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Dr. Wendell Williams

R. Wendell Williams, Ph.D., is Managing Director of He specializes in helping organizations develop job competencies, measure applicant skills, implement performance management programs, develop performance appraisal systems, make promotion decisions, and develop Web-enabled hiring sites. Contact him at .

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Like it or Not, You Are Testing Applicants (Part 2 of 2)

by Sep 20, 2013, 6:44 am ET

In Part 1, I explained that job skills walk around on two feet; past achievements are less important than the skills used to accomplish them; employers rent two-legged skills to do specific jobs; and headhunters produce about the same hiring quality as internal recruiters. I suggested readers Google “Principles for the validation and use of personnel selection procedures”and follow the link; and, read how applicants feel about organizations that follow best-practices.

In Part 2, I’ll continue the discussion.

Proficiency Test

If you want to learn whether HR is doing a good job screening candidates for critical job skills, ask the hiring manager. keep reading…

Like it or Not, You Use Tests (Part 1 of 2)

by Sep 18, 2013, 6:38 am ET

Two comedians are talking…

“Do you test applicants?”

“We don’t use tests.”

“Oh. You hire everyone who applies?”

“No … just the ones who pass interviews.”

“You know, interviews are tests.”

“We don’t use tests.”

You see, it’s a crazy conversation you hear in the corporate attorney’s office as often as the HR department. Everyone seems to forget that testing and assessment are just different terms for evaluating whether someone is job-qualified … like interviews. And, if an organization has more than one candidate lined up for a job, by definition they will use some kind test to separate those they think can do the job from those who cannot. FYI … research shows everyone’s favorite tool, the interview (aka test), tends to discriminate against minorities.

Remember: If you have more candidates than jobs, you use tests. keep reading…

The New College-grad Test Is Better Than GPA, But Proceed With Caution

by Aug 29, 2013, 6:45 am ET

cae-logoAs long as I have been in business, hiring managers have been trying to pin a magic number on job candidates in the hope it will indicate future job performance. Sometimes that number is a GPA, combined test score, or even past earnings. Now we have the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) … a test given to new college graduates and scored like the SAT. But guess what? Magic numbers are just that … magic!

Magic is the art of illusion. That is, a magician creates illusions using sleight of hand that deceives the audience. Hiring decisions based on a number are sleight of hand because they lead people to think everything about a person can be reduced to a few digits. But anyone with enough years on the job and the professional savvy to systematically compare job performance to pre-employment test scores (i.e., studies … not stories) knows this is only part of the performance story. keep reading…

Too Many Applicants, Too Little Time?

by Aug 5, 2013, 6:04 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 7.01.21 AMSome organizations are just lucky … they have a huge, Niagara-like, flow of applicants knocking at their front door. They hire teams of people to scan paper resumes. But any experienced recruiter knows resumes contain a considerable amount of fiction; bad applicants often have good resumes; and, good applicants often have bad ones. I’ve even heard of clever applicants seeding their electronic resumes with keywords printed in background font colors to hide them.

There are several ways to effectively screen. For now, though, we’ll concentrate on a few characteristics of an effective screen. They include a realistic job preview; job related items; and, items that predict performance (remember at this stage, the main task is to screen-out blatantly unqualified applicants). keep reading…

The Problem With Personality Tests

by Jul 12, 2013, 6:03 am ET

It seems counterintuitive. Some people claim that personality has everything to do with job performance. Others know that every piece of serious research shows personality scores have almost nothing to do with job skills. I’ll repeat that: personality scores seldom, if ever, equal skills.

Soooo, if personality has nothing to do with skills, why do so many organizations used it to predict job performance? The answer depends on how and where you look. keep reading…

The Big Data HR Fad

by Jun 19, 2013, 6:45 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 9.08.04 AMNothing excites organizations like another fad. The latest one happens to be a thing called “Big Data.” Big Data refers to collecting so many performance numbers that understanding them becomes difficult. Some people suggest Big Data be applied to HR, which brings me to my point. While Big Data might work for managing things and numbers, how can it apply to something few understand, let alone manage and measure … like human performance?

