Wanted: Child

Sometimes automated job postings turn out some pretty funny results:

Wanted: Child

It’s good that they don’t require any experience, because it seems that most children lack it. I don’t think training is usually required for this kind of job, though. Are there cafeteria benefits, like literally cafeteria benefits? Preschool tuition reimbursement? Can they refuse to hire anyone over 40 by citing a bona fide occupational qualification? And I guess it really does increase productivity if the kids are still in diapers –no bathroom breaks!
Seriously, folks, the jokes write themselves here. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Personnel Testing Council 2005 Fall Conference

As I mentioned last week I attended the annual Fall Conference for the Personnel Testing Council of Southern California. It’s essentially a conference where testing professionals from Southern California get together to network, listen to presentations, and drink coffee. Kind of like SIOP, but smaller, more focussed on testing, and without the spectacle of watching graduate students try to pick each other up at the hotel lobby bar.
I was really impressed with the quality of the presentations, or at least the ones I was able to see. Power Point slides from all of them are available here in one big chunk on the PTC-SC website if you’re interested, and I’ll just hit them one-by-one. You can click on the headers to download that individual presentation.

Test Development and Use: New Twists on Old Questions

by Wayne Cascio
This was a general update piece on three areas that have undergone some changes in recent years:

  • Validity generalization
  • Statistical significance testing
  • Criterion measures
  • Cutoff scores
  • Cross-validation

Cascio is a very polished and engaging speaker and this was a good way to kick off the event. I was particularly interested in the validity generalization part of the presentation, as this is a topic I deal with a lot. Apparently this presentation was based on a Fall 2005 article in Human Resource Management if you’re interested in more detail.

Using Secondary Sources of Data

by Calvin Hoffman
This was more of a case study (actually several case studies) around the common theme of recycling, repurposing, and reusing data from different organizational sources. Hoffman made the good point that many of us are surrounded by data that could be put to perfectly good use in various research programs if we’d only have a minimum of awareness and creativity. There are certainly downsides and limitations, but I get the feeling that Hoffman has gotten quit a bit of good out of data that other people would have ignored.

Test Validation Litigation

by Lisa Borden
This was a very thorough presentation on litigation issues related to test validation, during which Borden walked us through the laborious but pretty much bullet-proof process that she once used for (I think) the Alabama Department of Transportation to develop job minimum qualifications (MQs). The amount of work she described was quite impressive and should make for a good reference point for anyone looking to do a similar project.

California Performance Review

by Karen Coffee
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see this one, but by the description and the power point slide it appears to be about the California government’s immediate future plan for staffing, HR development, and the like. Always good to see these kinds of things laid out with concrete examples from agencies we’re familiar with.

Setting Pass Points

by Shelly Langan
This was probably my favorite presentation of the conference. Langan was a really high-energy speaker that made what could be a boring topic engaging. In this presentation she talked about the process of setting cut scores for tests, focussing heavily on a modified Angoff method. For certain kinds of jobs and tests I think this could be an easy to follow blueprint for setting cut scores. The presentation is easily worth having in your file drawer somewhere if you think you’ll ever be called upon to do this kind of thing.

Competency Modeling & Situational Judgment Interview

This presentation by Marina Mihalevsky, Kristin Olson, and Scott Letourneau started with a wide but fairly thorough view of competency modeling, then went in to a demonstration of the kinds of comptency-based tools that information technology can provide. This was kind of interesting in that it felt like someone had squashed together a master’s thesis literature review and a vendor technology demonstration, and the resulting mixture was not alltogether unpleasant.

“Things I Didn’t Learn in Grad School (But Wish I Had)”

by Malcolm Ree
This presentation immediately got two thumbs and a toe up from me simply by virtue of including references to and images from The Simpsons. In it Ree focused on three important issues that he never learned about in graduate school:

  • The importance of including both sexes in a validation study
  • Weighting variables/tests in a selection system
  • Measurement error

Which makes me kind of happy, since my own graduate school program did indeed hit on the last two directly and the first indirectly. I just wish my professors had spent more time on how to create a weblog related to selection and assessment, because that would have been really handy.

