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

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.

Recruiting’s Role

If your job requires hiring or promotions, it requires you to screen out unqualified candidates … not fill seats with dead wood. In most organizations this does not include giving unqualified people a chance, using tests that don’t predict job skills, promoting people to management based on performance as job holders, or hiring someone who needs training. It means hiring people who are fully skilled on Day 1 … and that’s not easy.

Job skills are not something a candidate has done in the past. Job skills walk around on two feet. They arrive in the morning and go home at night; they move from one job to another; and, they are very hard to develop or change. Past job accomplishments (e.g., the trendy name is “competencies”) might have been very different from the new job; someone else might have done the work; or, the candidate might be over-exaggerating his/her talents.

As an example, I have interviewed many applicants whose accomplishments were impressive; but, by using highly structured behavioral event interviewing techniques, I learned they were actually done by someone else. The secret to successful interviewing, therefore, is not the question, nor is it discovering what the candidate has accomplished. It’s learning whether the candidate has specific skills necessary for your job. If you practice behavioral interviewing, remember when someone says “past behavior predicts future behavior,” they mean two-legged behaviors, not accomplishments. But I am getting ahead of myself.

It’s impossible to accurately determine candidate qualifications unless the interviewer knows which job-critical skills to look for. As I mentioned before, these are the two-legged skill-sets the organization wants to “rent” every day to get things done. You won’t find these in job descriptions. It requires in-depth interviews with job holders … not managers. Your manager might set goals, but who knows more about it takes to get them done … you or your manager?

Remember: You don’t hire past accomplishments. You hire skills to accomplish future ones.

Professional Recruiters

This is not an article for people who think their job is limited to recruiting candidates. Although recruiters are quick to position themselves as people experts, they are generally more concerned with how long an employee stays on the job than they are with how well a candidate performs on the job.

Last year, for example, a big-name recruiting company asked me to produce research showing that external recruiters did a better job than internal ones. They did not like it when I told them both internal and external recruiters produce about the same candidate quality. Considering that both groups set requirements based on hiring manager discussions, resume reviews, interviews, and unvalidated tests, it should have come as no surprise that similar methods generally produce similar results (i.e., wrong about half the time).

Contrary to what some believe, I don’t make this stuff up. It’s based on decades of research undiscovered or even ignored by HR. For example, Google “Principles for the validation and use of personnel selection procedures” and read the SIOP.org link. Or, if you want to know how candidates feel about organizations that follow best-hiring practices go here.

Remember: Best-practices are called “best” for a reason.

In part 2, I’ll describe how to test whether you are doing a good job screening job-qualified people.

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