Human performance is A + B = C … that is, something stimulates the employee/manager (A), he/she does X or says Y (B), and the result is either good or bad (C). For example, a manager might have two problem employees (A), he/she talks to them (B), and later, everything is all better (C).

Sound simple? Sure, we can often record results (C), and sometimes we can even record the problem (A), but what the heck happened in the middle? Shouting? Warning? Exploring differences? Coffee chats? Bribery? Threats? Blackmail? Extortion? Something else? keep reading…

What Not to Ask In an Interview

by Apr 19, 2013, 5:11 am ET

stoolYou have read all about what to ask in an interview as well as magic questions that will solve all your hiring problems. What about what not to do?

Make no mistake. An interview is not an opportunity to GetToKnowYa, but rather a verbal test. It has subject matter, questions, and answers that are scored. But you need to ask yourself: just exactly what are you testing for? The ability to answer silly questions? Whether you want to be friends? Whether you can trip up or intimidate a candidate? Haven’t you seen the thousands of books candidates read to fake their way through an interview?

How about learning whether the candidate has the right set of job skill s? You know, so you don’t have to waste everyone’s time?

If You Don’t Know What You’re Looking for, Any Question Will Do keep reading…

The Black Hearts and White Knights of Pre-Employment Testing

by Mar 4, 2013, 1:07 am ET

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. — Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe must have known about hiring tests. You see, the results of a foolish test will always show-up as soon as someone takes a closer look. Foolish tests make bad candidates look good on paper, but crash on the job; and, they make good candidates look bad on paper … but never get a job offer.

Like Abe said, you can’t fool everyone all the time.

I call the difference between good and bad hiring vendors “Black-Hearted” and “White-Knights.” A White-Knight vendor presents thorough research showing its test predicts job performance with a very high degree of accuracy. White-Knight vendors always report jobs, demographics, charts, tables, subjects, correlations, and probability of being wrong. They are very dull. A Black-Hearted vendor presents happy-user stories that are very light on real data and heavy on nonsense numbers.

You might ask why they do this. Well, I guess they might be reluctant to say anything negative; they don’t know how to develop a professional quality test; they don’t know any better; they don’t care; or, a little of all the above.

Right or Wrong, Never in Doubt keep reading…

Lessons from Great Coaches and Other Myths

by Jan 9, 2013, 6:45 am ET

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 7.18.29 AMEvery so often someone publishes an article about lessons learned from great coaches, offering advice about how to select people. Sorry, this is useless nonsense.

Great coaches don’t work with players who pass an interview. Their players are thoroughly pre-screened by skilled talent scouts who watched each and every one of them excel at the game. Only the best and most talented players ever got to meet the coach. In the corporate world, coaches would be similar to line managers. Talent scouts are represented by recruiters. But the analogy ends with titles.

HR recruiters in the corporate world don’t use tryouts, so they don’t really know whether candidates can do the job. Line managers are generally promoted into their job because they were good individual contributors, so about 70% don’t have any coaching skills at all. Just imagine what a team would be like if talent scouts used corporate recruiting methods: “Are you fast? Yes. Agile? Yes? What kind of barnyard animal would you most like to be?” And, if coaching consisted of “Do what I tell you.”

Yep, organizations seem to think advice from great coaches them all they need to know about candidate skills. But have you ever considered how great people are really selected? keep reading…

8 Questions to Measure Your Behavioral Interviewing Competence

by Nov 27, 2012, 5:54 am ET

If you think Behavioral Event Interviews consist only of questions, think again. Highly structured interviews have a long history of accurately predicting success. In some studies they are rated on a par with intelligence tests. But, and I do mean “but,” BEI accuracy depends on whether your entire system works together. Let’s start by looking at how interview practices vary from the worst to the best. keep reading…

Building an 80% Sales Force, Really!

by Sep 27, 2012, 5:49 am ET

photo - can’t begin to estimate the amount of nonsense used to select salespeople: show me your wage reports; sell me the pencil; what animal best describes you; what is your greatest strength; describe your weakness; show me the fire in your belly …

It’s junk. All junk. Sales managers know it. And management knows it. If it was any good, 90% of all salespeople would be problem-free.

