What’s in a Signature?

A careful analysis of prospective employees’ handwriting can help separate the contenders from the pretenders.

You’ve no doubt encountered identical twins. Perhaps you’re even familiar with identical particles. But have you ever come across two people with the exact same handwriting? It isn’t likely. The chance that two people would have identical penmanship is less than one in 68 billion. Not even fingerprints are that unique.

Handwriting might be better termed “brainwriting,” as it is our central nervous systems — not our hands — that determine the final product. Graphology — the analysis of a writer’s pressure, spacing, and strokes, among hundreds of variables — is a science based on centuries of document studies and comparisons.

Throughout Europe and the Middle East, the analysis of cursive and printing has long been a means of employee and executive selection. It’s used particularly in the domain of searching for exceptional qualities and aids employers in identifying integrity, dependability, loyalty, focus, and social skills — all prerequisites for successful management.

Skeptics and those who have no prior acquaintance with graphology can put their doubts to rest once they’ve seen the efficacy of results. The certified graphologist or professional document examiner often performs personality and forensic analyses based on writings of individuals they’ve never met; for that matter, the analyst has often never heard of the person whose handwriting is under scrutiny. Yet the technology, which includes sophisticated computer scanning and magnification processes, often yields the information necessary for reaching correct conclusions at difficult decision points.

While recently examining actual writing samples of some well-known Detroiters, I sought to identify character traits associated with leadership, as well as traits possessed by an individual likely to be a “team player” (as opposed to a “soloist”).

The artwork that accompanies this article illustrates the writings of two prominent Detroit business figures from two separate eras. Auto baron Henry Ford learned penmanship prior to the Palmer method of writing (which gained popularity in the late 1890s). In this example, Ford used a fountain pen.

By contrast, Compuware chairman and CEO Peter Karmanos, who likely learned the Palmer method in his youth, probably used a uni-ball-tip pen. But regardless of century or stylus, indicators of determination, confidence, and orientation toward people and the public are evident in both samples.

In young Ford’s message (dated Feb. 16, 1887), we can see basic elements of personality: strong will and enthusiasm. Regarding the first trait, observe the heavy final stroke on the “d” in Ford; also note the pyramid structure of the letter “t” in the words about and tongues.

The long, downsloping t-crossings, which are disconnected to the right side of the t-stems on the words about and the, reflect a take-charge approach, mingled with impatience. In addition, angularity in the writing and in the connections between letters suggests a decisive nature. The lack of uniform structure of the two l’s in will indicates that he’d call a spade a spade and didn’t mind being direct with people.

In Karmanos’ sample, a modest upslant to the baseline reveals a fundamentally positive attitude and upbeat outlook on life. The widening left margin and forward placement of i-dots confirm the presence of an individual who is committed to moving ahead. Good form, ample margins, and unentangled rows of writing emphasize an executive with superior organizational skills.

A consistent right slant shows Karmanos to be in tune with his feelings, as well as someone who enjoys having others around him. The legibility of the writing signals courtesy, in the sense of making an effort to be understood. He appreciates the value of clear, concise communication and likes the challenges of problem-solving. This sample also features energy and Karmanos’ abilities to focus and to make and stand by his decisions.

Now let’s inspect the writing of a female pioneer in her field, whose celebrity and leadership years were wedged between those of Ford and Karmanos. Legendary American aviator Amelia Earhart came to Detroit in the 1930s to visit with Henry Ford and to familiarize herself with his famous Tri-Motor aircraft, as well as the Motor City’s burgeoning technology in finance and transportation.

Earhart’s writing is distinguished especially by the immense spaces between words and rows. (One could nearly insert a new line of writing between her rows.) She needed her private space to do her best thinking and work. Her small writing underscored an ability to focus and to take keen interest in details.

She probably enjoyed observing others. Her writing tends to invade both the right and left margins, suggesting a refusal to accept limits or to be hemmed in; she lived life to the fullest. Her “high-flying” t-bar crossings suggest a dreamer with lofty goals and ideals (sometimes unrealistic or impractical). And, indeed, she enjoyed soaring. Finally, among other signs, the formation of certain letters like y and g tell us that she preferred a small set of personal associates versus a large, more impersonal friendship circle. Her writing testifies to the fact that an ability to inspire others was a key leadership quality.

Lastly, three outstanding leadership features are revealed in the message transcribed by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. His writings are quite clear, compared with his signature. This signifies his preference to be known more by his accomplishments on behalf of Oakland County than by who he is personally — a rare quality in most political circles.

Uptrending baselines indicate his constructive outlook and optimistic approach to challenges. And the t-bar strokes, which are higher and longer than normal, unequivocally express enthusiasm for ideas, concepts, and long-term planning. (Note: Oakland County has been an exceptional leader in successful long-term budgeting in Michigan.)

In today’s business world, graphology can serve as a natural ally to employers in their quest to control costs, raise productivity, and make the workplace a more satisfying portion of one’s life.

David Littmann is an economist and certified graphologist.