If you walk into any of 12 Salt Lake businesses - including Zion's Bank, the Larry H. Miller group and Gump and Ayers - and apply for a job, they'll ask you to take a little test.

Not a typing test, not a drug test, but a behavioral survey that will measure four primary personality traits: aggressiveness, empathy, patience and blame avoidance (your desire to play by the book so you won't get in trouble.)Those four traits and their relationship to each other tell an employer a great deal about you. For example, it measures how attentive you are to detail, what kind of people skills you have, how persuasive you are, how creative you are, how well you would supervise people and in what manner and whether you are skilled in strategic and conceptual thinking.

The test tells employers what your energy level is, whether your judgments tend to be logical or emotional and whether you work best on several tasks at once or prefer to complete one task at a time.

The test - called Predictive Index - is one of several psychological tests gaining prominence in the workplace. The test is used by scores of national companies including Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, Arby's International, Hilton International and Citibank. Nordstrom is negotiating with Predictive Index to use the tool, said David Weisman, sales manager for the company's Utah office.

Jathan Janove, an employment attorney with Fabian and Clendenin, attributes the rising popularity of such tests to the fear of libel suits that pervades the workplace.

Fearful of being sued, previous employers are reluctant to give a candid assessment of someone who used to work for them, Janove said. So companies are turning to tests such as these to see if an applicant really is ideal for a particular job.

That's one of the reasons Mike Day at Henry S. Day Ford Co. started using the test.

"It has helped us put round pegs in round holes and not square pegs in round holes," he said.

"We do check referrals, but I don't put a terrific amount of weight on them. I don't think previous employers always tell you the truth."

Predictive Index not only helps in the hiring of new employees, it helps identify morale problems, solve conflicts among employees, break down communication barriers and assess the desirability of a particular promotion or transfer.

Predictive Index came to Utah 18 months ago when Haynie and Co., a regional accounting firm based in Salt Lake City, bought the franchise.

Haynie turned to the test in 1976 to help them resolve "a tremendous amount of turnover," said David Peterson, an officer/director of the firm.

The test made a radical difference. "We started using it extensively in hiring and promoting. Almost 100 percent of our turnover since has been people whose departure we initiated."

Solving the turnover problem has saved the company a small fortune. Peterson estimates the cost of hiring and training a new CPA at $30,000. "You have to pay them for their graduate degrees. When they come on board there is a down time for them to get acclimated to our system."

If the CPA is unhappy and leaves early in his career, it's a $30,000 loss.

The test created a level of communication and understanding at Haynie that surprised the company, Peterson said. He thinks the test's greatest potential is as a human resource tool for enhancing communication and understanding on all levels of management.

Haynie often holds management retreats for companies and uses the test to improve communication and understanding among the company's executives, Peterson said.

The company was so pleased with the test it decided two years ago to make it available to its clients so they could reap the human resource benefits, too, Peterson said.

The test is deceptively simple. It consists of two pages filled with adjectives. On the first page, you are asked to circle the adjectives that you think describe you. On the second page, you are asked to circle the adjectives that describe the way you think others see you.

It is up to you to define who "others" are. You may circle as many adjectives as you like on either page.

Based on which adjectives you circle and which you don't, someone trained to score the test garners a wealth of information about you.

Predictive Index is independently tested for validity and reliability by different organizations every five years or so, Weisman said.

Two faculty members of Harvard Medical School - Drs. J. Christopher Perry and Philip Lavori - did the most recent analysis, spending 18 months examining the test for reliability and validity in 1983.

Specifically, the doctors analyzed the reliability of the techniques used to measure personality traits, the accuracy of the norms and scores used to quantify these measurements and the extent to which the Predictive Index's measurements of personality traits correlate with another standard personality inventory - the 16 PF Personality Factor Questionnaire.

The test withstood scrutiny in all areas, receiving praise in several. The complete Harvard study is available to interested employers.

