Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hiring a president

In my last post I wrote about how looking at pure length of experience probably isn't the best way to pick someone for a top leadership position--like President of the United States. This comes from decades of research on the relationship between work experience and job performance (interestingly Time magazine just published an article that comes to a similar conclusion using research on expertise).

So how would we go about making the most informed decision if we treated this like a hiring decision rather than an election? We've already heard from the recruitosphere on this issue. Now it's time for an assessment perspective.

We know right off the bat we need some tests to differentiate between the best candidates. And like all hiring decisions, we'd choose tests by starting out with good job analysis data. But unfortunately we don't have any.

"Waddya mean?" you say. "There's lots of experts and articles out there that have documented what makes a good president!" Ahh, yes, but that's not how we would conduct a job analysis for hiring someone. We don't just conduct a literature review, we follow the requirements of the Uniform Guidelines by, among other things, creating detailed statements describing the work to be performed and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) necessary to do it. We also have subject matter experts rate these statements on things like critical, frequency, and necessity at entry to the job.

Can you imagine getting the current incumbent in the same room with previous presidents and conducting a job analysis session?! Count me in on that meeting!

But since that's not going to happen, how can we use assessment research to inform the job of hiring a president? What do years of research tell us about hiring someone who is likely to succeed at this type of job?

Here are the tests I would consider:

- Cognitive ability test. For a complex job like president, high cognitive ability is an absolute must, and research shows ability is the #1 predictor for complex jobs. Unfortunately, we (usually) have a field of very smart applicants, so giving them an ability test might not narrow the field.

- A work sample/performance test. Each candidate is given a live scenario that's pretty close to what they'd face as president. A discussion with a world leader, acting quickly in an emergency, a press conference, or serving as mediator between two disagreeing parties. Sit back and rate the performance using pre-established rating scales.

- A structured interview. This is no softball interview with questions about favorite memories. Each candidate gets the same challenging job-related questions and we have a pre-determined rating scale with benchmarks for judging good answers.

- A job knowledge test. A comprehensive written test covering all of the topics that a president would be expected to know. If you think about it, it's rather scary to think that we hire a president without gauging their full knowledge.

- What about a personality test? This is probably the trickiest (but potentially most interesting) of all the tests. If the job analysis showed that a certain trait, measurable by a reputable instrument, related to success (and some attempts at this have been made at this) we could go forward. Research has indicated that particularly when informed by job analysis, personality tests can have useful levels of performance prediction.

- The best: All of these! Imagine an assessment center-like format where the candidates go through a day-long battery of all these tests. Police officer candidates often have to do it--why not arguably the most powerful position in the world?

What don't you see here? "Debates" that consist mostly of canned phrases, speeches to supporters, and policies that may or may not have been written by the candidate. In other words, most of what we have now. This is similar to hiring someone based purely on a resume they created.

Imagine having all the data that these tests would provide. Talk about an informed hire!

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