Some employers in Ireland are using handwriting analysis as a way to ascertain whether you are an axe-murderer or not.
All employers would like to be able to pick the perfect employee from a CV and an interview. But let’s face it…in an interview, candidates are always on their best behaviour. They are wearing snappy clothing that they will never wear again once hired. We both know that they will return the swanky suit the next day and get a refund. And of course, any CV placed in front of an employer is so polished that they might even see their reflection in it and be able to fix their hair.
So how do you get to the crux of the real person in front of you if you have to hire someone? You can work with people for years and still not really know them… It takes an even bigger genius to work out why an otherwise shiny employee suddenly robs your company of all the staplers and gas-lift chairs without anyone noticing. And, it is getting harder and harder to fire an employee. These days they have to have murdered Billy from accounts and maimed Sally from sales before they can be sacked without serious legal headaches. So is there any way to vet potential candidates a bit more closely?
There may be. Just ask the French. They think they have cracked it. The French in particular are huge fans of a handwritten lettre manuscrite in job applications. So why do they want a handwritten application from potential employees? It is because they employ the services of a graphologist.
So what is a graphologist? Is it someone who compulsively draws pie graphs all day? Actually, the answer is non. A graphologist analyses handwriting to try to determine the relevant personality traits of the scribe. And depending on what survey you stumble upon, a large proportion of job applications in France pass under the eyes of a graphologist. The Swiss own up to it in similar numbers, as do Belgians. And maybe we should listen. After all, the French weren’t wrong about red wine and soft cheeses.
You may think handwriting analysis is an intrusive practice if you are the one applying for a job. But let’s think about the way the Americans investigate you when you apply for a job. In the States, they demand to know (and get access to) your most private information, such as health and financial records. And what is going on over there with the urine tests? Many would rather get their handwriting analysed than pee in a cup for their potential boss. Nobody wants any boss seeing their wee.
So while Americans accept the pee test as a cultural necessity of gaining employment, so the French accept handwriting analysis as par for the course too. So where are we Irish on the whole graphology business? As far as I can tell, we’re not sure.
Graphology as a science (or a sport, depending on how valid you think it to be) seems to be coming in from the cold. It is not as frosty as it once was. Some big shot suits in HR departments are giving it a crack here in slowing increasing numbers. And surprisingly, a large bag of multi-nationals and other companies are starting to use graphology as part of their recruitment processes. But other organisations still view graphology as belonging in the same swag as astrologers and tea-leaf reading. They may even consider spraying graphologists with pepper spray if they come too close.
But not all human beings are skeptics. Graphology is taught in psychology departments of several leading universities in Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland and Israel. Analysis of handwriting is supposed to reveal over 300 character traits, including thinking patterns, communications skills, stress levels and tendencies towards deception, self-aggrandisement and excessive fantasising. Well, that’s half of us unemployed then. And probably the other half as well.
The basic tenent of graphology is that is it ‘frozen body language’. It has been practiced throughout history by the Chinese, Greeks and Romans. The oldest surviving treatise on graphology was published in 1625 by Camillo Baldo, an Italian physician. Other known handwriting analysts include Chekov and Einstein.
Modern graphology took off about 1830, thanks to a group of French clerics. In more recent times, Dr Max Pulver of the Institute of Applied Psychiatry in Zurich published some seminal works. Harvard psychologists Allport and Vernon supported the view that handwriting is in fact ‘brainwriting’. Despite all of these rather cerebral works, there are as many papers published as to why graphology is a hot steaming loaf of porky pie. So as a HR tool, the conclusion is still hotly debated.
While France has always been a stalwart of graphology, the British Institute of Graphology (britishgraphology.org) calculates that some 3000 British companies now use handwriting analysis as part of their recruitment procedures.
So what about Ireland? If you are an employer, would you consider using a graphologist? Considering that hiring the wrong person can cause stress and a rather fast outward stream of cash, the fees seem rather small. Especially when compared to the headache of firing an employee who has taken all the money from the staff bonus account and bought a new pair of croc-skin boots. And is kicking you with them.
