to It

Whatever the test, Smith believes that behavioral assessments aren’t going away anytime soon. Employers see the tests as a quick way to weed through the large pile of resumes crossing the desk, eliminating candidates earlier and earlier in the interview process. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that tech employers want to use as many tools as possible to streamline the interview process.

You might expect behavioral assessments to be more common at larger companies, but that’s not actually the case. “At smaller companies, the culture often matters more,” Smith said. “Employers can train their employees in some competencies, but you can’t train someone in culture.” Given how much cash employers invest in proprietary tests, he added, the process isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, so candidates better get used to it.

Beshara argues that it doesn’t pay to second-guess behavioral testing. “Just go in and take the test,” he said. “Be thoughtful, and be yourself, or you just could end up in a job that’s a poor fit.”

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5 Responses to “Can You Trick Behavioral Assessments?”

  1. Nightcrawler

    Absolutely you can. However, you have to answer the questions according to what the employer wants to hear. If you’re applying for a sales position, you need to paint yourself as an extrovert who loves flitting around the room, chatting everyone up. Additionally, you must answer “yes” to any questions involving whether you’re a risk-taker, because people who are unwilling to take risks won’t succeed in sales.

    Conversely, if you’re applying for a retail or phone-room job, you want to paint yourself as an obedient Milquetoast who never colors outside the lines; you never take risks, because that would mean breaking the rules, and good little drones never break the rules, because that’s wrong and bad.

    If you don’t know what the employer wants, you’re SOL, but most of the time, you can figure it out.

  2. David Half

    The article title seems to grab attention, but wanting or trying to trick a behavioral assessment is not in a candidate’s best interest, ever. Scientific methodology for candidate selection is not widely used in corporate America, but it is here to stay.

    My concern with assessment is not the battery per se, but the skill level of the person administering, scoring and interpreting the test. Education in human resources is not education in psychological assessment. The score a candidate or employee receives on an assessment just might be protected medical information. Further, correlative studies between MBti and psychopathology are easily found on the internet. This kind of information can be career-killing in the wrong hands. Gestalt psychology comes to mind — we each are more than the sum of our parts.

  3. I took one of these tests online for a customer service technical support role.I scored 94% on the technical and 100% on the customer service mindset. I still didn’t get the job. I guess my scores were unbelievable since they are above the global average of 86%. The point I’m making is yes, it is possible to trick a behavioral test.

  4. Alton Moore

    I think I’ll just refuse any jobs that require these tests. If I meet the folks, and we are honest with each other and get along, then I don’t think there’s much cause to be subjected to the indignity of these tests. They want to know if I’m impersonal, while they’re the ones demanding that I take the test? That’s rich!