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I can't seem to hire the right bookkeeper. Should I try using a personality test?

Andy Cohen, Rock Properties, Newark, N.J.

For money-handling jobs, character probably matters more than personality. And character is tough to judge from a test because those who lack it cheat.

That said, tests that screen job candidates for traits such as reliability and dishonesty have become commonplace in the post-Enron era. There are about 2,500 tests to choose from, most of which start at about $85 a pop and follow a similar drill. Applicants spend 10 minutes answering multiple-choice or true-or-false questions, either online or off, and the testing company creates profiles based on their responses. Employers then compare the results with a hypothetical "ideal" profile or with profiles of their top performers. The better the match, the theory goes, the better the candidate.

Many business owners swear by the process. Nick Roumi, president of mortgage company Homefield Financial in Irvine, Calif., says his sales staff has improved dramatically since he began requiring applicants to take the Sales Indicator, created by Profiles International of Waco, Texas, to distinguish the Ricky Romas from the Willy Lomans. "It's part art, part science," he says.

But some experts warn that the tests are not scientific. "Personality is not something that can be captured with a pencil and paper," says Annie Murphy Paul, author of The Cult of Personality. Paul advises approaching test results with a healthy dose of skepticism and using them in conjunction with reference checks, interviews, and, of course, the hiring manager's gut instinct.

Finally, bear in mind that the Americans With Disabilities Act bars employers from asking questions related to a job applicant's mental health. "I have to be the best at everything I do" is an acceptable true-or-false question. "My soul sometimes leaves my body" is not.

When I started out, I personally guaranteed credit accounts with various vendors. Can I have the guarantees removed now that I'm established?

Townsend Weeks
Union Equity, Indianapolis

If you've paid your bills promptly for three to five years, you're within your rights to negotiate better terms. And your vendors are within their rights to say, "Not so fast, bucko." So explain what's in it for them, advises Bobby Casey, president of Diamond Retail Services, a Greensboro, N.C., company that provides in-store merchandising to the likes of Sears. One compelling argument: No more personal guarantees means greater borrowing power, faster growth, increased procurement, and more business for your vendors.

Casey also advises making your case early and often. Unable to qualify for a loan when he founded Diamond Retail, he put up some of his father's assets as a guarantee. The company became profitable within months, and Casey began sending audited financial statements to the bank each year. After six years, he asked the bankers to take his father's assets off the table. They agreed.

Sometimes the best way to stand up for yourself is to let someone else stand for you. Kemal Farid, CEO of Houston-based Merrick Systems, which helps streamline operations at fuel companies, deploys his CPA to the bargaining table. "It's more convincing when our CPA goes in there and says, 'Hey, Merrick Systems is a good company,' than if I say it," Farid notes. That tactic also buys him time to mull any counteroffers and, if he's not happy, look elsewhere. "It's okay to push," he says. "Vendors know that they have to compete for your business, too."

Resources

Visit profilesinternational.com and piworldwide.com for more info on personality tests. The U.S. Small Business Administration's website also features a test that assesses entrepreneurial proclivities (sba.gov/starting_business/startup/entrepreneurialtest.html). For tips on getting the most out of your vendors, read Auditing Vendor Relationships by Mark Salamasick and Chris Linsteadt.




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