I’m Not Sure I Need a Test to Assess Attitude + Motivation.

So you want to cut down your turnover? Me too. And Workforce has an article out this week about a NJ based real estate services org that is using testing to cut employee turnover. It's a good read. And I love that the company just isn't accepting that high turnover is the "norm" for their industry. I also love that they aren't just looking at skills alone and looking at candidate attitudes and motivation to help ensure they are hiring people who are going to be a great fit. I'm all about good fit. And who doesn't like a feel good story like theirs?

But you wanna know a little secret? You don't need a test to assess attitude or a candidate's motivational fit. You just need to ask questions, and listen. And do some more listening. And do some more listening. But do tests? I just don't know about that…

Test_taking_genius_gifts_tshirt-p235819479283861048qrja_400 Maybe I'm cheap – and part of my beef with testing are the costs to develop and administer valid tests. Or maybe it's that I get a little irritated when we try to make HR and recruiting more scientific and more complicated than it really is. But the other issue? Whether it's a test used for recruiting to assess attitude or motivation, or a test to evaluate your work/leadership/management style… there are pre-conceived notions for what the "right" answer is, or what the best "type" is. And as a result? People, me included, answer questions based on what's "right." And so anyone can ace a test.

You want to test me to see if I've got the right attitude for your organization's culture? I can probably pass your test because I'm going to answer the questions in the most flattering way possible – even if they aren't true answers. I know, I know – I'm supposed to answer truthfully and honestly and really dig deep to give a realistic portrayal of who I am. But especially when it comes to the job search process, I think a lot of folks kinda think they know what employers want to hear – and they answer accordingly. Or, think about it this way – how many times you have interviewed someone and though, "He said all the right things… BUT…"  But then you dug a little deeper on the next interview, or through reference checks. But then you asked some other folks who were involved in the interview process and they validated that nagging feeling you may have had.

Test are good for getting at hard skills. Can you do math? Can you write? Do you have good grammar? Can you create a formula in Excel? That's black and white. Does someone have the right attitude and motivation? Not so much, at least in this gal's book. Hiring for motivation and attitude? Good. Great. But I just don't think you need a test for that. Arm your recruiters and hiring managers with smart interview questions. Encourage them to dig deep with candidates with lots of follow up questions. And then tell them to sit back and listen. Really, really listen.

FOT Background Check

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee is a VP of TA at Marriott International where she leads a team that enables the company to think big, broad and boldly about all things talent acquisition and in effect, keeps them relevant and ahead of the curve in how they attract and acquire top talent. Don't be fooled by that fancy pants title and description though, she's still an everyday HR gal in the trenches at the core. SPHR certified, a decade and a half into trench HR life... she can whip up a corrective action plan or source for your purple squirrel in a heartbeat. Talk to Jessica via EmailLinkedInTwitter or Facebook... See Jessica's riffs and rants on Fistful of Talent here...


  1. Jared Hooste says:

    Motivation is hard to measure. Realistic job previews followed by a skills test, a continuation of the RJP can show an applicant what they are getting into. It allows them to self-select out (i.e. motivation).

  2. Jessica,
    I love this article:-)
    One of our clients, a very gifted and instinctive leader, who has nonetheless found difficulty in getting promoted, has been told that she is ‘failing’ the psychometric tests. The recommended solution from her boss? Get trained in completing psychometric tests;-0 Surely that defeats the whole object? Like you say, Jessica, candidates get the hang of what the recruiter is looking for, and simply learn to play the game.
    What you recommend- managers being willing to trust their own judgement – seems to have been replaced by a process that allows managers to avoid taking personal responsibility for their judgements. This trend is one that really worries me.

