Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The shaky ground of psychometric testing

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  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    These days, I would regard reliance on testing as a red flag about a workplace and a sign of somewhere I don’t want to be.

    It's becoming less and less common for any but the smallest of workplaces not to have psychometric testing as part of their recruitment battery. Ruling out a workplace on the basis of having psychometric testing could prove to be exceptionally limiting.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher, in reply to wasabicube,

    As an aside, it is interesting to observe the level of duplicity exhibited by some commenters on this subject. Clearly misrepresenting yourself to your prospective or current employer whether through a psychometric assessment, interview or otherwise is something that should be of concern.

    El oh el. As it happens, after faking the test results, not only did I get the job but I did it really well, making the website I looked after one of TVNZ's most popular. And if being duplicitous got me the job, well, I'm sure also it helped me survive in the crazy-arse world of morning television.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    I don't really care. I might work at such a place, for example if it were clear that the actual people I worked with and for didn't give a shit about the tests and it was just a foible of some mad HR manager.

    Modern corporates, for all their adoption of casual clothing and apparent sensitivity for worker needs, have evolved new forms of coercion and control and this is one of them. Of course as people who disapprove get filtered out or voluntarily leave such organisations, practices like psych testing become even more entrenched.

    Finally, yeah, maybe it will be the only option if I want a job. But I don't have to *like* it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Kemp,

    Clearly most commenters here are not employable including myself. Most systems can be gamed - intentionally or not. All very amusing for the most part.

    The real elephant in the room is the quality of management at many companies. If in doubt don't join any organisations that play these games unless you can also play them at their own game.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 368 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    El oh el. As it happens, after faking the test results, not only did I get the job but I did it really well, making the website I looked after one of TVNZ’s most popular. And if being duplicitous got me the job, well, I’m sure also it helped me survive in the crazy-arse world of morning television.

    If nothing else, the ability to get shit done that does not come naturally to your "personality type" - assuming personalities can be so broadly generalised - is a fairly basic requirement for being successful in *any* job. The fundamental question isn't "are you the perfect candidate?", it's "do you understand what needs to be done and can you get it done?"

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    I don’t really care. I might work at such a place, for example if it were clear that the actual people I worked with and for didn’t give a shit about the tests and it was just a foible of some mad HR manager.

    You have to play the game, in a job hunt, regardless of the silliness of the game. Do the test, they're so damned unreliable that even if you do have something about you they want to find, they probably won't find it.

    It's actually in some ways rather similar to the requirement of excessive qualifications, 99% of which knowledge will be irrelevant to the actual work. To teach high school maths, it's pretty much required that you've majored in mathematics nowadays, and yet you will not be teaching any university level maths to school students. It's as much a demonstration of commitment to the field as anything practical.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    The fundamental question isn’t “are you the perfect candidate?”, it’s “do you understand what needs to be done and can you get it done?”

    The great dream job for me personally is the kind where someone tells me what to do and then leaves me the fuck alone to do it. (I currently *have* that job, and imagine that when it eventually ends I will have a rude new job re-awakening in which someone keeps calling me into an office in order to "touch base" and fill out lengthy forms about my "KPIs". Shudder.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Ross Mason,

    I had something of an epiphany a year or two ago when I realised that the function of HR was not to act in any way whatsoever in the interests of the employee, but rather to act as an enforcement arm for management to prevent uppity employees from any sort of boat-rocking.

    Oh yes, I meant to say: preach, Rich. With a side of word.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Gary Young,

    "do you understand what needs to be done and can you get it done?"

    Which pretty much covers the interview I did for my job as a tradesman.

    Q. Are you qualified?
    A. Yes
    Q. Will you turn up on site and on time?
    A. Yes
    OK, start on Monday.

    I realise that building sites are a long way from office jobs but I am so very thankful, reading the postings here, that my industry has so far avoided the worst excesses of corporate HR.

    If I had turned out to be unsuitable it would have become apparent within the first week and I'd have been sent on my way. Really, how complicated does the hiring process have to be?

    Glenfield • Since Jun 2013 • 39 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Can people legally require the holder to disclose their own HR file? Because if a low-level manager may have access to it, surely the person themselves should be able to see it.

    IANAL, but under the privacy act you have the right to see information that is stored about you. And if you're unhappy with the information ask to have it corrected, and if they refuse to do so, ask for information to be appended to it indicating that you're unhappy with the info that they are storing. So yes, you can definitely see your personnel file and any test results associated with it.