Reality Check

But first, let’s do a reality check. If most of your salespeople are meeting expectations, or achieving a reasonable quota, then whatever process you are using to hire, keep it up. Nothing else will make a difference. But, if you are among the majority of sales managers who just can’t seem to build a sales force of top producers, then keep reading.

Swing … and a Miss!

Sales is a tough profession. It requires more and better skills than most jobs. I know because I have been assessing and training salespeople and sales managers for an embarrassingly long time. And, aside from changes in the type and nature of the product or service, I’ve discovered all salespeople need the same five KSA’s (some KSA’s more than others). Unfortunately, when I assess them, the majority of salespeople only display two of them. keep reading…

Is Your Hiring Test a Joke?

by Aug 23, 2012, 10:09 am ET

When something looks good on the surface, but completely without merit, it is called a joke. You might not have thought of this before, but many hiring tests fit that bill. I’m talking about tests that deliver numbers and data that look good on the surface, but do nothing to predict candidate job success … in other words, scores do a better job predicting vendor sales than employee performance. Let me explain why, beginning with how professionals develop a hiring test.

What Works: Professional Standards

Professionals always start with a job theory that sounds something like this: “I believe factor X affects job performance.”

Next, they draft some X items and give their test to hundreds of people, tweaking and tuning the items along the way. Then they use one or more methods to test whether scores are directly associated with job performance; for example they might give their test to everyone upon hiring, ignore the scores, and later compare test scores to job performance. This is called predictive validity. They could also give their test to people already on the job and compare test scores to job performance. This is called concurrent validity. Both methods have their pros and cons.

Drafting a stable, solid, and trustworthy hiring test takes months of writing, editing, running studies, and systematically examining the guts of the test at both the item and factor level. This is the only way to know test scores consistently and accurately predict job performance.

Bad Joke Examples keep reading…

Lose a Good Salesperson: Gain a Bad Manager

by Aug 8, 2012, 10:15 am ET

It’s a common mistake. Promote your best salesperson, gain a bad manager, and lose both. Why does this keep happening? Sales were great and his/her top performance attracted attention, but nothing prepared you for the bad manager part. Well, there are some very clear reasons. keep reading…

Managers Need You to Screen Out the Weakest Candidates

by Aug 1, 2012, 2:17 pm ET

Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure; Married in haste, we may repent at leisure. –William Congreve, 1693

If you work from a job description only to find it does not correctly define candidate requirements; if you send multiple candidates to the hiring manager only to him/her complain about wrong-skilled people; if turnover stubbornly stays high; if too many people fail training programs; if newly promoted managers fail on the job; if 80% of salespeople produce only 20% of sales, or if half the people you hire tend to sink to the bottom of the pool, then William Congreve defined your problem over 300 years ago.

Put another way, any organization that uses poor or inaccurate hiring processes is doomed to suffer the long-term consequences of poor employee and manager performance.


What would you do with a department whose decisions resulted in a 10-50% annual defect rate? That’s the estimated cost of turnover; job mistakes; too many people doing too little work; quality defects; poor customer service; barely acceptable productivity;  low sales; and, so forth that came from using typical hiring practices.

While you pray your line managers aren’t reading this article, consider the following. keep reading…

360 Degree Feedback. Not.

by Mar 16, 2012, 5:13 am ET

NASA photo taken in Vienna by Peter Wienerroither (U. Wien)

You might have read about something called 360-degree feedback. Depending on who you read, it gets good, bad, or ugly reviews. People generally agree that performance feedback is a good thing, so what goes wrong? How can feedback from multiple raters possibly be a bad thing? Why do organizations generally toss it out after a few tries? After the initial shock and awe, why does it usually die on the vine? The reasons are quite simple. keep reading…

Bad Tests and Fake Bird Seed

by Feb 1, 2012, 5:30 am ET

An old Gary Larsen cartoon once showed a kindly old lady hand-feeding birds in her back yard. Off to the side was a sack labeled with words that read something like: “Fake birdseed. Great fun! Birds just can’t figure it out!”

