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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 16, 2023

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Take the test


Years ago a person trying to get a job would have to answer a slew of questions like “Do you read detective novels?”

“If you said ‘yes’ you engage in mental fantasy, daydreaming,” said Mike Zickar, professor of industrial psychology. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on the job, like marketing versus working on an assembly line.

More specifically, Zickar explained that answers to those questions were irrelevant. Not everyone who liked detective novels was a daydreamer, and vice versa.

From probing questions to ink blots, the world of industrial psychology has evolved to a new level of employee expertise. Psychologists are now called upon to create tests that simply asks a person: Do you daydream?

Tests like these greet prospective employees in places like Wal-Mart, Blockbuster and Finish Line. There can be almost 100 questions looking for personality type, work ethic and ability – all playing a role in whether the company will hire a person.

“Understanding someone’s personality is very important to see if he or she fits the job,” Zickar said.

Fellow industrial psychologist Scott Highhouse added that what these tests try to get people to do is match job requirements to characteristics and traits of a worker.

There are five personality traits tests look for.

Zickar said one is openness to experience: does a person like novelty or routine? A factory, for example may require someone more routine-oriented. Other traits are conscientiousness: does this person have good work ethic, agreeableness and extroversion?

Neurotics – or how much a person worries – is a trait some jobs look for to see if someone can handle pressure. A police officer would have to be a reasonably calm, stable person, whereas it doesn’t really matter how neurotic a professor is.

“Overall these tests do predict a person’s performance,” said Highhouse, adding that the straightforward approach is best. “To really know what a person is like, you ask them what they’re like,” Highhouse said.

In doing so, the tests have maybe 30 items getting at the same thing. From there the scorers are looking to see on average if a person is answering the same way to gauge a person’s character.

These tests add structure to the application process, Zickar said. Using Wal-Mart as an example, he said the test may simply help the company figure out where someone is best placed, whether it be in stocking or as a greeter.

Highhouse said the tests overall are accurate and useful.

“If you could predict the outcome of the roulette wheel in Vegas as well as we predict job performance with the tests, you’d be rich quickly,” he said.

That is not to say people don’t try to fake these tests – many do.

“No one is going to admit to stealing,” Highhouse said, “but there are degrees to which they do admit to it.” Thieves tend to admit to it through higher ratings in this area.

One way to “catch a thief” or liar is through built-in questions placed to weed out applicants trying to respond in a way to look extra good.

“Beware of questions with the words like ‘always’ and ‘never,'” Zickar said. Questions that say things like “I never gossip,” or “I never say anything bad about someone else” are thrown in to see if someone is being honest.

When someone “admits to never gossiping” the test developer sends out a caution to would-be employers.

Although most tests won’t exactly say a person is lying or not, Zickar referred to the O.J. Simpson trial, where if there is a 1/10,000 chance that evidence may be off it can’t be used.

The only test Zickar said that an employer can be sure of a person’s honestly – or lack thereof – is an ability test. On the other hand, there is a very high failure rate on honesty tests.

“A lot of honest people get labeled dishonest,” Highhouse said.

More or less these tests are used as guidance to a person’s employability.

Tom Kehres, manager for the Bowling Green Wal-Mart, has the final word as to whether a person should be hired, and of their placement in the store.

While Wal-Mart uses an online employee ability test, the first thing he usually does is check references. He said there are some people who do well on the test but not with references, and some who don’t do so well on the tests but have great references.

Kehres added that the test is merely a guide, and isn’t always used to see whether he wants to call a person back or not. It depends on how badly Wal-Mart needs workers.

Blockbuster has so much faith in their testing program, they won’t grant an interview unless the person has scored high enough to pass the test, according to manager Nathan Sherrick.

Sherrick didn’t know much about how the company’s tests are graded, but did say that Blockbuster seldom has to hire new people because the store only needs one crewman per shift.




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