  3. Jan Watson says:

    How can you divine from any application or even a twenty-minute interview whether the person will be a “good fit” with the company and its culture, or whether the applicant has the necessary characteristics to be a team-player, a trusted employee and an appropriate company representative in the community? It is difficult, but assessment tools can be very useful in identifying such characteristics.
    My experience with assessments, in Corp. America-past, was with using “true assessments” instead of “surveys”, that use cutting-edge technology and empirical data to compare the
    candidate’s individual qualities to the qualities of employees who perform their duties in a
    superior manner. Example: A sales dept. takes assessments of their top 10-20 sales people and creates a job-match pattern using the results of high-performers, that match pattern is then used as a template to hire more people like them in the future, and is updated annually.
    A true “assessment” vs. “survey” measures an individual’s learning index, not just behavioral traits and occupational interests. It should answer 3 questions: 1. Can the person cope with the mental demands of the job? (verbal skill/reasoning, numeric reasoning/ability,etc.); 2. Will the person be comfortable with the corp. culture/job duties? (energy level, manageability, socialability, decisiveness, etc.); 3. Are they really interested in what they do? (financial, creative, mechanical, technical).
    If anyone is interested in more details, you can email me at janwatson97@yahoo.com.

  4. This subject is certainly becoming “curiousier and curiousier”. Does anyone have validation studies that justify this extra step? Or as one comment opined “is this just another “CYA” for a hiring manager? Is the root cause of turnover somehow based in a test result? Does an organization better itself by insuring it hires clones? Seems contrary to diversity theories. Hiring done well is very demanding work and must be done thoroughly with effective listening skills and truly well designed background and reference checks. Then fine tune your gut and pull the trigger. Be careful out there.

  5. Jan Watson says:

    Great questions all around.
    A Harvard Bus. Review study of hiring practices included 360,000 people hired for sales positions. It concluded that: Men and women performed at same level; age had no bearing on ability; ethnic background was not a factor; experience does not guarantee success; and college degrees are not the key. “Job-fit” had the only real affect on turnover.
    Diversity will never be a problem – there will always be a majority of “so-so and bottom-performers” in the world.
    I do have copies of the Dept. of Labor’s rules on assessments as well as validation studies if you are interested.

  6. Mark B. says:

    Hi Jessica,
    Great post, as usual! Thought-provoking.
    But, just this once (?), I have to disagree.
    If you add testing as one component of experience, education, good interviewing, references, etc., it’s a PIECE of the puzzle.
    We test for skills, personality, and emotional intelligence and I think they’re invaluable.
    And they’re easy to administer (online) and inexpensive – with the caveat that you only work with a reputable vendor.

  7. Rhonda McAlister says:

    We have a low turnover, and credit it to the Kolbe test. http://www.kolbe.com/ This test is fail proof, and impossible just to say the right thing you THINK will get you the position you want. It is about natural abilities, and building team with a kinestic energy that plays off each team member. While it may not detect motivation or attitudes, it seems to be a good measure for employee placement success.

  8. Mark B. says:

    Jessica, got this about 5 minutes after reading your post….check it out at rocket-hire.com:
    Rocket-Hire’s Annual Assessment Usage Survey: 2009 Results

  9. I have to totally disagree with you. Our research shows that motivations/behaviors are based on the way a person thinks. So we created a 28 question instrument to measure the differences in people. The instrument is theory based and proven. In our study with the military we profiled all recruiters and predicted the amount of sales that they would close. In marketing we know how to engage the audience because our instrument identifies the way information is processed. For young people, we can identify career path that utilizes their innate strengths.

  10. Jessica,
    You are entitled to your opinion. I base my opinion on facts and research and proven validated tools which deliver results. You state Attitude and Motivation can be cheated in tests. You are ASSUMING that a positive attitude is what the organization is looking for. You are ASSUMING a person’s distortion of their answers can not be detected. Actually in most sales positions, a more skeptical attitude is sought after as a person with a sky is always blue attitude will be too trusting and won’t close sales. And yes, distortion can be detected. As a former recruiter for nearly 20 years, the biggest problem with recruiting is Assumptions and Perceptions. The tendency to view a person’s qualities from a subjective point of view which is your own experience and knowledge clouds your ability to hire top performers consistently. If you believe you can just pick up how well a person will perform in a role from an interview the research on this shows you will be right 14% of the time. My recommendation for you is to become more informed before you form and publish an opinion that testing is not needed in determining motivation and attitude. You will find the research on how well a person performs in a role is determined by how well they fit the job with the natural attributes they have developed. You can significantly improve your odds to over 80% of the time being right if you use an appropriate validated test benchmarked to a specific model of performance success needed for the position.

