Measuring Twice, Choosing Once


Jan Collins, administrative services manager for Lighthouse Financial Group, doesn’t hesitate when asked to name her company’s preferred method of screening candidates for jobs.

“Face-to-face interviews are our rule because we have to see how candidates get along,” Collins says. She said the hiring system at the company is based almost entirely on how job prospects interact with others. “Our hiring managers can tell right away if they have the right attitude and demeanor for the job.”

For Jan and others in the check-cashing and payday loan industries who were asked about their preferred method of screening potential employees, the one-on-one interview — in-person between the interviewer and the candidate — is their way of choice.

But a new school of thought is emerging. For many recruiters, the in-person interview is being supplemented and in some cases, replaced by another screening method: Online or written employment tests.

The one-on-one interview has been the preferred method of interviewing for companies for many years. For countless hiring managers and owners, this format gives the interviewer important clues into the candidate’s character and how the candidate relates to another person. After all, it’s the core of any retail business in which the customer experience is a vital part of everyday life.

But in some companies, the in-person interview is being supplemented and even replaced by online screening or written tests. Recruiters say there are several factors driving this trend.

Misleading Chemistry

While an in-person interview offers immediate insights into an individual’s personality and his or her ability to relate to another person, some recruiters argue that it’s this very chemistry that can be misleading and even deceiving.

Candidates for jobs today can be especially effective and even skilled at self-promotion in person, and subjective feelings and attitudes can exert significant influence on a recruiter in an interview.

In addition, recruiters may not always be trained well enough to ask the questions that can reveal more about a prospect than she or he would like the company to know. An interviewer can often base screening decisions on impulse and basic chemistry with a candidate instead of more rational and logical reasons.

An employment test is straightforward, consistent and, perhaps most important objective. A test or other form of assessment can help employers make decisions based more on logic than on emotion.

“In-person interviews are based on inductive screening, which typically provides a distorted perception of a candidate because it’s a subjective process,” said Don Everett, president and founder of Workforce Interactive, a personnel testing firm that specializes in values-based evaluation.

Two Categories

He breaks down interviews into two basic categories: inductive, in which theoretical behavioral questions are asked, and deductive, which is based on objective comparisons.

“The longtime standard, Myers-Briggs (Type Indicator), looked at inductive screening,” Everett says. “Those theoretical questions brought their expected results as well as a distorted perception.”

Everett explains that deductive screening is based on objective comparisons and results in a far more accurate assessment of an individual’s value system and likely behavior on the job. He pointed to the Bernie Madoff case as an example.

“People believed he was a kind man because how people act in front of others is not inductive of who they are,” he says.

“If he’d been tested with a deductive test, which is based on axiology, he’d have been flushed out long ago.” Axiology is the philosophical study of value and ethics.

Everett notes that untrained interviewers base decisions on how they feel toward a particular candidate fairly quickly — sometimes within ten minutes of an interview.

Proven Results

As a demonstration of his firm’s technique, Everett pointed to a 2009 case study in which 372 teller candidates were given Workforce Interactive’s values profile exercise. The company’s system rated candidates as having strong values (e.g., conscientious, trustworthy, high personal standards that would present a low risk to an employer) or poor values (less than ideal conscientiousness, trustworthiness and personal standards which posed a higher risk to an employer).

Managers in the study were allowed to hire whomever they wanted, and they wound up hiring 100 of the 372 candidates.

Everett’s firm followed up six months later, with the point-of-sale data associated with each teller considered so operating performance could be evaluated along with core values ratings.

The researchers were surprised: Tellers with strong values had a cash short per day metric almost one-tenth that of their colleagues who had exhibited poor values in their pre-employment screening.

This metric shows reconciliation of actual cash on hand in register to expected cash on hand in register based on transaction log. This means that low cash short positions are preferred and zero balance cash short positions are the ideal goal.

When computed by cash shorts and forgeries, the study showed that annualized losses were 150 times greater in the poor values group of employees. In addition, the group that tested for strong values processed zero forgeries. The group with poor values had annualized processed losses due to forgeries of almost $100,000.

Clear Conclusion

Conclusion: Individuals testing for strong values proved to be more conscientious and diligent in their review of presented checks because they closely followed their employer’s policies before releasing funds, and they avoided even the suspicion of dishonesty with mishandling of cash, while the poor values group was responsible for many cash imbalances.

“Anywhere people have access to lots of cash, there is the increased chance for theft if people have low values,” says Everett. “If a person has poor values, they’ll find out how to use (dishonest practices) in every environment.”

Not surprisingly, he is a big believer in axiology. “Axiology is not about what people think but how they think and how someone’s value system is prioritized. The way some candidates think about relationships are affected, while others consider those relationships in relative terms, and still others think of them systematically — such as a conviction never to go on a blind date, no matter what.”

Testing identifies those values in a person, Everett says. “Testing helps differentiate a person’s aptitude for a job: One can be a good nurse but not a good doctor.”

Core Competencies

He also points out that testing can help an employer decide which employee excels in which area of responsibility. “There are different cultures for different companies, and the application of axiology proves how a person prioritizes values. Induction was a popular screening method for a different time — maybe 50 years ago — but today it’s time we turn to deduction for accurate feedback,” Everett says.

David Johns, the owner of Five Star Pawn and Jewelry and a pawn industry consultant, gives high marks to the screening methods his company uses. Like the method described by Everett at Workforce Interactive, his company employs a screening test comprising basic questions.

“We have been very successful with our approach,” Johns says. “Our standard set of questions actually allows for more flexibility for our interviewers by letting them ask other questions beyond the basic set.”

Johns says the core questions for prospective employees represents the first level of the interview process. “Our guide contains core competencies for job candidates and we administer it prior to the first interview.”

Art Sanders, director of human resources for PLS Financial Services, is blunt. “Nothing replaces one-on-one, the face-to-face,” he insists. “There never will be anything to replace it, but there are tools you can add that will help you with your decision. With testing, as with background checks, there are tools that can help, and tests are one of those tools.”

Sanders explains that customer service representatives at PLS are given assessments (“They’re assessments,” Sanders quickly adds. “We don’t call them tests.”) and they administer the same two for each candidate: The first is numbers-related, while the second is based on personal interaction. Neither, he said, is pass-fail.

Sanders acknowledges there’s room for consideration of a candidate’s values, much as Everett describes. “There are vendors with tests that measure value,” Sanders says. “We don’t use one at the moment but we’re looking into it.”

Posted in Winter 2011.