Jerry Floor, president and CEO of Gump and Ayers Real Estate Inc. uses the test heavily for hiring and promotion.

"The cost of hiring the wrong employee for the job has gotten well out of hand," he said. The test has slashed that cost for his company, he said.

When a company buys Predictive Index, it gets more than the right to use the test. Selected company employees get 25 hours of intensive training in giving the test, scoring it, evaluating the results and - most importantly - making the correct management decisions based on the results.

After the initial training, the company requires continuous training for 90 days, with a company representative working with the trainee on the job site to help him use the test.

During that time, Predictive Index helps the company develop the ideal graph for each job . Companies use graphs as guidelines in hiring to fill those positions.

Predictive Index also helps a company detect trends in employee tests. For example, if the majority of the tests reflect low morale, the company has some hard thinking to do. "Those are not always comfortable conversations," Weisman said. "We may make comments about how employees perceive that employer that is not always pleasant for the employer."

Gump and Ayers developed ideal graphs for sales, marketing, management and administration, Floor said. The graphs were made by testing the most outstanding employees in all of those areas, determining the common personality traits those people shared and putting those traits on a Predictive Index graph.

Zions Bank used customer focus groups to help them develop the graphs for the ideal teller, Weisman said.

The tests give Floor invaluable information he couldn't get from interviews, he said. For example, he has learned never to put someone who tests low on attention to detail into an accounting-related job.

"The sad part is very, very good people get fired from jobs simply because they are misunderstood, not because they are not capable of doing the work," Floor said. "That's why we use the test. We want to make sure we understand our employees and help them feel understood."

Mike Day changed the way he managed his sales people at Henry S. Day Ford because of Predictive Index. By testing his most outstanding sales people to create the ideal sales graph, he discovered that his best salespeople had strong empathy and people skills but low attention to detail.

"We are now more concerned about empathy and people skills and less concerned about details than we were before the Predictive Index," he said. "We've built a backup support system to help salespeople with their detail."

Floor cautioned against using the test as the deciding factor. "You certainly never use the survey as an all-inclusive, conclusive tool. People are intelligent. They deserve to be interviewed and heard," he said. If he interviews a sales applicant who seems promising but doesn't fit the sales profile, "we simply know that we'll have to spend a little more time training in certain areas than we would have to do with someone who fit the pattern."

The test not only identifies behavior, it tells you which behaviors are easiest to change and how to go about it. "I marvel over the test's accuracy," Floor said.

The test is hard to sell here. "Salt Lake City is so conservative that the cost causes some hesitation, making it a little tough to sell," Haynie's Peterson said.

Companies pay an annual fee for every year they use the test. The fee ensures ongoing training and assistance from Predictive Index.

"There is a one-day refresher course each year," Weisman said. "Any time a company is in a hiring or decision-making mode, they have a right to call our office and say, `We need help. Come see us.' "

It also gives Predictive Index the opportunity to monitor the use of the test.

"If they aren't using the test correctly, Predictive Index asks for it back so we won't take the blame for turnover problems, etc.," Weisman said. "Any test is not an answer to every question," he added. "It is dangerous to think it is. We try to make sure people are using the test within the realm of what it was created for."

The fee is based on the number of employees a company has and how extensively the test is used. Gump and Ayers pays $1,000 a year for use of the test and has been using it 15 months, Floor said. He considers it money well spent.

"One minor hiring mistake can cost thousands of dollars," he said. "There's training time and lack of productivity in someone who is thinking of leaving. Then there are all the horror stories you hear about disgruntled employees bringing lawsuits.

"It is an extremely expensive gamble to spend 15 minutes interviewing someone, then hiring them," he said.

Floor has garnered unexpected benefits from the test. It has been invaluable in solving personality conflicts among employees.

"We've had people who, for some reason, didn't get along with each other. We found that by looking at their index, we could cure their problems a lot easier. It just gives us a better understanding of why people behave the way they do."