Most scientific investigations of handwriting analysis as a tool for reading character suggest it has limited value. However, the practice is widespread in Western Europe and, while less common in the U.S., still has adherents.
One User's Experience
Carol Cline-Ong, co-founder and CEO of Las Vegas commercial property brokerage and management company MDL Group, has used handwriting analysis since 2000 to screen candidates for upper-level jobs at the 28-person firm. "It's amazing what we get out of it," Cline-Ong says.
MDL finds out whether candidates are good fits culturally, whether they have potential for substance abuse and even whether they are being misleading about their suitability for the job, Cline-Ong says. If problems arise later with an employee, when she reviews the handwriting analysis report, the warnings were always there, she says.
Candidates asked to provide a sample for analysis are usually skeptical, but uniformly come away impressed with the insights it provides. “It’s worth the money,” Cline-Ong says.
The Graphologist's View
Mark Hopper, founder and president of Phoenix-based Handwriting Research Corp., has provided handwriting analysis to business clients since 1983. “Our client base is pretty diverse—banks, hotels, high-tech businesses, everyone from businesses that have one person to clients with thousands of employees,” Hopper says.
Hopper says most clients come from personal referrals, and he's usually hired by a firm’s CEO rather than by a human resources executive. The reason, he says, is that HR professionals are trained to be skeptical of handwriting’s value as a predictor of job performance, while CEOs are more open-minded and are only interested in whether it works.
Hopper claims it does. Clients who once had fewer than half of new hires become successful employees may find more than 90 percent succeed after he screens them using handwriting analysis. “The reason we’re still in business is that the analysis is usually pretty good,” he says.
How Graphology Works
The principle Hopper works on is that the loops and swirls of handwriting constitute behavior, and behavior indicates personality. In one common application, he’ll examine samples from a firm’s top performers, looking for certain personality traits.
Then he’ll seek to identify job applicants whose writing indicates similar traits. For instance, a firm might find that its most successful salespeople have handwriting that shows they're outgoing, competitive and persistent.
A quick screening to identify promising salespeople among a crop of applicants costs $15 per sample. After trimming applicants to a handful, Hopper might do a more rigorous analysis, for $225 apiece. That might generate 15 to 20 pages of commentary about a prospect’s likely future performance.
Graphology clients usually start out skeptical but curious, Hopper says, after having gotten a personal referral from a previous client. Business owners typically submit a sample of their own handwriting for him to look at, then progress to a trial involving existing employees. By the time he’s accurately analyzed several personalities for free, he says they’ve become believers and are ready to pay for the service.
The Skeptical Side
Among skeptics, count Steven Hunt, author of Hiring Success: The Art and Science of Staffing Assessment and Employee Selection, a book co-published by the Society of Human Resource Management.
“The history of staffing contains many examples of assessments that seem like they might work, but that actually have little relationship to employee performance,” he writes. “For example, an entire graphology industry has been built based on the belief that people's future job behavior can be predicted by analyzing the style of their handwriting, even though empirical research has found no relationship between handwriting and job performance (except for jobs like calligrapher, for which writing is a core part of the job itself ).”
Since the book was published in 2007, investigators have continued to examine handwriting as a tool for evaluating personal characteristics, predicting job performance and other uses. A 2009 article in the peer-reviewed Psychological Review by researchers from the University of Padua in Italy reported on two studies. In both, graphologists analyzed handwriting samples from students who also filled out a standard personality questionnaire.
The graphologists didn’t agree with the questionnaire findings, or with each other, the researchers said. “No evidence was found to validate the graphological method as a measure of personality,” they concluded.
Handwriting on the Wall
Hopper discounts most scholarly investigations of graphology as flawed. He says well-designed studies support the technique’s validity. For instance, he says comparing handwriting of convicted bank robbers to handwriting of honest bank tellers shows it can accurately evaluate personality.
“We have over 2,000 published studies,” he says. “Everything’s there. Evidence it works. Evidence it doesn’t. It’s largely based on who’s conducting the study.” He did not respond to a request for examples of studies supporting graphology’s validity and a client he referred did not respond to a request for comment.
For now, business owners who wonder whether handwriting analysis can help them hire smarter are free to believe Hopper and Trump. Those who trust scientific studies and HR professionals will probably pass. “I have never seen rigorous empirical validation evidence showing handwriting analysis works,” Hunt says, “and a lot showing it doesn’t.”
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Photo: Courtesy of MDL Group