Go to France, Germany or Switzerland and any self-respecting company will have your handwriting analysed before it takes you on board. But here in Britain graphology has long been the poor relation of personnel and heaven forbid that we should succumb to such foreign ways.
No longer, it seems. This year some 30 firms have sent delegates to attend a series of graphology seminars run by International Training Solutions (ITS). Solicitors, merchant bankers and borough councils hardly make for the most bohemian of clients, but they have all taken the plunge. So have such big names as Abbey National, British Rail and SmithKline Beecham.
Consultant graphologist Elisabeth Hoban, whose job it is to guide delegates through the basics, spent seven years researching her subject. She explains that the study of handwriting has long been regarded with suspicion in this country, largely because people do not understand how it works. They assume that it is either an occult practice or simply baloney, but "the only psychic thing about me is the word 'medium' on my underwear", she laughs.
Over 300 measurements are used to "read" the psychological structure of a subject through his or her handwriting. Their significance, Hoban says, has been established, as in any scientific procedure, by a process of experiment and research which goes back several hundred years. The profile thus established can be a useful selection tool (though it should never be used in isolation), since graphology can highlight hidden potential, negotiating skills and a host of other helpful data about someone whom a company is proposing to hire.
But it is not just in recruitment procedures, Hoban argues, that the study of handwriting comes into its own. It can also be invaluable in building teams and promoting those people already within an organisation. Graphology, she suggests, can determine the degree of compatibility between potential colleagues and identify "loners". When constructively applied to the personal development of staff, it can also help to strengthen areas of weakness. Moreover, Hoban comments, with 1992 looming, we Brits would do well to learn from our continental neighbours.
Together with Gloria Moss, the former personnel officer who founded ITS, Hoban is bent on educating British business. Ironically, Moss admits to having been "rather sceptical" when she first encountered graphology, but she is now an enthusiastic convert. She and Hoban are running a follow-up series of seminars, which started in June. For those who do not have the time, but do have a spare £150-odd in cash, Hoban will also provide an extensive psychological profile. But be warned: like Oliver Cromwell's portrait, it comes with the warts.