    It’s becoming less and less common for any but the smallest of workplaces not to have psychometric testing as part of their recruitment battery. Ruling out a workplace on the basis of having psychometric testing could prove to be exceptionally limiting.

    Is it? My employer employs several thousand people. I presume some parts of it do this sort of testing, but I've never been tested in four or five jobs here, and I've never heard of anyone else being tested in this way, so it's by no means common. Practical tests - software, typing etc, sure. I suspect some workplaces are more into them than others.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Gary Young,

    Really, how complicated does the hiring process have to be?

    That depends on how complex the job is, and to what extent the person is intended to actually change or grow the business. Jobs that are completely circumscribed do exist, but they're often not the ones that people really want, because they're also limited in where they can go, and they are also very often the most poorly paid.

    Corporate hiring is very often much more about getting the "right kind of person" than getting a person with the exact skills, because it is acknowledged that they join a culture and are likely to be mobile within it. Also, very often it is not entirely clear to people doing the hiring exactly what skills will be required, or what will be available. In IT there is likely to be a considerable induction into the systems of the particular organization, especially for programmers, analysts, project managers, etc. It might take quite a while to work out if a person really is competent, and often if they aren't it isn't that terrible, since there is an alternate job that they might be better at. Or they just turn out to be useful in a different way to what was expected.

    Also, there really are some kinds of personality foibles that are extremely bad for business, and avoiding hiring those people is much cheaper than trying to get rid of them later. I don't think that there's any really reliable ways of detecting that, but there certainly is a demand for anything that helps.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    It may be a rather obvious point, but I've come to the conclusion that often these systems are reactive, they've been sought out, developed and implemented because of some disaster unknown to the applicant. Sometime in the past a terrible hiring decision was made and now the management of the company is hunting desperately for a solution to the age old problem of making the wrong decision.

    I can't imagine many people would, without any sort of similar spur, one day decide to implement a complex, no doubt expensive vetting system without something lurking behind that.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1027 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    The real elephant in the room is the quality of management at many companies.

    What? Like they are a bunch of money grubbing wankers. Who, beneath they talk of performance, arent fit to be in charge of a bus ticket.

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1891 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Ben Austin,

    I can’t imagine many people would, without any sort of similar spur, one day decide to implement a complex, no doubt expensive vetting system without something lurking behind that.

    When I moved to NZ around 10 years ago, I had to adjust my head fairly considerably: in the UK, I was used to dealing with HR departments as a first step in any interview process for my type of role (graduate professional engineer), with usually a second subsequent interview with more HR and line managers who you'd be reporting to. I interviewed for a lot of jobs in the UK before I got my first graduate role, and I got a lot of experience at playing HR games. I wasn't very good at these when I started, and learned from my mistakes after each one (fail better!).

    A lot of the NZ firms I interviewed with tended to be a lot smaller, you'd interview in a fairly unstructured manner with the manager (who was also often the owner) who would size you up and see if he liked the look of you. A few of the bigger corporates were more HR-focussed, but not like the UK was. That required a considerable adjustment in approach.

    I think it's a function of size and internal empire building. A company gets to a certain size and suddenly needs a more personnel-focussed administrator. Gets to a size after that and it's a department. A size after that and suddenly it's it's own little internal empire that spends a not insignificant portion of it's resource justifying it's existence (usually unwittingly - no single snowflake ever blames itself for the avalanche) by implementing new systems, training it's members in those systems, etc etc.

    TL;DR - It's an organically evolving parasite.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    We had an HR man at a firm I worked in in the UK who was very much the "big I am" - carried on as if he was some sort of deputy CEO. When he left, they advertised his job and we discovered he was earning about the same as a junior programmer.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Brown,

    CEO of Maori TV. Bit of a fuss. Do you think they've been employing psychometrics there?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2013 • 137 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin, in reply to Rich Lock,

    There is always that. From my point of view, I often end up saying things like "This whole process would be a lot easier if you had documented anything or had some sort of system in place to measure or assess staff". Obviously I'll hate myself for saying that a little, but redundancies are awkward like that.

