Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Practical Advice for Police, Fire Fighters, EMTs, and others taking Civil Service Psychiatric Exams.

This is a repost of an earlier article, with a new title to make it easier to find for police, fire fighters, and others taking civil service psychiatric exams. Oriented towards fire fighters, there is still good advice for other public servants. See also this commentary by Physicist Richard Feynman on his own government psychiatric exam back in the day when he was just starting out.

More municipalities are increasingly relying on psychological tests - not only in the hiring phase but also in the entry-level examination format. For example, numerous fire fighter candidates with stellar credentials (including degrees in fire science technology, EMT and Paramedic certifications) doing well on all other portions of the exam yet failing the psychological part.

As noted here:
The psychological test is changing the fire service. Sure there are some folks who have a lot of baggage and shouldn’t be hired. But most of the red-hot’s, the back bone of the fire service, can’t make it through the process. Surprisingly, the evaluations are based on the performance of those in already in the fire service.

More and more agencies are using the psychological test in their hiring process. Psychologists are competing for this lucrative business and agencies feel they need the service to hire the right candidates. In one large department forty-percent of candidates were eliminated from the hiring process through the psychological tests. Fire administrations feel theirs hands are tied and get frustrated when they see a high percentage of their superior candidates that were eliminated by their physiological test and then being hired by other agencies.

"Psychologists are given more power then they should," says Robert Thomas Flint, Ph.D., who sometimes does re-evaluations of potential peace officers and firefighters who have failed psychological tests. Although he tends to agree 40-50% of the original decisions were valid, he finds that another 30-50% of the rejected candidates are acceptable and can handle the job.
It sounds that they would do just about as well using a coin flip to screen the candidates, if you think about it. In the rush to protect themselves from liabilities, the use of psychological testing is interfering with public safety. So much so that a cottage industry is growing up telling people how to pass the psych test. Check this out
You Have to Pass The Psych Test First Time Out!

Most candidates are more than surprised when I tell them up to 40% fail the psychological test given by many departments.

I received one phone call and two e-mails from relatives of a firefighter/medic candidate who failed a psych test before the candidate called asking "What can I do now?" He had been testing for 5 years and this was the first job offer. I asked him if he knew who we were? Yes. Did you know we had a preparation program for the psych? Yes. Why didn't you get it? I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard this, "Things were going so great I didn't think I needed it."

Imagine after all the education, experience and time preparing to get this job like the above candidate . . . and you're eliminated. Then no one will talk to you to find out what happened. I've talked to too many candidates who were devastated and didn't know what to do next. This is a critical part of the testing process you need to prepare for and pass the first time out.

You've jumped through all the flaming hoops and made it through the background check. Then, you're conditionally offered the job pending the medical, which includes a psychological test. You take the test, no big deal right? Then the phone stops ringing.

You are out of the hiring process. You are told that you didn't meet the profile. What profile?

What do you mean I didn't meet the profile? I've got training, experience, education, every degree, certificate, merit badge, and a paramedic certification. I've been a volunteer, paid member of another department for 10 years, and lived and breathed this job. And, I don't meet the profile?

What's included in the psych test? There is a written test that sets up a profile of you. Then, there is an evaluation by a psychologist.

Written Test: The most common written portion of the psychological evaluation is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory interview test of up to 1000 questions. The aim here is not to pass the test but to go into the job fully prepared. Put your pride and natural defensiveness aside. They ask a few questions in several different ways. You want to answer questions "strongly for" or "strongly against" instead of being in the middle undecided. Answer questions to present yourself as a more social, interactive, team playing type of person, i.e., you would rather be in a conversation with others than reading a book alone.


The Evaluation: This is where the wheels start coming off the wagon for too many candidates.

Before the interview, the psychologist will often have you take a separate personality test, fill out a personal family history, a biography and additional information forms.

The biggest error candidates make during the psychological evaluation is thinking there is a patient/doctor confidentiality even when the doctor has them sign a release that there is not. This is not your family doctor. Guess who's paying the bill?

What gets candidates in trouble here is they want this job so bad that they will say and do almost anything to get it.

