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The increasing growth in the economy, the decline in the number of business closures due to economic difficulties and the drop in unemployment at the end of 2004 have not made the lives of job seekers any easier. Most employers are very cautious about hiring due to their uncertainty about the stability of the recovery trend. They are avoiding big expenditures and are not hiring en masse, preferring instead to exploit the full potential of their existing work force and production capability.

Organizations are using very stringent screening methods when recruiting new workers, and most companies that are not hiring for traditional manufacturing jobs do not make do with a single-page resume or just one interview with a candidate. They invite applicants for another interview with a senior executive, contact references, use psychometric exams and sometimes even call in a graphologist.

The graphologist is at that end of this list for good reason, as barely 10 percent of companies - according to estimates by manpower firms - ask a graphologist to analyze a candidate's handwriting. Even the companies that do this employ additional methods for determining whether a candidate is suitable for a job.

Even though some 20 percent of companies ask candidates to submit their resumes in writing, rather than typewritten, this does not mean that the resumes will be sent to a graphologist. The bottom line is that graphologists are not all that popular as a means for screening employees. In Israel only a few organizations actually rely on the graphologist's opinion as the only screening test.

Limited reliability

Long-time graphologist Avi Weiss, one of the most prominent in this field, admits that the graphologist's ability to predict a candidate's suitability for a job is limited. He relates that several years ago Bank Leumi tested the reliability of graphology examinations by giving 100 handwriting samples to each of five graphologists. Fifty of the samples were from bank employees suspected of disciplinary infractions or even theft, while the other 50 were from employees known for their trustworthiness.

The graphologists were to determine which employees violated their employer's trust and which were faithful. The results were disappointing, ranging from 50 percent, which is as good as accidental, to 80 percent, which indicates reasonable prediction ability.

Weiss says that graphologists' ability to predict a potential employee's suitability ranges from 0 to 90 percent, or from total failure in the assessment to providing a highly reliable assessment.

"Even when a graphologist's opinion has been given to an employer," says Weiss, "the employer doesn't always know how to interpret it. Not every analysis concludes with a clear recommendation to accept or reject the candidate, and this makes it even harder for the employer to make a decision."

Still, Weiss advises employers not to forgo graphology as a means of screening job candidates.

"A skilled graphologist really can identify a candidate's weaknesses," he says, adding that graphology should be used alongside other screening methods, such as an interview with the head of the department for which the candidate will be hired and an examination of the documents attesting to the candidate's education.

One thing Weiss says is superfluous is the psychometric test.

"The moment a candidate is sent to a graphologist, the psychometric test is redundant," he says.

Professional protectionism

Weiss claims that some academicians, particularly psychologists, oppose graphology due to professional protectionism - Weiss says that in half an hour a graphologist can reach the same conclusions that a battery of psychometric tests and an interview with a psychologist would reach after six hours.

Weiss recalls one case in which Home Center was considering an external candidate for a management position.

"The graphologist wrote a negative opinion of the candidate, warning that the man lacked integrity," says Weiss. "The psychometric institute determined that the candidate was suitable for the job. Due to the contradictory results Home Center asked for a third opinion, from a psychologist, who supported the psychometric institute's findings."

The man was hired to manage one of the company's stores in Eilat, and then fired two years later, after it was discovered that he had been embezzling funds. The human resources director phoned the graphologist to apologize.

Avi Coleman, the Israeli manager of the global Adecco manpower company, downplays the value of graphology as a screening tool.

"The graphology test does not address the candidate's professional level," he says, "and this is what concerns a company's management. I don't totally discount the use of graphology, but would rank it behind the personal interview, the personality test, the psychometric test and the professional test at the workplace itself."