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1027 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Martin Brown,

    psychics maybe
    #sensingbullshit

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to BenWilson,

    Corporate hiring is very often much more about getting the “right kind of person” than getting a person with the exact skills, because it is acknowledged that they join a culture and are likely to be mobile within it.

    This minds me of a blog post I read not so long ago - wish I could remember where - talking about how the new way to avoid hiring women/POC in Silicon Valley is "culture fit", e.g., "we're really impressed by your skills but you're not a good culture fit for the company". Like many of those insidious ideas, there's some truth to it, but it's also code for "you're not like us".

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    Like many of those insidious ideas, there’s some truth to it, but it’s also code for “you’re not like us”.

    Yes, and it's pretty much impossible to avoid. If someone really doesn't like you, even if it's just because they're a prick, they can find a way to block you. Is it in any way required to ever give a reason to someone when they aren't hired? It can be polite and helpful to do so, but mostly the excuse is "we found someone better". How are you going to know if that's true, unless you know someone in that workplace?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    This minds me of a blog post I read not so long ago - wish I could remember where - talking about how the new way to avoid hiring women/POC in Silicon Valley is "culture fit", e.g., "we're really impressed by your skills but you're not a good culture fit for the company". Like many of those insidious ideas, there's some truth to it, but it's also code for "you're not like us".

    Was this the one?
    - Valley Wag: "Culture Fit" Is a Shitty Excuse for Marginalizing Women in Tech

    More here...

    - Mother Jones: Silicon Valley's Awful Race and Gender Problem in 3 Mind-Blowing Charts
    - CNN: Silicon Valley's Race Problem

    And apparently it's not just gender and ethnicity either...
    - SF Gate: In Silicon Valley, age can be a curse
    - NBC: Silicon Valley's dirty little secret: age bias

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5445 posts Report Reply

  • Caleb D'Anvers, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    The relationship between a credulous approach to psychometric testing and plain old managerial incompetence seems a valid one to me, at least anecdotally.

    I remember in a certain job I had at the turn of the millennium, our manager had us all do a Myers Briggs test and put our results up on a big whiteboard in her office, where they remained for many months. This was at the exact same time as said manager was embarking on a truly catastrophic set of hiring decisions, which saw us take on, in short order, a non-functional alcoholic who was master of the unexplained two-hour “tea break,” a guy who would eventually run off with the social club funds, and another who openly surfed for pr0n on the reference desk in full view of both customers and staff, and honestly didn’t see the problem. All of these guys had to be fired or forced out, at considerable expense to the organization. (Although from memory the alcoholic pre-empted his firing by forging himself a university degree – using a workmate’s diploma and the departmental photocopier – and applying to teach English in China.)

    So, yeah. Ever since then the link between MBTI and terrible management has been clear in my head, at least …

    London SE16 • Since Mar 2008 • 482 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Ben Austin,

    Just remembered an interview I had in London just over a year ago when we first came back. First interview was the two line managers I'd be reporting to and went really well - got on well with them, good vibe.

    Subsequent second interview got HR involved. We spent the first half-hour (literally) talking about a discrepancy between my LinkedIn profile and the CV I sent them. Which related the schools I listed as attending 25 years ago (I changed schools at sixth form and merged them on my CV as I got some qualifications at one and some at another). Half an hour. I wasn't in the best frame of mind at the end of that.

    Didn't get offered the job.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to BenWilson,

    Was this the one?
    - Valley Wag: “Culture Fit” Is a Shitty Excuse for Marginalizing Women in Tech

    Yep! Thank you for doing the Googling I was too lazy to do. :P

    Is it in any way required to ever give a reason to someone when they aren’t hired? It can be polite and helpful to do so, but mostly the excuse is “we found someone better”. How are you going to know if that’s true, unless you know someone in that workplace?

    It's not required, but for the highly skilled and specialised jobs we're talking about it's fairly rude not to - there may not be that many people qualified for the job and the person you're turning down might know who most (or all) of them are.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    It’s not required, but for the highly skilled and specialised jobs we’re talking about it’s fairly rude not to

    I don't think I've ever received a full and frank breakdown on a refusal, and when I was doing hiring, I never gave one. I think HR gave them the news, usually via their intermediary agent, telling them that someone else was a slightly better fit. This was actually true, too, but it isn't really specific. Often, I've had them even sing my praises in a refusal, stating that they really liked me, I was second in line etc, etc. But there was someone else. Which is probably true.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

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