  11. Rich H says:

    By virtue of the fact that you call it a ‘test’ indicates that you have either been burned or have not had the chance to experience Dept of Labor approved Assessments.
    I ran retail stores for over 32 years for 7 national chains and I am here to tell you that anyone who tells you to interview and ask better questions is probably just cheap and, unfortunately under-informed. INterviewing alone will give you results in the 14% range for successful job match. Using assessments and job matching brings this to as much as 75% (Harvard Business Review).
    People cannot ‘fool’ valid assessments (at least those approved by the Dept of Labor). The assessmetn will catch them and then you can throw them out of the interview process–and the job…you don’t want these people anyway.
    It’s not that I am selling anything here, however, I see alot of blogs pleading with the readers for solutions and they are right out there and they work with exceptional success. That’s all I’m going to say.

  12. Jessica is very correct.
    You all really need to read the book “The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves”
    It’s very insightful! It Exposes the non-scientific criteria from which most of these psychometric tests are generated. It’s very, very sad and sobering to realize how much damage has been done to people because of these tests.
    Here is a quote from the book:
    “The widespread use of these tests has deeply troubling consequences. Students are being consigned to narrow categories even as they’re still growing and developing. Workers are having their privacy invaded and their rights trampled. Companies are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars, only to make ill-informed decisions about hiring and promotion. Our judicial system is being undermined by inaccurate evidence.”
    And despite what some have said here; Yes, psychometric tests can be beaten! People are doing it all the time and I say “More power to them!”
    All it takes is a little research on Google and you can find a lot of companies offering this service.

  13. Jessica!
    Thank you so much for posting this. You are touching on a topic that is very timely and there is going to be a wide range of opinion.
    I completely agree and disagree with you.
    Where you are correct… There are many, many assessments out there that measure little and have little to no predictive value and are highly biased in the results. Furthermore… There are consultants and companies pushing assessments that have little understanding of how to use the assessments they have.
    Where you are incorrect… There are many outstanding assessments that are highly-validated and truly do measure potential job fit when used by a highly-trained professional.
    I do not blame HR for being cynical about personality assessments. The psychometric profile community is riddled with “snake oil sales people” as well as true professionals that are passionate about their craft using psychometric profiles the way they should be used. The psychometric profile industry should be regulated and standardized so that HR and decision-makers are making the best possible selection decision with information that is relevant and accurate.
    Unfortunately many in HR are rightfully-skeptical about personality assessments. It is incumbent on consultants and HR to demand accountability.
    For the record… There are profile instruments that measure motivators and attitude. The fact is – most that advertise that they do so in fact do not.
    Again, great post, Jessica!

  14. geekcoach says:

    Wow! This post mostly reflects Jessica’s lack of knowledge about proven and validated selection testing. I encourage her and others to do some additional research on selection testing from reputable sources. There is an entire field of study called Industrial-Organizational Psychology that has used scientific methods and data to prove that selection tests work. And they are more accurate than interviews and gut feelings.
    The caveat is that the tests must be properly developed, validated and applied in order to be effective.
    I also agree with Steve Deighton. I use selection tests extensively in my work as an I/O Psychologist working in a Fortune 500 company. It is hard to fake your results. We catch faking all of the time. One of our tests is specifically designed to search for a profile that has some highs and some lows. If you assume that “more” of a trait is always better, you will do poorly on the assessment.
    BTW – most good assessments include many other factors besides personality such as cognitive ability and work style fit.
    Check out http://www.siop.org for more information about selection testing.

  15. Nicole says:

    I have to agree. When I started with my company through a temp agency, I had to take one of this tests. I was told that my results were marginal, but they decided to interview me. When I moved to a permanent position with the Fortune 500 company, I was the first person to be promoted to management. 8 years later I am one of the highest tenured, top-performing managers in the center. Most other people who passed the assessment with flying colors have contributed to the high turnover in the center. This experience makes me lose faith in the assessments used to measure “attitude” or “personality” and to look more at a person’s experience and results, and to use interviewing questions to determine if the applicant is a good fit. Thanks for the article!