Disparate treatment still exists? You bet.


While I think it would be fanciful to argue that racism in America has been eradicated, what you don’t often see any more is overt racism when it comes to hiring. Not too many companies append “Catholics need not apply” or other malicious and discriminatory phrases to the end of their Monster.com job postings. Instead, discrimination is usually much more subtle when it happens at all. It may very well not even be intentional.
But not always. The Employment Law Bulletin has a story about overt discrimination as recently discovered by the Fifth Circuit Court. The case, Jones v. Robinson Property (5th Cir, October 11, 2005) deals with a Black man, Ralph Jones, who was applying for a job in Mississippi as a casino dealer. Jones is a certified poker dealer with substantial experience in the job.
Yet the casino repeatedly refused to hire Jones as a dealer. The reason? Because, in the alleged words of the defendant in this case, “these good old white boys don’t want black people touching their cards.”
Wow. Maybe I’m just being naive, but that seems pretty outrageous. There are plenty of other things that the people at this casino did, all of which are described in the case. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the EEOC will often consider people to be “applicants” even if they were intimidated or dissuaded from applying for the job because the employer has a reputation for discrimination, which really just compounds their troubles.

U.S. Government defines “Internet applicant”

Quick, answer this: What is an applicant?
This is an important question because in the U.S. there are many federal laws and guidelines around what you have to record and report in terms of applicants in order for the government to track unfair hiring practices, especially if your company does business with the Federal government. But at first this also seems like a simple question. An applicant in the context of HR is someone who applies for a job.
But what about that guy who spammed everyone’s e-mail address with unsolicited resumes? What about the person who has a job-seeker profile on that major job board where you sometimes post openings? Are these people applicants? Now it’s kind of a gray area.
Fortunately, the government is actually working to clear this point up an wipe away some of the gray. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) recently released a ruling that defines an “internet applicant.” Specifically, it’s anyone who satisfies the following conditions:

  1. The individual submits an expression of interest in employment through the Internet or related electronic data technologies;
  2. The contractor considers the individual for employment in a particular position;
  3. The individual’s expression of interest indicates the individual possesses the basic objective qualifications for the position; and
  4. The individual at no point in the contractor’s selection process prior to receiving an offer of employment from the contractor, removes himself or herself from further consideration or otherwise indicates that he or she is no longer interested in the position

So there you have it. The funny thing is, though, that in early 2004 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a statement on exactly the same topic, also in conjunction with the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor. I even wrote about it on my personal website. In the statement, the EEOC said that in order to be considered an applicant in the context of the Internet, the following must have happened:

  1. the employer has acted to fill a particular position;
  2. the individual has followed the employer’s standard procedures for submitting applications; and
  3. the individual has indicated an interest in the particular position.

Now, the EEOC theoretically has wider influence than the OFCCP, since it doesn’t just apply to federal contractors. The requirements are slightly different, and it appears that the EEOC’s are more lenient since they don’t require the applicant to possess “basic objective qualifications for the position” and you don’t loose your applicant status if you drop out of the selection process. I have to admit, though, that I don’t really fully understand the implications of the two rulings from different departments. Will the EEOC adopt the more recent ruling by the OFCCP? Will they remain separate? Which one is “correct” for an employer bound by both?
If anyone knows the answers, please share.