Although I don't encourage candidates to be less than truthful, those candidates who are honest to a fault diminish their chances of passing the psychological interview! That's right. You folks want this job so bad you will tell the psychologist anything they want to know. Even stuff they didn't ask you. Once you start down this road of total honesty, creating trails where you don't have to, tossing out more information than was asked for thinking this guy is your friend is where you get into big trouble. Especially when the psychologist says, "Everyone has skeletons in their closet, this interview is not designed to eliminate you from the process", or "you don't want to be too squeaky clean." So you open up. Then the phone stops ringing and no one will talk to you. You are out of the process Mcfly. And, you don't know why.

So what should you do?

Only answer the question you're being asked. Before you volunteer information, think before you speak. If they want to know more they will ask. Don't appear to be closed but warm and cordial. Present your ideas clearly. Don't ramble or chat. Be articulate. This is how you're going to be in the field. Believe it or not this is part of the job interview. You are making an impression of who you are going to be as a firefighter.

Make sure you dress up and don't slouch. Be prepared to audition for the part of being a firefighter. Know your strong points. Be prepared to demonstrate you are a team player.

A large city fire department called in twelve candidates for the psychological interview. Only three passed. They sent in six more, only two passed. Another six more were tested. Again, only two passed. All those who passed were our candidates. They prepared in advance with our special report that took us over a year to compile to let them know where the land mines were before they went in. Ask them if it was worth knowing what was a coming?

This from a new firefighter:

I want to comment on your psych test information and report. I had to take one for two departments. Well all I know is that I went into the test and followed your advice. I tried to answer the questions as honestly as I could, while presenting myself as a very positive social person. Some of the "experts" out there say that you should be brutally honest on the test. Well 3 good guys I know did just that, and they did not pass either test. We lost 10 out of 25 guys on one test! In all honesty I might not have passed either if I hadn't followed your advice. I feel that is a very dangerous test, and some of the advice these people are giving out is costing great candidates a job. I wanted to let you know that your advice worked, and I owe you much thanks! Steve.

This from an in service firefighter:

During the last hiring process 2 years ago the psychologist passed 10 people. Of those 10, 2 have quit, 2 have been fired, and 1 committed suicide. I wonder if he is worth what the city pays him to evaluate prospects? Have a nice weekend.
So obviously, the shrinks aren't worth the money they are charging. And they are not delivering the results needed to protect the public and the professionals whose lives depend on each other.


Alison said...

I was just going to send you this link when I saw your latest post. Seems the MMPI has other problems as well, see:

D Bunker said...

Psychology and Psychiatry are up front and open in proclaiming they have 1: no cures 2: no idea what causes supposed 'mental disorders' 3: no real 2-way communication with their clients. They're schooled not to reveal themselves while they're 'Investigating' for mental illness.

They Do have Money, Drugs, and the need for a product to justify their continued Money, while they're selling drugs, with no cures, no clues, and a paycheck need for mentally ill, disordered, or just not psychologically fit enough to serve as a firefighter, police officer, or other. This leaves them only one option.

They Have to find what they're investigating for to keep getting paid, so what's left but to fabricate and sell psychological failings/disorders?

Which might be Why, as a class, they keep getting into so much trouble.

gary morrison said...

This is my first visit, boy what a GREAT web site! It would have taken me years to hunt up the quantity of material you have posted here! Heres my two cents woth;
Psychology functions as a branch of management theory, its social construction cleary represents a professional class in the buisness of identifying isolating and neutralizing potentialy disident social minorities. Psychologists behave like an avant-garde. They are employed to anticipate and deal with the divergent individual.The micro-manage the socially problematic on a case by case basis.psychologists are in business to intervene, before these people have a chance to become a connected, concious, organized, political threat. This whole industry is an example of right wing ideology presenting itself as social science. They are acting as a kind of white collar police force. "They will break your back if your stupid and break your head if your smart." Psychology is a political subculture and cannot be understood adequately without cosidering its historical antecedents, see RJ Lifton. I doubt hey would have become a criminal problem if they were actually engaged in doing any real science.

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Eamonn Gosney said...

Who administers the psychological tests for candidates wishing to become psychiatrists and psychologists?