  16. No matter where you sit –“pro” assessments or “anti” assessments–one point that speaks loudly here is our need to ensure that people conducting the interview really know how to listen. We teach “behavioral interviewing” and are armed with a list of questions to ask, but are we paying attention to more than the words? What’s the body language? How confidently can this person give specifics about the work they’d done? What are they proud of? Listening well can shed light on motivation and values–but we can’t listen well until we first shut up.

  17. There seem to be several different lines of discussion that are going on here and uses for assessments. I checked out the first part of the book against a Cult of Personality and I hope it goes beyond Phrenology, Cranioscopy, and the MMPI as these are “personality” and psychometric tests that should not be used in business and do not meet the approval of the EEOC or Department of Labor.
    As most people know who staff, if you think you can fake a test, you are more likely able to fake an interview and even people trained to be good at interviewing are only able to predict a person’s success less than 50% of the time. Might as well toss a coin!
    Validated assessments that are used properly can be very enlightening, not narrowing, and should never be used as narrowly as you describe to place people only in certain jobs, or tell students they are only cut out for particular occupations. I was an academic advisor and disliked them very much, I took one that told me to be a math teacher- I am far from that now!
    “Personality test” at a simplistic level will get at things like natural introversion or extroversion and people or task orientation, which can be very good at helping people decide if they will make it at a cubicle desk job or need the interaction of working with others. They can help two people who are not getting along, find better ways to communicate with each other, which can be very helpful in teambuilding.
    However these types of assessments are not to be used alone for selection and cannot predict person’s persistence for example. They are often not sensitive enough to determine if someone is dealing with a large personal crises such as a divorce or cancer in the family, both issues that no mater how much talent and skill a person has, will affect job performance ability.
    Many assessments on the market now are based on science and can provide organizations with valuable information that will help direct their interviews (as they should never be used alone!). An assessment that I use with executives and train professional coaches on has to do with a person’s ability to process information, make judgments and is deductive instead of subjective. I challenge Jessica to manipulate it any way she feels she wants.
    If I want to know how someone plays the piano, I can ask questions and have them tell me about their ability (an interview). If I ask the right questions I may get a good idea of their potential. I could have them take a test that asks questions about playing the piano (skills test) and would get a good idea of their knowledge about playing the piano, which should give me some predictability. However, the best way for me to find out is to actually have them play it and instead of letting my own personal bias enter in, have their playing ability compared to the “perfect playing” of the piece of music by a computer and have the computer rate them. The thinking assessment I am talking about does just that. Instead of asking you questions about yourself, it asks you to process information (that you have no idea what you are processing) and results then show what information you naturally pay attention to (selective attention) and with what kind of clarity you process the information with (judgment) both in the world around you, and internally about yourself. If you would like to try it find me on linked in or facebook email me and experience a whole new kind of assessment! Take it honestly without attempting to fake it and you may find out why you make some the same mistakes over and over again.

  18. When I went to interview with an international HR consulting firm some time ago, the partner in charge of the LA office interviewed me because he was tired of my phone calls (9 of them), and when he found out that I was a runner, hired me! Later when he had to teach me some psych testing techniques, he gave me the intelligence test. I aced the verbal part but screwed up the spatial….to the extent that he suggested I had been brain-damaged as a kid. I went on to do well, then ran my own firm for 14 years. Careful on those tests!

  19. Every body knows that our life seems to be expensive, however different people require money for different things and not every person gets big sums money. Therefore to receive quick credit loans and just credit loan would be good solution.

  20. The best part is the description! You have to love that.My kid has always been fascinated with astrology. He’s too young to understand things about NASA but I’m glad to find this so I could somehow explain to him a bit even though I do not completely understand it all.

Comments are now closed for this article.

Contact Us | Hire FOT to Speak | About FOT