Fake bird seed represents many vendors’ test claims … and, what users don’t know about birdseed and test validity can cost them a fortune. Test validity does not mean people like the test; or, the test has zero adverse impact; or, the EEOC approves; or, the test looks sexy. Validity means test scores consistently predict some specific aspect of job performance. For example, if high scores predict more mistakes, then low scores should predict fewer. Validity predicts on-the-job performance … both ways.

Reputable test vendors (i.e., those who follow professional test development standards) eagerly show controlled studies of test results … and, welcome questions about them. Bird seed vendors enthusiastically produce client testimonials … andget defensive when questioned. How can testimonials be unacceptable? For the same reason you cannot trust political ads. They have an agenda and are seldom supported by facts. Here is an example using a sales job: keep reading…

Questions Every Corporate Recruiter Should Ask

by Dec 20, 2011, 1:42 pm ET

Throughout the year I get many questions from readers, recruiters, HR, and vendors. In this end-of-the-year article, I’ll list a few of the most frequent ones. keep reading…

Ridiculist: More Silly Recruiting Ideas

by Nov 18, 2011, 12:53 pm ET

I owe the term “Riduculist” to Anderson Cooper. Every so often he discusses something so silly it defies explanation. This article deals with an email solicitation I received recently that was so ridiculous, I laughed out loud.

Job Failure and Job Success

My profession is studying jobs and designing tests/exercises/interviews that measure both skills and attitudes. Extensive job experience and exhaustive graduate studies have brought me into contact with hundreds of managers in large corporations. One of my first activities has always been to interview people, either in the job or supervising the job, and ask: “What are all the reasons employees succeed or fail in this job?” The following responses are typical:

Can’t manage time, Makes bad decisions, Can’t get along with people, Doesn’t seem to care, Can’t sell, Can’t lead others, Poor communicator, Not honest in dealing with people, Poor communication with customers, Poor planner, Doesn’t follow up, Can’t learn new information, Poor attitude, Doesn’t show initiative, Can’t see the forest for the trees, Doesn’t consider enough information, Never anticipates consequences, Has poor judgment, No tact, Not a “people person,” Ignores deadlines, Inflexible, Doesn’t like the work, Not a team player, Doesn’t support organizational goals, Can’t see the big picture, Can’t make a decision, Bad fit

Now that we know what people who supervise (and do) the job say, let’s look at how HR usually answers the same question: keep reading…

HR is Dead! Yes? No? Maybe? (Hint: It’s up to you)

by Oct 20, 2011, 5:37 am ET

Politicians claim they never let a good crisis go to waste. Reacting to crises is how people take advantage of opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. But, have you ever thought about how that applies to HR? Or, maybe you have not kept up with the trend to eliminate internal recruiters.

Professional recruiters are citing an increasing number of independent studies claiming there is no difference in employee quality between internal and external recruiters; so, they argue, why should organizations hire full-time internal recruiters when external ones deliver the same results … cheaper? If I were an executive looking for ways to reduce costs, that argument would resonate with me. keep reading…

7 Obstacles to a Dream Workforce

by Aug 25, 2011, 5:59 am ET

In this article, an abridged version of one coming up in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, I’ll describe how and why hiring and promoting the best people is usually undermined by seven common organizational obstacles.

Briefly, it helps to think of organizations this way: you can hire and promote 100 people whom 20% are high-quality, 20% low-quality, and the rest so-so; or, you can hire and promote 100 people, of whom 90% are top-notch. The first situation is the norm. It’s what you get when obstacles get in your way. The second option is the exception. keep reading…