Two plus Two Equals Stupid

A good friend of mine (let’s call him Joe) who is well respected in the Talent Management & Learning profession, considered a thought-leader in the industry and has helped transform numerous cultures, was recently in search of his next gig.  Timing was in his favor—right as he was deciding to pursue a new opportunity, he was contacted through LinkedIn by a corporate recruiter of a very reputable company in Northern Virginia for a senior leadership Talent Management role. Sounds like a good story so far, yes?  The more conversations he had with the recruiter and the more he learned about the opportunity, the more excited he became to join their firm.  The next step for Joe to move forward was to sit down with the CHRO and CEO, basically to seal the deal.  And that is where his story became very interesting.

Before Joe could meet with the C-Suite, he needed to complete a brief assessment and answer a few questions.  Not a big deal—we all have seen them before.  Perhaps they wanted to get a feel for his personality, or to see if Joe was a good fit, or evaluate his level of business acumen and overall knowledge about Talent Management.

But when Joe opened the assessment, he was very surprised.  The first question was: “How many times does 5 go into 20?”  Ok, just a warm-up question, he thought.  Question number two, “How many times can 50 be divided by 10?”  Seriously, he thought?  These are the questions asked to assess the talent for a senior level executive in the company?  And it got even better—at the end of the assessment it stated that the candidate would need to demonstrate how to open Microsoft Word and PowerPoint as part of the evaluation process.  (What, no typing test?)

Joe was interviewing for the head of Talent Management, which included recruiting.  So, when he told the recruiter their talent recruiting policy would be the first thing he would change, Joe was told he was not a good fit for the position.  He agreed and ended his pursuit to work at their firm. The ironic part is that he accepted a similar role with one of their competitors.  Two plus two really does equal stupid!

I’m not saying I’m anti-assessments. I do believe they can be of value when used the right way. However, if you use them the wrong way, most likely you are going to lose talent versus acquiring talent.  My guess is the company Joe interviewed with had one standard assessment and did not take the time to stop and ask themselves if it was appropriate for the type or level of position they were trying to fill. Or maybe they were just too lazy to adjust the assessment based on skills, roles, or level.

The war for talent is well underway, so employers need to focus on how they are perceived and how to attract talent versus administering tests to pass through the door.  I’m pretty sure a senior-level executive can do basic math and open up Microsoft Word— although I’m sure there are some of our readers who may disagree.

I wonder how many professionals he shared this story with that will now run away from this employer? He told me and now I’m telling all of you; fortunately for the employer, I’m withholding their name. So, how do you win the war for talent? Provide meaningful work and develop/grow from within… but that will be a separate post.  To attract the right talent, recruiting teams need to put their sales hats on and sell the opportunity and the company. If you want to lose the war, that’s easy… just give potential candidates a 3rd grade- level math test.

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Dan Carusi
As current Vice President & Chief Learning Officer for Deltek, Dan Carusi doesn’t know which he likes more – teaching or learning.  A father of two, Scout leader and coach, Dan is often learning as much from the kids as they are learning from him (or possibly more).  With more than 20 years of experience, Dan is responsible for overseeing Deltek University and the Talent & Learning organization, where he oversees all aspects of talent management, curriculum development, operations & delivery, global employee & customer education and Human Capital consulting – often using what he learns from the kids as tools for teaching, with the end goal of making life-long learners out of everyone.  Teach Dan something at “email”, LinkedIn or @DanielCarusi.


  1. Jess Newton says:

    Not only are these random assessments a waste of time, they tell you nothing about the candidate and in some cases have been found to be discriminatory. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibit the use of discriminatory employment tests and selection procedures.

    If the test has NOTHING to do with the job that will actually be performed, the test could be found to be discriminatory. As HR professionals, we have to be careful in this area.

  2. Dan, great story to make the point, sadly not uncommon. All employees, especially those with the talent necessary to grow a business – make the decision to “remain with a company” within that first 2-3 days – when an obstacle such as the pre-test in your article is put in front of them – that is meaningless to the role and responsibilities for which they are applying – that potential talent may not even get to the on-boarding phase. Great points, Thanks Al

  3. Cara Carroll says:

    I have taken many assessments in my time looking for positions and a few things that bother me about them are:
    1. Some of the tests given are very…and I mean very time consuming (I would consider anything over 2 hours extreme and some have taken me about that).
    2. Some of them do not allow shortcuts, for example a Word and PowerPoint test. Ya cause this is a good way to test if a candidate is efficient, don’t let them use shortcuts!
    3. Time between someone administering the test and due date can be very short especially if you are like me and have a job. I once was given 6, yea you heard right SIX, tests that all took me about 1 hour to complete. It took me two evenings to complete all of them, I had to do them after work when I had already sat a computer for 8 hours. And of course I wanted to make sure I did research on the company before the in-person interview. Including the time I spent interviewing I would say I invested about 8 1/2 hours in that opportunity, which I didn’t get chosen for.

    I get that candidates should do a little work, and as a recruiter myself I ask candidates to invest their time. But there is a limit to which making a candidate just through multiple hoops is just plain silly in my opinion. Thanks for the post Dan!

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