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Signature Sleuths : Handwriting Experts Increasingly Called to Screen Job Applicants

December 02, 1989|MARY TAUGHER | Mary Taugher, formerly of Orange County, is a now a San Francisco-based free-lance writer.

How important is your signature? The next time you apply for a job, you might find that it depends on how you dot your i's , cross your t's and loop your l's and d's . Handwriting analysis, once tossed in the occult bag of palm reading, tea leaves and crystal balls, is emerging as a screening method used by Orange County employers in hiring.

Carol Booth vividly remembers the day she called in handwriting expert Joyce Lindstrom to review a stack of 20 job applications after a rash of thefts at her wholesale florist business left her casting about for a new method to judge potential employees.

"She pulled out one application and said, 'I hope you didn't hire her,' " recalls Booth, who runs C. Booth Ltd. in Anaheim. "She said that person's handwriting showed dishonesty. That was the person who committed the theft. That she could pick out that out of a stack of applications was absolutely amazing."

Booth now uses handwriting analysis--also known as graphology--to make all her hires. "I go by my personal instinct and also by their qualifications," Booth says. "But the final say-so is the handwriting. I swear by it."

Lindstrom, whose Orange consulting firm, Handwriting Reveals, boasts a client list of more than 35 firms including Thomas Temporaries, Illif, Thorn & Company, the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel and Plaza Savings & Loan, says handwriting analysis is gaining acceptability thanks in part to the demise of lie-detector tests. As of last December, employers nationwide were barred by Congress from using lie detectors and other forms of electronic testing in hiring.

The law was prompted by claims that the tests are not accurate. While it prohibits the use of polygraphs, it exempts some government employees and those who work in armed cars and around drugs.

"Companies that would not have used my services before are starting to because they cannot use lie-detector tests anymore," Lindstrom says. "They need an additional tool to find out more information about the person they are hiring. I can tell them whether the person they're considering is compatible for the job."

And employers are finding it more and more difficult to get an accurate read on potential employees because former employers fear litigation if they give negative job references, she said.

Lindstrom acknowledges that handwriting analysis is not foolproof.

"We never tell anyone to make a decision based on the handwriting alone," she says. "It should be used with other pre-screening measures."

But if a person changes his or her handwriting to cover up a personality trait such as deceit, she says, the analyst will discover it. "Say somebody takes a handwriting course or reads about it in a book and learns about deceit. If he tries to change a stroke to hide that trait, it will come out in other ways."

Every person's handwriting has a skeletal outline that will show up even when trying to change it, Lindstrom says. In addition, analysts use at least five indicators when looking at personality traits.

Lindstrom typically works by asking employers to give her a job description and a list of attributes they are looking for in a candidate. Working with a format approved by her lawyer, she informs job applicants that their handwriting is being reviewed, then asks them to write two standardized paragraphs for testing.

"We can't predict the future," she says. "But we can spot strengths and weaknesses." According to Lindstrom, analysis can determine emotional behavior, mental processes and aptitudes such as whether a person tends to be open-minded, independent, attentive to details, aggressive, responsible, enthusiastic, ambitious, organized or imaginative.

When screening for an accountant position, for example, Lindstrom looks at handwriting that reveals someone who pays attention to detail, who is disciplined and who finishes a job once he or she starts it. "That person's handwriting might not show him to be the most friendly or warm or outgoing person in the world, but he may be a good accountant," Lindstrom says.

Jewelry stores and other security-conscious businesses also use handwriting analysis to screen out potentially dishonest applicants, says Lindstrom, whose daughter recently was required to submit her writing for scrutiny before being hired by a Santa Ana jewelry store.

In addition to hiring, Lindstrom uses handwriting analysis to help personnel managers in team-building to match employees who will work well together. She also gives seminars on the topic at conventions, most recently at September's Southern California Conference on Women at the Anaheim Convention Center. And she has lectured on the use of handwriting analysis in compatibility testing at Parents Without Partners and on its benefits in vocational guidance at several Orange County high schools.

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