Personality tests are one way to evaluate the traits of new recruits but can they ever identify the perfect PRO? Alex Black reports.

James Bywater: Head psychologist at SHL
James Bywater: Head psychologist at SHL

It would be impossible to define the personality of a ‘true PR person’. Different roles, within companies, industries and sectors, require different types of people.

But PRWeek wondered if an occupational personality test (OPT) could highlight some of the personality traits of successful PROs. After all, core skills such as creativity, dealing with people and multi-tasking come more easily to some than others, so do people with certain personality traits lend themselves to PR better than others?

James Bywater, head psychologist at testing organisation SHL, explains that an OPT is a two-way process designed to spark a conversation about people’s strengths and weaknesses.

‘Discussing the answers gives people a vocabulary to understand what is going on beneath the surface, and takes them beyond where they would be able to go on their own,’ he explains.

An OPT can also help organisations understand the dynamics at work within a team.

PRWeek asked two senior comms people – one in-house and one agency – to take SHL’s OPT questionnaire. We then listened in while they went through the results with Bywater.

David Cook (below) Head of PR, European markets, Cisco

Summary of current position: ‘I keep 25 country teams communicating Cisco’s core messages without stifling their local expertise. It is also about keeping some things out of the press.’

Q & A...
James Bywater: Do you see yourself part of a part of a team rather than an individualist? Your results suggest you are team orientated.

David Cook: Spot on. I would have hoped the results show an element of collaboration.

JB What are you like meeting new people and new audiences?

DC I’m at ease with new people and enjoy meeting them, but I’m not a fan of formality. I’m a member of one particular organisation that, although I love its sense of tradition, has a stuffiness and old-fashioned standpoint that I find frustrating.

JB That suggests you work better with people you know…

DC That is probably fair, but the nature of my job means I’m constantly taken out of that comfort zone, so it something you learn to adapt to.

JB The results suggest you are sympathetic and caring in a work context.

DC [Laughs] Really? I guess it comes down to listening. The culture here is something more akin to what you find in a much smaller company. I suppose it comes down to generally trying to be a decent human being.

JB That is also reflected in your answers. The results suggest empathy and an above-average understanding of people and ability to analyses the motives of others. Another question: do you enjoy working with numbers?

DC That is not something I really enjoy. I’m a communications person so I work better with words, but dealing with costings and budgets is just something you have to learn to deal with.

JB What would you say is your driving force?

DC It is fair to say I have a very competitive streak. I want me and my team to do a better job than anyone else out there.

JB Your test results suggest a balance between your ability to deliver short-term and long-term goals – that you’re adaptable…

DC Yes, although there is a huge amount of pressure to get the short-term goals right.

JB What about criticism? How do you take that? Your answers suggest a degree of tender-mindedness, but with an ability to bounce back.

DC I guess I am sensitive, but I can take it on the chin. I certainly think you learn to put things in context as you get older.

JB Your results suggest an inclination to make fast decisive decisions…

DC I like to get things done and then move on. I also tend to operate with the belief that it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake – just don’t make the same mistake again.

Annabel Dunstan (below) Managing director, 3 Monkeys Communications

Summary of current position: ‘My role covers MD, new business, looking for acquisitions and looking after 30 consultants.’

Q & A...

James Bywater: How did you find the test?

Annabel Dunstan: I found the first 30 questions stimulating, but after that they started to feel similar. By question 109 my mind was in knots because I’d starting trying to think what would be read into my answers.

JB The questions are similar because that is the way we identify if you are continuously selecting one preference. Often people need to be in the middle of a career change of shift to put the answers into context. We would often use this test to explore people’s next move. The results of your test suggested that you’re an extrovert…

AD I do have moments of being very extrovert, but I also have a side that is much less so.

JB You give an impression of strong social ease – I imagine you feel comfortable with new people and unfamiliar audiences. However, you seem to balance that with being happy to switch off and be on your own. I imagine your job obliges you to get on with new people all the time, but you don’t seem to need to get particularly close to them.

AD I have at least two new business meetings a week, and the adrenaline always flows during them. When I’m on the way back on my own, that is often when I feel at my most creative.

JB You come across as having the ability to anticipate the thoughts and feelings of others…

AD I often feel most in-tuned in meetings. I may not always say the most, but I will always have a clear picture of the thoughts others are trying to get across.

JB You come across as creative, but also pragmatic. Someone who will ask, ‘How do we make this happen?’, rather than a pure creative force.

AD I am the person who complements the team’s ideas, putting guy-ropes on them and making them work. I make sure that the deadlines are hit.

JB Some organisations are designed around teamwork, others around playing individually competitive people off against each other and rewarding them for beating their peers. This is a key variable in organisations’ dynamics. Your test suggests you have an innate desire to succeed, but are unlikely to do so at the expense of others. You are ambitious, but with your team.

AD True – I wouldn’t be able to work without having a fantastic team around me.


While there is no ‘PR personality’, both sets of results indicated key skills that are useful to top PROs.

Both our subjects were shown to be adept at meeting and interacting with new people. However, both are able to treat business scenarios with professional detachment and focus on the business issues at hand.

Both also show an advanced ability to empathise with colleagues and team members. Dunstan was identified as being the person ‘in-tune’ with different thoughts and ideas of her staff, while Cook’s answers identified him as ‘sympathetic and caring in a work context’.

Bywater says tests like these can be particularly helpful when people reach transition points in their careers and need to be objective about where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

‘It was interesting to hear about Annabel’s challenges because she now has to spread herself over a number different disciplines,’ says Bywater.

‘She started her career on the ‘doing’ side of things, but now she is MD her tasks are very different from when she started out. The role will feel less like PR, and she has had to adapt her skills.’

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