Thursday, July 31, 2008

July 2008 Issues of Merit

The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) just released its July 2008 Issues of Merit and there's at least three articles worth taking a look at:

- Using engagement strategies to retain retirement-ready employees (page 1)

- An overview of accomplishment records (page 6)

- Reference checking: beware speed over quality (page 7)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Font matters

When preparing a resume there are a few guiding principles. Don't make it too long. List only experience that's relevant. Organize the information in a logical way.

Now we can add a new one: use the right font.

In a recent study published on Usability News, the authors found that the font chosen for a resume has a significant impact on how the applicant is perceived.

Using the job of webmaster, the authors presented participants with resumes identical in content but varying in appropriateness of font, from most appropriate (Corbel) to least (Vivaldi).

Results? "Applicants" that used the most appropriate font were judged to be more professional, knowledgeable, mature, experienced, believable, and trustworthy than those that used less appropriate fonts.

Not only that, but those that used Corbel were more likely to be called for an interview!

So think about that the next time you're about to send out an email in pink Comic Sans MS.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

EEOC releases guidance on religious discrimination

Yesterday the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released new guidance documents intended to help individuals learn more about preventing discrimination based on religion.

The new documents include:

- A new Compliance Manual section regarding workplace discrimination based on religion; check out this example from the section on recruitment, hiring, and promotion:

"Darpak, who practices Buddhism, holds a Ph.D. degree in engineering and applied for a managerial position at the research firm where he has worked for ten years. He was rejected in favor of a non-Buddhist candidate who was less qualified. The company vice president who made the promotion decision advised Darpak that he was not selected because “we decided to go in a different direction.” However, the vice president confided to co-workers at a social function that he did not select Darpak because he thought a Christian manager could make better personal connections with the firm’s clients, many of whom are Christian. The vice president’s statement, combined with the lack of any legitimate non-discriminatory reason for selecting the less qualified candidate, as well as the evidence that Darpak was the best qualified candidate for the position, suggests that the proffered reason was a pretext for discrimination against Darpak because of his religious views."

- A Q&A fact sheet that includes this information about when employers need to accommodate applicants and employees:

"Title VII requires an employer, once on notice that a religious accommodation is needed, to reasonably accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Under Title VII, the undue hardship defense to providing religious accommodation requires a showing that the proposed accommodation in a particular case poses a more than de minimis cost or burden. Note that this is a lower standard for an employer to meet than undue hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which is defined in that statute as significant difficulty or expense."

- Best practices on eliminating discrimination, including the following:
  • "Employers can reduce the risk of discriminatory employment decisions by establishing written objective criteria for evaluating candidates for hire or promotion and applying those criteria consistently to all candidates.
  • In conducting job interviews, employers can ensure nondiscriminatory treatment by asking the same questions of all applicants for a particular job or category of job and inquiring about matters directly related to the position in question."

Sounds like an endorsement of structured interviews if I ever saw one!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New blog in town: HRLitehouse

It's always a pleasure welcoming other blogs to the fold. Particularly when they're written by intelligent people with a perspective that should be shared.

So I'm very happy to say that Dr. Dennis Doverspike of the University of Akron and his colleagues have started HRLitehouse. In their own words,

"In deciding to create this blog, our goal was to do our small part to attempt to contribute to the ongoing conversation on the management of people at work. In order to do so, we hope to share our views through short reports and commentary on critical issues and current research in the areas of human resource management, personnel recruitment and testing, and organizational business consulting and coaching."

The I/O Psychology program at the University of Akron is one of the top in the country, consistently ranked in the top 10. It's refreshing to see an academic institution take the plunge into this form of knowledge sharing--and they'll probably get a decent amount of social networking out of it as well for their students (see I/O careers for an example of what can be done).

So welcome! Here's the feed.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Broadband adoption in U.S.: A mixed bag

A new study out by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that while 55% of all Americans have a broadband connection at home, up from 47% in early 2007, poorer Americans saw no increase during this time and their access rates are under 50% compared to more than 80% of upper-income Americans.

Why does this matter? In this age of bandwidth-greedy job preview videos, java-filled interactive career websites, and realistic job assessments, a high-speed connection is becoming increasingly a necessity. The good news is more than half of Americans can engage in these experiences at home. The bad news? Not only will access to some of these sites most likely have an adverse impact against certain groups (see below), this will reduce an organization's ability to draw an applicant pool that contains the most diverse backgrounds.

With that in mind, consider these findings:

* While 70% of those age 18-29 reported having broadband at home, only 50% of those age 50-64 did.

* While 57% of White respondents had broadband at home, only 43% of Black respondents did (let's see, four-fifths of 57% is...). On a more positive note, 56% of English-speaking Hispanic respondents had this access.

* 79% of those with at least a college education had home broadband access; only 40% of high school grads did.

* 60% of suburban respondents and 57% of urban respondents had this access; only 38% of rural respondents did.

"But people can always go to a library," is a response I often hear. That may be true, although not everyone lives within easy access of a library. But libraries aren't open 24/7. And many times they're busy during peak hours. And many aren't exactly a Starbucks cafe. Do you really want to create these barriers?

