Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recipe for losing a lawsuit


One large, diverse candidate pool
One cognitive ability OR physical agility test
One protective services job (police or fire if in season, otherwise corrections)

Optional: large, aggressive employee union
Optional: history of litigation


1. Begin by deciding what type of exam--cognitive ability or physical agility--you feel like giving; don't worry about performing a job analysis first as these are time consuming and boring. If you must, select a small sample of current employees (preferably the poor performers) and provide minimal instruction. Don't worry about whether they are "true" job experts, and whatever you do, don't link tasks to KSAs--everyone hates doing it.

2. Select what you will be measuring. Base your decision on what you feel like, or whatever's easiest. Usually this is just doing what you did last time.

3. Have untrained analysts prepare the exams. Because anyone can do hiring, select whoever has time on their hands. Optional: search the Internet for a test that catches your eye. Rule of thumb is one question per content area (if you have more than one question, you're wasting applicant time).

4. Make sure the reading level of the exam is graduate school-level. After all, isn't reading an important part of any job? And don't you want the best?

5. Next, choose weighting of your exam components either randomly or based on gut feeling. When in doubt, place the largest weight on the test that is most related to cognitive ability.

6. Select a pass point. It should either be: (a) 70 percent; (b) based on administrative convenience; or (c) chosen at random.

7. Administer the exam, preferably with limited advertising. If you must advertise, give applicants a very short amount of time to prepare--after all, this isn't grade school. Do not pre-test the exam--if you've followed these instructions, it should be fine.

8. Score the exam--if you can, avoid "right/wrong" questions and go with ones where you can personally judge the quality of the answer. Don't worry about a boring "benchmark"--you know a good response when you see it.

9. Keep all scoring results and details regarding the process to yourself. Candidates don't need to know (and won't understand).

10. Make final selection decisions. Do not administer yet another test before making your selection, or if you must because of boring rules, make it an unstructured interview. Ask lots of questions like, "If you were a book, what would your title be?" If you have any women or minorities, ALWAYS ask questions about their ability to perform the job.

11. Do not document any of this process. Everyone involved will be with the organization for a long time, and people have really good memories.

Above all: have fun! After all, it's just people's livelihood.

A good example of how this type of thing plays out (albeit in a less horrific manner) is the recent decision in Easterling v. Connecticut Dept. of Corrections.

And for those of you that want to read more about how the law applies to selection, look for an upcoming IPAC monograph written by yours truly!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Shameless plug: The 2011 IPAC conference

And now for something completely different. A man with a marketing video.

It's getting toward the end of May, so if you haven't made up your mind about attending this year's premier event for practitioners of assessment and selection methods, you might want to do it soon.

Details: July 17-20, Washington, D.C. Dupont Hotel. So many great presentations I can't even begin to summarize. Check out the details here.

If that doesn't convince you, I doubt amateurish marketing tactics will work, but since you're still reading and I have you captive...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

IJSA v.19 #2: Personality, personality, personality (and more)

The June 2011 issue of the International Journal of Selection and Assessment (IJSA, volume 19, issue 2) is out. And it's chalk full of articles on personality measurement, but includes other topics as well, so let's jump in! Warning: lots of content ahead.

- O'Brien and LaHuis analyzed applicant and incumbent responses to the 16PF personality inventory and found differential item functioning for over half the items (but of those only 20% were in the hypothesized direction!).

- Reddock, et al. report on an interesting study of personality scores and cognitive ability predicting GPA among students. "At school" frame-of-reference instructions increased validity and, even more interesting, within-person inconsistency on personality dimensions increased validity beyond conscientiousness and ability.

- Fein & Klein introduce a creative approach: using combinations of facets of Five-Factor Model traits to predict outcomes. Specifically, the authors found that a combination (e.g., assertiveness, activity, deliberation) did as well or better in predicting behavioral self-regulation compared to any single facet or trait.

- Think openness to experience is the runt of the FFM? Mussel, et al. would beg to disagree. The authors argue that subdimensions and facets of openness (e.g., curiosity, creativity) are highly relevant for the workplace and understudied--and demonstrate differential criterion-related and construct validity.