How fluffy words relate to house prices and job offers

I’m currently reading through a book called “Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The authors use economics to explore and explain everyday problems like crime, cheating on standardized testing, and getting parents to pick their kids up from daycare. It’s a great read so far, and a couple of things have really struck me.
The first is how similar economics (at least described in this book) is similar to psychology, particularly when you’re talking about working with archival data. Psychologists may make more use of controlled experiments, but otherwise a lot of the tools are the same –hypothesis testing through data analysis, use of inferential statistics, the general study of human behavior, the study of motivation, and lots of number crunching.
The second thing that struck me was the section on real estate agents and home listings. The authors describe a study that showed how some words and phrases (“marble,” “spacious,” “great neighborhood,” etc.) had significant negative or positive correlations to a home’s sale price. It wasn’t that words like “spacious” were necessarily euphemisms, either. It was just that the realtors who wrote those descriptions only used those words when they had nothing more specific to fall back on. Words like “Marble counter tops” or “remodeled kitchen” sell themselves and realtors want to mention them in the limited space available for home listings. But if a house has no outstanding qualities, the realtor won’t just leave the description blank or make it make it delightfully pithy. She’ll fill the available space with less meaningful fluff like “charming” or “spacious.” And lo and behold, house listings with meaningful and attractive words get more attention and command better prices than vague descriptions full of fluff.
I think you may see where I’m going with this: Does the same thing not happen with resumes for job applicants? How many times have you seen “excellent communicator” or “highly motivated” on a resume or cover letter? Good recruiters learn to ignore those meaningless and vague bullet points. Instead, they look for more concrete words that describe the actual qualifications and experiences they’re looking for. It’s just plain annoying that you have to wade through the fluff to get to the meat, and if no meat is immediately forthcoming the resume may find itself in that round filing drawer underneath the desk.
Somebody must have done research to verify and quantify this kind of thing, though. A cursory search with Google and the American Psychological Association’s PsycARTICLES database don’t turn up any immediate results, but if anyone can point something out, I’d appreciate it. Otherwise, this might make for an excellent little poster or paper. It’d be easy to generate the shell of a study: generate a list of hypothesized keywords, acquire a sample of resumes, count the number of times the keywords appear, and then link them to outcomes like time spent in a job search, starting salary, or even just an objective rating of the resume’s attractiveness.

Local Events Roundup

October is a busy month for several of the local professional organizations I’m involved with. There are a couple of worthwhile events coming up that you should consider if you live in the Southern California area.
First up is the Personnel Testing Council of Southern California’s Fall Conference on October 20th and 21st. It’s a two day extravaganza with a pretty good lineup of speakers, including:

  • Wayne Cascio
  • Cal Hoffman
  • Karen Coffee
  • Lisa Borden
  • Shelly Langan
  • Kristin Olson
  • Scott Letourneau
  • Marina Mihalevsky
  • Malcolm Ree

Click here to download the flyer, and if you can make it there’s more information here. I’ll definitely be doing a follow up post (or posts) on the event, as there looks like there will be plenty there to spark thought and discussion. Also, I’m told that there may be cake. I’m just glad I get to attend for free on account of my being a PTC-SC officer. Whee!
On a smaller scale is another organization in which I also happen to be an officer, the San Diego I/O Professionals, or SDIOP. We’re having our bi-monthly meeting on October 27th, which will include time for schmoozing and a presentation on “Leadership for Inclusion” by Bernardo M. Ferdman of Alliant University. More information is here, and you may notice that it’s going to be held at the Jack in the Box corporate headquarters. I’m hoping that Jack will be there, or that he will at least send burgers.
Really interesting footnote: I designed and coded the websites for both PTC-SC and SDIOP. Okay, that’s a lie –it’s not that interesting a footnote.

How to reject

As many HR, staffing, and hiring folks know, one of the worst parts of the job can be telling applicants that they didn’t get the job. Unless the applicant is a real jerk or something, then you don’t feel bad about it. But most of the time you do.
Years ago when I was conducting assessment centers for a telecommunications company, we’d fill the first half of the day by doing interviews and a series of paper-and-pencil tests. The second half of the day was an elaborate (and expensive) role-play exercise, so if applicants failed the interview and/or tests we’d tell them so and send them home right after lunch. No phone calls, no letters, this was face to face rejection. I had people yell at me, refuse to accept the news, or burst out crying. In fact, one of my fellow assessors almost quit halfway through her first day on the job when she found out that she’d have to sit across from someone and tell them that they failed the morning’s tests and had to go home.
Through it all, we were given or adopted a set of guidelines for giving this kind of feedback and breaking off the employment relationship. It kind of strikes me, though, how much these rules resembled About.com’s rules for ending a romantic relationship. Here’s a comparison:

Romantic Rejection

  1. Say there’s no spark
  2. Say you don’t want to mislead them
  3. Say they’ll find someone new
  4. Don’t be mean or spiteful
  5. Don’t blame them
  6. Say it’s about you
  7. Be firm and clear

Employment Rejection

  1. Say there’s just not a fit
  2. Say that there’s no point in setting them up for failure
  3. Say they’ll find employment elsewhere
  4. Be sympathetic but professional
  5. Don’t dwell on their weaknesses
  6. Say it’s about what the company is looking for
  7. Be unambiguous and direct

Almost eerie, isn’t it?

October Issue of The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

The October issue of TIP (that’s “The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist to those curmudgeons who don’t like your facny acronyms) is out and can be read online for free here. This is, in case you don’t know, essentially the newsletter for SIOP (again, the “Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology” for those who like to take their time about things). Not too much in this issue related to selection and assessment, but there are a couple of articles.
First is Art Gutman’s On the Legal Front column, which provides an excellent summary of Justice O’Connor’s Legacy in EEO Case Law. Gutman discusses the legacy of employment law decisions left by the recently retired U.S. Supreme (which does not mean “with sour cream” in this context) Court Justice. It’s a very detailed and thorough piece, and it highlights how much has happened in the last couple of decades.
Next is Scott Martin’s Around the World column which examines Human Resource Practices in the Czech Republic. Kind of an interesting piece in that it highlights some of the real logistical problems that those of us outside the U.S. don’t often think about:

We don’t have a lot of good options when it comes to employment testing. Many of our tests were developed in the United States and translated for use in the Czech Republic. These instruments are often questioned by local organizations due to the quality of the translations or more significant measurement issues. The tests that have been developed here are generally intended for clinical as opposed to business applications. As a result, employment testing is not well known in the Czech Republic.

I’ve often considered trying to get a column in TIP. It’d be a good way to get my name out there and network with some of the movers in the field. Who knows, maybe I could displace Paul Muchinsky as “The Funny I/O Psychologist?”

The power of context for personality and job performance

The Tipping Point was one of those books that had been on my radar for a long time, but I’d just never gotten around to reading it. It’s often shelved under “Marketing” or maybe “Business” in your local megabookstore, but after reading it I’m not quite sure that’s right. It’s a book about how social, informational, and traditional epidemics gestate and move through groups. Among other things, Gladwell answers questions about why fashion trends happen, why certain children’s television shows succeed, and why teenagers smoke. To explain all this, he sets up a framework involving different kinds of people like Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople. He then explains how other elements come into play, like the power of context and the stickiness of a message.
Gladwell’s chapters on the power of context were particularly interesting, and resonated with me in regards to different kinds of testing. He talks about how environmental queues like graffiti drive behavior like crime. This is a subject that often comes up in regards to personality testing –people’s behavior depends on the situation. Someone can be extroverted, for example, when called for even if she wouldn’t normally be so. And that’s true, I think. But the point that’s being missed here is that acting contrary to nature, while possible, is draining. It takes energy that could be better spent elsewhere. And people who aren’t always extroverted, calm, or conscientious when the job requires it may not always pick up on the environmental queues or decide to act on them.
Where I think that Gladwell’s context effect fits in is with job performance, which is one of I/O Psychology’s dirty little secrets. One of my grad school professors used to love pointing out how every outcome has multiple antecedents. In other words, nothing has just one cause. We love to measure how job performance is caused by certain aptitudes, values, and traits, and it’s true that it often is. But it’s also caused by environmental factors like the person’s manager, resource availability, culture, and reward systems. There are probably terms for these kinds of things, terms that I probably learned at some point and just failed to retain because I had to make room for TV commercial jingles. Something like “proximal” and “distal” effects or something.
Still, we do the best we can, and if that’s good enough then the numbers don’t lie. It’s just another reason to envy those physicists with their .999 correlations and their fancy lab coats.