So what can we do about it? Here are some ideas:

* Make sure your careers site has a low-bandwidth alternative

* Consider offering a staffed on-site computer center that operates during off-peak hours (e.g., 6-8am, 5-7pm, weekends)

* Think long and hard about whether you're adopting bandwidth-hogging features because they're there or because they'll actually add value.

For more details, check out the report.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Silver tsunami or gradual graying?

There are strong opinions about the upcoming "retirement wave" of the Baby Boom generation--some think employers are in big trouble as they will be forced to replace a huge number of workers with an inadequate supply, while others claim it's an overreaction. Some recent news adds credence to the latter viewpoint, at least in one sector.

According to a recent article published by the Partnership for Public Service, in 2006 and 2007 there were fewer retirements in the federal government than projected. Not only that, but the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) adjusted their retirement projections downward.

Why the change? It's the economy, stupid--or at least that's the theory. The price of gas, the housing market crash, and the reduction in pension value have all contributed to people hanging in there a little longer.

One important caveat: it depends on the job. And here's where we still have reason for concern:

"The ones most able to ignore the current economic problems are those who possess specialized and marketable skills, or who are in the higher-income brackets and can afford to weather the downturn, experts say."

This includes high-demand occupations like IT as well as those with substantial management experience.

It's also quite possible we just haven't seen the tip of the tsunami yet. But it's looking more and more likely that if economic conditions persist, we may actually experience more of a gradual graying.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Detecting liars is not a skill

One of the most popular pieces of folk wisdom is that some people are better at detecting liars than others. When it comes to selection, some people think they can tell when a candidate is lying about their history or competencies. And if the organization is conducting background checks and/or a polygraph, it becomes particularly important to detect deceptions.

Yet according to a new meta-analysis published in the most recent issue of Psychological Bulletin, we may all be pretty much the same when it comes to lie detection. In the words of the authors:

"Although researchers have suggested that people differ in the ability to detect lies, psychometric analyses of 247 samples reveal that these ability differences are minute."

Where there do appear to be differences is in being able to successfully tell a lie--some people are plain better at it than others.

The article is followed by two commentaries that are critical of this study and a reply by the author.

What about people's overall ability to detect a lie? Check out this study from 2006 by the same authors. Short answer: we're not very good.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Grading the EEOC

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently released a report critical of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) ability to handle its private-sector workload.

Amid the critique are some gems for those of you itching to know more about the EEOC...

* Wondered where the EEOC's offices are? Check out page 18

* Curious how a complaint makes its way through the process? Check out page 20

* Need another workforce planning model? (c'mon, you know you do) Check out page 24

There are lots of other great metrics in here, and I'm sure it's all the buzz at the EEOC.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

NEOGOV acquires Sigma

Not exactly breaking news, but for any of you out there that didn't already know, NEOGOV, a significant player in the public sector ATS space, has acquired Sigma Data Systems, a venerable ATS provider that had been purchased not all that long ago by CPS.

Sigma's strength has always been its data analysis capabilities, and presumably this will be folded into NEOGOV's product. It's an interesting move by NEOGOV, and we'll see what impact this has on its rivalry with JobAps, the other major ATS vendor that focuses on the public sector.

You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A review of situational judgment tests

In the latest issue of Personnel Review, Dr. Filip Lievens and colleagues provide an empirical review of situational judgment tests (SJTs), focusing on studies from 1990-2007.

SJTs, sometimes referred to as low fidelity simulations, present test takers with a scenario and ask them to select the appropriate response. Candidates may be asked to select what "should" they do, what "would" they do, the best response, the worst response, or some combination of the above. Here's an example:

You have been assigned lead responsibility for two weeks in the absence of your supervisor. On your first day in this role, one of your new direct reports comes into your office and complains that they were sexually harassed by the security guard when they entered the building. They ask that the situation be kept confidential. What would be your first action in response to this situation?

1. Contact the security guard and conduct an interview to obtain all the facts.
2. Assure the direct report you will look into the situation but cannot guarantee confidentiality.
3. Contact your supervisor to obtain instruction on next steps.
4. Conduct informal interviews with your other direct reports to determine if they have been harassed.

SJTs have some great benefits, and this article points them out. First, they can be valid predictors of performance--particularly when based on job analysis. Second, they show incremental validity beyond cognitive ability and personality tests, making them a valuable addition. Third, group differences tend to be reduced compared to ability tests, particularly when the cognitive load is low. Fourth, applicant perceptions of SJTs tend to be positive. And fifth, SJTs allow you to test large candidate groups simultaneously. I would add that they allow for all kinds of scoring possibilities as well (e.g., +1 for correct response, -1 for incorrect).

SJTs aren't without drawbacks--two major ones to be exact. The first is they can be susceptible to faking, practice, and coaching effects--although how they're built plays a large role in how big these effects are. The second is that we don't always know exactly what SJTs are measuring--is it job knowledge? Personality? Cognitive ability? The authors point out that more research is needed.

Overall, a very good review of a test method that every assessment professional should have in their tool belt. You can read an in press version here.