- So just when you're thinking to yourself, "hey, I'm liking this subdimension/facet approach), along comes van der Linden, et al. with a study of the so-called General Factor of Personality (GFP) that is proposed to occupy a place at the top of the personality structure hierarchy. The authors studied over 20,000 members of the Netherlands armed forces (fun facts: active force of 61,000, 1.65% of GDP) and found evidence that supports a GFP and value in its measurement (i.e., it predicted dropping out from military training). Unsurprisingly, not everyone is on the GFP bus.

- Next, another fascinating study by Robie et al. on the impact of the economy on incumbent leaders' personality scores. In their sample of US bank employees, as unemployment went up, so did personality inventory results. Faking or environmental impact? Fun coffee break discussion.

- Recruiters, through training and years of experience, are better at judging applicant personality than laypersons, right? Sort of. Mast, et al. found that while recruiters were better at judging the "global personality profile" of videotaped applicants as well as detecting lies, laypeople (students in this case) were better at judging specific personality traits.

- Last one on the personality front: Iliescu, et al. report the results of a study of the Employee Screening Questionnaire (ESQ), a well-known covert, forced-choice integrity measure. Scores showed high criterion-related validity, particularly for counterproductive work behaviors.

- Okay, let's move away from personality testing. Ziegler, et al. present a meta-analysis of predicting training success using g, specific abilities, and interviews. The authors were curious whether the dominant paradigm that g is the single best predictor would hold up in a single sample. Answer? Yep. But specific abilities and structured interviews were valuable additions (unstructured interviews--not so much), and job complexity moderated some of the relationships.

- Given their popularity and long history, it's surprising that there isn't more research on role-players in assessment centers (ACs). Schollaert and Lievens aim to rectify this by investigating the utility of predetermined prompts for role-players during ACs. Turns out there are advantages for measuring certain dimensions (problem solving, interpersonal sensitivity). Sounds promising to me. Fortunately you can read the article here.

- What's the best way to combine assessment scores into an overall profile? Depends who you ask. Diab, et al. gathered information from a sample of adults and found that those in the U.S. preferred holistic over mechanical integration of both interview and other test scores, whereas those outside the U.S. preferred holistic for interview scores only.

- Still with me? Last but not least, re-testing effects are a persistent concern, particularly on knowledge-based tests. Dunlop et al. looked at a sample of firefighter applicants and found the largest practice effects for abstract reasoning and mechanical comprehension (both timed)--although even those were only two-fifths of a standard deviation. Smaller effects were found for a timed test of numerical comprehension ability and an untimed situational judgment test. For all four tests, practice effects diminished to non-significance upon a third session.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Hiring HR professionals: What are we thinking?

When you hire someone for your Accounting department, what do you look for? Accounting experience, undoubtedly, but presumably you look for someone with some college-level accounting training as well as basic competencies such as facilities with numbers, conscientiousness, etc.

What about IT support? Again, in most cases you're probably looking for experience with specific hardware or software or general support experience, but in many cases you're searching that resume for formal education/training in IT-related topics.

Connection? For many organizational "support" functions, we look not only for experience but educational experiences that would give the individual a grounding in the basics of the field and (hopefully) train their mind to recognize historical developments as well as connections between concepts.

So why is that when we hire for HR, another support function, our brains fall out our ears and we seem to focus primarily on past experience? This weakness seems common in the public sector but I'm guessing the private sector is not immune.

Phrased another way: Why don't more organizations place value on formal HR education when hiring?

I'm not suggesting that one needs a degree in HR to be good at it, although I do think it limits people. What I'm concerned about is the apparent lack of importance placed on these degrees and what that says about the profession.

Is it because formal HR educational programs don't exist? Nope. According to the College Board, over 350 schools exist with a major in HRM.

Is it because formal education in HR isn't as important for job performance as experience? I'm not aware of any research that shows this to be true (if you are, please enlighten me).

No, I suspect the following:

1) Many HR leaders themselves do not have formal educational training in HR therefore they tend not to think of it as a screening tool (or place much value in it).

2) Similarly, there is a lack of knowledge about HR educational programs--what they offer, the advantage of having gone through one, and how to connect to the school.

3) There are relatively few candidates out there that apply for HR vacancies that have a relevant degree (either as a pure function of the number of individuals that have a degree in HR or because many applicants believe anyone can do HR).

