UK Politics

'Mumbo-jumbo' personality tests for jobseekers criticised by Labour

Job Centre plus
Image caption Jobseekers are encouraged to discuss the feedback from the questionnaire with their advisers

A psychometric test designed to help jobseekers identify and utilise their personality strengths has been criticised as "mumbo-jumbo" by Labour.

The voluntary questionnaire is being used by job centres in north-east England after a pilot last year.

The 48 multiple choice questions range from "do I mope a lot?" and "am I easily bored?" to asking whether people "go out of their way to visit museums".

Officials said those looking for work and their advisers found it "helpful".

The My Strengths questionnaire was devised by the Behavioural Insights Team, which is overseen by the Cabinet Office.

The team, which was formed in 2010 and has been dubbed the Nudge Unit as it is influenced by theories of behavioural economics - has been tasked with producing innovative solutions to deep-seated social problems.

It has focused on presenting information in a way which encourages people to alter their behaviour and lifestyles and make "better choices" rather than relying on new regulation or legislation to force change.

'Snap judgements'

The questionnaire is currently being used at interviews in job centres in Middlesbrough and elsewhere in the region.

People are asked which of five answers - "very much like me", "like me", "neutral", "unlike me" or "very much unlike me" - best describes their view of themselves in response to a variety of different of statements.

These include: "I am always curious about the world"; "I tend to make snap judgements"; "I get sidetracked when I work"; "I am thrilled when I learn something new"; "I can rarely stay on a diet"; "I have not created anything of beauty in the last year".

Once they complete the survey, said to take 10 minutes, those taking part receive a summary of their five principal strengths. Traits covered include critical thinking, curiosity, originality, social intelligence, bravery and modesty.

They are then urged to think how they can apply these strengths in their hunt for work and life in general and "to try to find a new way to use them every day".

Critics say the test produces similar feedback whatever answers are given, but officials say it is grounded in academic research and there are thousands of possible results.

'Helping people'

The Department for Work and Pensions said the questionnaire was designed to highlight things that people were good at, and reaction to it had been positive.

"The exercise is intended to help jobseekers identify their strengths," a spokeswoman said.

"We want to use every tool we have to help jobseekers who want to work find a job."

Officials said those taking part in a recent trial in Essex, in which other measures aimed at boosting people's confidence and improving their employability were also modelled, were 15-20% more likely to be off benefits 13 weeks after signing on.

But Labour said the UK needed real action to help people back into work - including the guarantee of a job for all those out of work for two years - not "pointless tests".

"No wonder unemployment is higher today than when this government came to power," said shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne.

"Ministers seem to have got jobseekers wasting time on mumbo-jumbo personality tests when they should be looking for work."

The Cabinet Office, which oversees the work of the Nudge Unit, said the point of the initiative was to help people and it was just a small part of a whole package of measures being pursued. It said the test had had positive feedback and was grounded in academic research.

The number of people unemployed in the UK rose by 70,000 to 2.56 million between December and February 2012, according to official statistics published last month.

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