So weigh this up. Graphologist fees in Ireland are around €75 for a brief candidate check. They analyse samples of those who make the cut in the initial screening – that is, viable job candidates. And after that, it is around €250 for an in-depth analysis. Graphologists make it very clear that in all cases, the author of the handwriting should be informed that their writing may be analysed by a graphologist. So permission must be granted by the candidate. But if you refuse, you think you will get the job? Of course not, you’ll be flipping burgers in the Paddyshack down the road. But also graphologists make it clear that this is not the sole determining factor in selecting a candidate. For the applicant, it is just another hurdle to clear before their employer starts paying their pension.
Irish graphologist Denis Sexton sees an emerging market in Ireland. Qualified in graphology, he previously was a teacher and a schools inspector. He is also a trained hypnotherapist, psychotherapist and NLP practitioner.
So what made this already busy chap take on graphology? “For me, it’s another avenue to shedding light on the mystery of what it is to be human. Most of us have a real self and a false self. Graphology helps to show what’s happening both onstage and backstage. Unlike psychometric tests, it’s difficult to fake handwriting successfully. In general, it amazes me how revealing graphology can be. In Ireland and the UK, psychologists have no time for graphology. It’s not scientific enough for them. However, most clinical psychologists are involved in testing. Whether it’s the inkblot test or a questionnaire, test results are open to a strong element of subjective evaluation. Graphology will take off here when those at the top do a bit more thinking outside the box. So far they’ve had little exposure to graphology and its benefits. I expect graphology to happen fairly suddenly in Ireland. In the UK, it’ll be slower because they tend to be more conservative. As for hiring staff, who wants to get stuck with a square peg? It can take an age to get shut of them, as well as being costly. An interview board with a graphology report in front of them will have a better idea as to what questions to ask. Graphology is so easy to administer. A blank page, a pen and about 10-15 minutes and that’s it. Its objective; the graphologists never meets the candidates.”
If you do use graphologists in your recruitment process, keep in mind that it is not a panacea for solving all the problems involved in high turnover found in the work place. You may have the best graphologist in Ireland on your side. But if you are a cruddy boss then you may as well just go on a holiday and not come back, or else your staff will beat you to it.
Graphology may also not account for change. According to a colleage, “A few years ago, I started a new job full of enthusiasm. I was the hottest worker in the known and as yet unknown universe. But after some time, the company suffered a hostile takeover. The new boss was the kind that wore gold medallions which jangled in the wind. We always knew he was approaching; he was like a cow with a bell. He was a terrible boss. TERRIBLE. Company morale went south, and we all became bitter and twisted and needed Red Bull to even motivate ourselves to turn our computers on at the crack of dawn. I became tardy, and took long, chick-pea-filled lunch breaks, and starting using work time to seek employment elsewhere. I even considered putting graffiti on the bathroom walls telling everyone how gross the company was. I was a dud employee until I found myself another job. So while graphology might be an important tool, it is only applicable in the current work situ. Any big and unpredicted change may leave you with a bunch of suits unsuited for a work environment changing faster than the stock turnover at A|wear. And let me tell you, with all of the fashionistas that frequent that gaff, that’s almost reaching the speed of sound.”
At present, there aren’t too many companies who shout about using graphology as a recruitment practice. This is likely to be because nobody is sure where general civilians are ethically on the matter. And speaking legally, what would the implications be if someone decided to sue on the basis of losing out on a job because their handwriting analysis found them to be a dud? But then again, many employers hire using their gut feelings. Could you sue for this too? At the end of the day, graphology is too bizarre at the moment for companies to go around bragging about using it.
One way to decide for yourself how you feel about graphology is to try it on for size if you are hiring employees. You might use a graphologist and end up with a great employee who brings joy, hard work and donuts to the office. That would be a good basis for continuing using a graphologist. However if you end up hiring a dud thanks to graphology, then maybe you might end up feeling that you have discriminated against people on the basis of a pseudo-scientific practice.
If in doubt, get your own handwriting sent off for analysis. If the report correctly analyses you as the axe-murdering, shopaholic gambling mess that you are, then maybe you should give graphology a crack. After all, you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Wanna try? You can contact Dennis Sexton here.