Pre-Employment Testing and Human Sacrifice

Pre-Employment Testing and Human Sacrifice

If you think the era of human sacrifice is over, think again. Humans are sacrificed every day on the altar of pre-employment testing. Hey, I’m not saying that all pre-employment tests are uniformly bad, I’m making the far more reasonable argument that most small organizations who rely on testing are worshiping a false god. (There, see? Wasn’t that less incendiary?)

To know me is to know that I am a recruiting process geek. We track dozens of metrics on every stage of our search process. We track the retention rate of our placements for three full years. And we focus intently on doing everything we can to improve the results we get for our clients (i.e. faster searches, with more qualified candidates who will drive business results, and stick around long enough to make a meaningful impact).

So naturally, people assume I’m a fan of pre-employment testing because it just sounds so scientific and process oriented. Except in my experience, most small organizations are actually harmed by their pre-employment assessments. Rather than improving hiring results, the testing actually gets in the way.

It’s not always the tests themselves that cause the problem (well, OK, sometimes they do). The issue is how managers behave around the tests:

  • Some managers overtly surrender to the test. “Well I liked Candidate A, but the test won’t let me hire him.” (Managers idolize the test. Like “The Claw” in Toy Story, it alone determines “who will stay and who will go.”)
  • Some managers covertly surrender to the test using the politically correct language. “Well, after the interview I preferred Candidate A, and admittedly the test is only one component of our assessment, but after seeing his score, I’ve now decided that Candidate B is my preference.” (Managers generally don’t want to stick their neck out and take full responsibility for the hire. So when they pick the candidate who scored well, at least they have political cover if the person later fails.)
  • Some managers abdicate completely and just let the test select who they even interview. These managers cut short their own interview process, figuring they should not waste time interviewing if they are only going to hire people who pass the test. I’ve heard of first interviews as short as 15 minutes and then going straight to testing. (See “The Claw” above).

If you want to undercut your managers, and make them doubt their own interviewing ability … introduce a pre-employment assessment. If you want to make managers feel less responsible for who they hire … introduce a pre-employment assessment. But if you want to discover factors about a candidate that will cause them to become top performers in your culture, tread carefully. Personality traits that are correlated with high performance do not necessarily cause it.

“Anyone can compare two sets of numbers and tell you whether they correlate, but, it takes careful study to know whether A actually leads to B. For example, skirts and stock markets tend to move up and down together, beach ice cream sales and shark attacks tend to move together, and watermelon sales and temperature move together. But, skirts do not cause the market to change, sharks do not buy ice cream, and selling watermelon does not cause it to be hot.”  — Dr. Wendell Williams on ERE.

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Note to people (and trolls) who want to comment:

This is not my first rodeo in social media.

  • I know some testing vendors will want to hawk their products. Please don’t call me, this post was not an RFP.
  • I know some big organizations are saying that you’ve validated your test and trained your managers. Congratulations, I’m not talking about what GE can afford to do, I’m talking about small organizations.
  • But hey, if you work in a small organization and have a different experience, then please reach out and teach me something. As long as I get to learn something, I really don’t mind being proven wrong.
Bob Corlett is the founder and President of Staffing Advisors. He’s been named as one of the 100 most influential people in staffing, is a nationally syndicated weekly writer for the American Cities Business Journals and is a founding member of the Editorial Advisory Board for The HR Examiner. Bob is a frequent speaker at meetings of the Society for Human Resources Management. Thousands of hiring executives read his monthly newsletter, and the Resource Center on this site contains hundreds of his articles on innovation, staffing, leadership and performance management. Bob has worked in the staffing industry since 1989, starting Staffing Advisors in 2002.