4) HR is still seen as largely transactional and/or not a critical business function, therefore the qualifications sought have more to do with customer service than they do formal training. (I believe this is a large reason why HR outsourcing is easy to contemplate for many executives)

5) Many are simply passing through HR. Many incumbents do not see HR as a "career", but rather a stopping point on their way to...something else. But much like Lightning McQueen (or Doc Hollywood if you prefer), they find they have a hard time leaving, either because they come to like it or they find they're not as employable as they thought.

6) The professional HR organizations and HR publications focus on anecdotes, opinion, and news bits rather than formal study and analysis. SHRM is not SIOP.

So why do I care about this topic? Because I see HR stagnating until it truly becomes a profession and not a loose collection of people who vaguely care about things relating to people management. And part of becoming a true profession is placing formal structure around the path from education to employment.

I'm also concerned because of the relationship between I/O and HR. Ultimately much of what is researched in I/O gets practiced through HR, and there is a close relationship in many people's minds--in fact I would wager most managers haven't the foggiest idea what the difference is. So what impacts HR ultimately impacts I/O.

Maybe it's just not there yet. Maybe I need to be patient. HR's a relatively new field and maybe it just needs time to develop, and to figure out questions like its relationship to I/O.

But given what I've seen, I'm not feeling optimistic. I see HR shops being outsourced or automated, resulting in more IT skills being required than knowledge about research on human behavior. Inevitably this will lead many organizations to lose out on important efficiencies they could be gaining (not to mention improvements in the work environment).

What can be done? I don't have all the answers, just some suggestions:

1) A wider promotion of the value of formal HR education. SHRM, I'm looking at you, as well as the other HR professional organizations.

2) More research on the connection between formal HR education and job performance.

3) Effort on the part of HR leaders to at least consider the potential importance of HR education when hiring for their teams.

4) More effort on the part of HR leaders to establish connections to schools that offer HR degrees and begin programs like internships and formal recruiting.

5) More organizational support (e.g., tuition reimbursement) for staff to obtain HR degrees.

To read more about this issue, I highly recommend starting with the 2007 piece by Sara Rynes and her colleagues.

Hat tip to this HR Examiner article, which helped me crystallize something that's been bothering me for a long time.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Tech tools: Brainshark and Greenshot

Brainshark and Greenshot. Sounds like a kids' cartoon about a pair of superheroes.

But no, this post is all about a pair of simple tools that you can use in a variety of ways to enhance your recruitment and selection efforts and just plain make your life easier.

Brainshark is a remarkably simple, and free, tool you can use to create slideshows or videos with audio in a matter of minutes. Did I mention it's free?

Simply upload your file, add audio (if it's a PowerPoint) using either your computer microphone or phone, name your slides, and you're good to go! You can see a simple example of a promotional spot I whipped up below--remember, my specialty is information filtering, not multimedia! Make sure to check out the "Contents" menu to the right of the fast-forward button.

This took maybe thirty minutes to develop and record, and I used my computer's built-in microphone, hence the less-than-stellar audio quality. But I think you get the idea and see some of the possibilities:

- realistic job preview
- job advertising
- instructions for applying

And so on. For $10 or $20 a month, respectively, you can upgrade to Brainshark Pro or Brainshark Pro Trainer, which includes options like private sharing, capturing leads, testing, and integration with LMS. Just pretty darn cool all around, I say.

The next tool is simpler but no less useful on a day-to-day basis. I know I'm not the only one out there who likes SnagIt. It's an easy way to take screenshots of parts of the screen and quickly add borders, arrows, or other accents. And it's very reasonably priced.

But I'm all about the free stuff whenever possible, which is why I was pleased to learn about Greenshot, a scaled-down tool that gives you pretty much what you'd get in SnagIt, if a little less snazzy. Simply load the software and whenever you press Print Screen, instead of taking a picture of the whole screen you can specify the region. I use this all the time for showing others what I'm talking about, presentations, and user guides. You can also capture just the window, or the whole screen.

One feature unique (to my knowledge) to Greenshot is "obfuscate", which allows you to blur parts of the picture (e.g., name, SSNs) you may wish to hide. See the screenshot below for an example where I obfuscated part of the blog post title:

The one feature that I'd still use SnagIt for is capturing a rolling webpage that includes the links. Very handy. But other than that, Greenshot would do ya just fine.

So there you have it, two simple tools that have the potential to add tremendous value to your life. Hope you enjoy.

Hat tip to my colleagues at CODESP for turning me on to Brainshark, and my friends at Biddle for Greenshot.