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  • Writer's picturePatrick Littorin

This must not happen!

Nowadays, tests are increasingly used in all types of recruitment. Companies send a test link to you as a candidate, before you even get to talk to someone at the company. Then you may hear nothing from them, not find out your test result and no one wants to discuss it with you. If you have applied for a job a couple of times in recent years, you know exactly what I mean.

Unfortunately, some employers and consultants take the test results too literally. As if it were some kind of truth about the individual's personality or talent. It has obviously not been understood that a test is a kind of survey, where the answers may at best tell some kind of truth on a group level - but not necessarily on an individual level. As an individual, life situation, mood, etc. can affect how one responds.

Here's a real-life example of how it can go wrong - which we've been given permission to reproduce. For privacy reasons, we have anonymized both the candidate's name, employing company and the testing company. We can call the candidate John. He is an internal applicant for a more responsible position in the company he works for. The new role is security classified, which means that all applicants go through a background check, plus a personality test that measures various "risk behaviors".

The first interview with the HR manager went well. But since the job was classified, they wanted John to take a personality test, as it was mandatory in this department. Shortly after the interview, however, one of the interviewers called and announced that they had decided that he got the job. A date was set for when the employment would begin.

The next day, John went to his boss and resigned. For formal reasons, the only thing left was that test. The responsible test leader went through the prerequisites, 150 questions that had to be answered with "yes" or "no". The test itself should take between 45 and 60 minutes, because one should answer spontaneously and not think too much.

The test itself consisted of several work situations to decide on (here somewhat distorted). One of the situations was, for example, "Eva and Anita work in the same department. Anita knows that Eva occasionally sneaks into the toilet to smoke hash. Now Eva has started to mismanage her job, which is mainly bookkeeping and simpler administrative tasks. But now Anita's own job is beginning to be negatively affected by Eva's carelessness. Therefore, Anita should report Eva to the company management. Do you agree with the statement? (Yes or no)."

Curious and a little amused, John answered all the questions as honestly as he could. The situations were interesting, but he lacked the opportunity to justify his position. Since he already got the job, maybe he didn't take it seriously either. But the next day, the person in charge of the test called and announced that the test had not been passed. They would therefore not employ John.

No explanation for what was "wrong" with John's test results could be obtained. It was alleged that he answered too inconsistently. John tried to reach his managers to try to sort out the problem. But he got "no" from all the responsible managers he contacted, including the test company. It was "no point". Based on the test answers, it had been decided not to hire John.

Based on John's answers, he was judged unreliable by his employer. Despite the fact that he worked there for several years and had a background in the military. Of course, he could not remain with his employer and his career came to an abrupt end.

John's fate shows the risks that today we increasingly use different kinds of tests in recruitment. Good tests are good, and they add value. But a test cannot tell the truth about a person. However, it can work well as a basis for a more structured interview or discussion.

In addition, it does not matter if the test is good, if the person interpreting the results is ignorant or, in the worst case, incompetent. And the more incompetent a test user is, the more faith one has that a single test result tells the truth about a person….

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