Let’s Start with Two Well-Established Facts
In a knowledge-based economy, it is perpetually essential to have effective talent strategies. Sound strategies are underpinned by selection and promotion processes; and, for investors, human capital due diligence on executive teams before investing.
Second, it’s possible to measure almost any characteristic through various assessments, including online behavioral and cognitive assessments, structured expert interviews, online games, and high-fidelity work simulations.
“Ve have Vays of Making you Talk.”
Techniques for extricating information are not created equal and some are unethical. Interviewers could apply physical or mental pain and discomfort to get the candidate to share information. As a child, I watched Colonel Klink threaten Colonel Hogan with the catchphrase, “Ve have vays of making you talk.” Those “vays” have become significantly more effective since then.
How do you balance the value of information with candidate experience?
“After three hours, I felt like I could not stop myself from talking, next thing you know, I was telling her about wetting the bed in the first grade.”
While working in a joint venture with a recruiting firm, one of the recruiters asked me to talk with one of their candidates who had recently completed a 4 ½ hour interview with a trained external interviewer. Although not physically tortured, he was humiliated. He asked if the interviewer would share his bed wetting story with the hiring manager. He believed he did not pass the interview and decided to withdraw from consideration before they could reject him.
Another questionable technique is the stress interview, a method designed to get candidates out of their comfort zones. The process often leaves job candidates in tears, as in the case of a candidate who interviewed with a British tech firm. This candidate was degraded and humiliated about everything from her music taste to her parent’s marriage. Despite being offered the job, she declined, suggesting the interview reminded her of an abusive ex.
Had these interviewers gone too far, or was a bed-wetting confession and seeing the candidate under pressure worth the cost?
What about Online Assessments?
Before building our Psybil assessment platform and the Psynet suite of assessments, I considered using the NEO PI to assess personalities. I had studied the NEO Personality Inventory in graduate school and psychologists and scientists respect it. However, the first two companies I pitched rejected the tool because it asked about religion and eating habits. Currently, the company that owns this instrument is attempting to update it for occupational settings.
Has the test changed or have the standards?
Fifteen years later, It appears that asking questions about childhood and family isn’t uncommon. In 2020, Ian Iceton, CEO of a British Assessment Company stated:
“As the _____ is a psychoanalytic tool, assessments can feel quite searching. Some people find it difficult being asked to think about their childhood or family scenarios and as you can’t tell what the questions are getting at, you can’t hide or skew the results.”
Ian based his assessment on Psychoanalysis. Using this approach to assess patients, Freud would have a patient lie on a couch to relax, and he would sit behind them, taking notes while they told him about their dreams and childhood memories. As a result, he believed the questions would reveal the unconscious mind.
Is asking questions about our childhood the only way to obtain a clear picture of a candidate?
I have my doubts based on two experiences:
First, I doubt childhood experiences have a direct causative effect on adult characteristics. Early in my career, I worked as a therapist with victims of childhood abuse. For some, the abuse was so devastating they were impaired decades after the event. Others developed resilience and grit that contributed to their success.
If I learned someone had been traumatized as a child, what prediction would I make about their performance?
Second, when psychometricians build an online assessment using principal components analysis, they uncover the most effective questions. When we built Psybil, we started with five to ten times as many questions as needed to identify those that are most predictive of an attribute. None of the questions we researched asked about childhood, yet we still developed a very effective tool. This process was expensive in time and money but was the only way we knew to build a tool that upheld our values and ethics.
While biographical data about childhood or family history can be effective, there are less intrusive and more legally defensible means of predicting success.
We Use Guardrails to Maintain our Ethics and Values
As psychologists, we know that much can be revealed by asking highly personal questions and it can be tempting to use them in our process. To manage this temptation, we use the following guidelines.
- If asked by a stranger, could the questions be humiliating?
- Are we able to tie the responses to characteristics that predict job performance and culture fit?
- What will be the candidates’ impressions of your company after the assessment process?
- Does the process use cognitive fatigue to wear down the candidates’ defenses to the point where they cannot effectively decide to answer the question or not?
- Is there a perceived penalty for not answering the questions in the form of lost opportunities?
- Can we get the information another way?
- Could this information lead to adverse impact and is the procedure legally defensible?
By using the right palette of assessments and professional expertise, you can offer procedures that do not violate laws or ethics and still get the data required to make better talent decisions.
Curious about how we leverage interviews and online assessments to gather predictive information while preserving your candidates’ dignity? Contact us at [email protected]