By Flynn, Gillian
It's going to be painful, but we have to take this walk down memory lane -- this review of old hirings that you optimistically have labeled "learning experiences." First there was Dr. Jeckyll -- (and more importantly, Mr. Hyde): The winning young man who smiled and winked and assured you that of course he was a "people person." Once hired, the new manager proceeded to lay down a reign of terror that would have won even the grudging admiration of Genghis Khan. Your employees still wince slightly at the mention of his name.
Then there was the Night Owl -- The second-shift applicant who said she didn't mind the odd hours at all. "I just get going around midnight," she swore. Two weeks on the late shift and she was in your office, bleary-eyed, apologizing but admitting that she "just wasn't cut out for it." The employee who had to fill in for her still glares his "good mornings" at you.
Oh, and then there was Mary Poppins, the crisp, tidy woman who buzzed into the office, straightening your desk as she answered all your questions with razor-sharp precision -- even the one about her computer skills, which, once she got on the job, actually turned out to be nonexistent. You're still having to tell the other managers the story about The Time Your New Hire Completely Destroyed the Brand New Computer System. And boy does it get funnier with each repetition.
Of course, it's not entirely your fault. Really. Reference checking is no longer a reliable source of information -- it's an art to get anything from a former employer other than an uneasy verification of work dates and salary. And candidates seem to have no qualms with glossing over heir shortcomings and fudging on their accomplishments. Fortunately, there is a way to get objective feedback about a candidate before you extend the job offer. Preemployment testing -- when used with other checks and balances -- can offer a solid guide to hiring so you can cut down on those "learning experiences."
Is the man sitting in front of you really a good typist? He claims a dizzying rate of words per minute and boasts a resume crammed with clerical experience -- but you have only his word on this. Test him. Then you'll have proof. But if you don't want to end up a slave to paperwork, you'll need to have an automated system.
That's exactly what the City of Long Beach Civil Service in California discovered several years ago. With approximately 300 of its 4,500 positions falling in the clerk/typist category, and a turnover of 8% to 10%, the task was a daunting one. Candidates would take a typing test, then staffers in the department would hand score them. Remember the days when you helped grade your teacher's tests? Multiply that by 300 and you have an idea ...) "It was very time consuming," remembers Craig Haines, employment services officer. "It's just a tedious thing to do; we racked up a lot of time."
After exploring its options, the organization selected a typing test created by St. Paul, Minnesota-based Assessment Systems Corp. Now candidates follow instructions on computers, and enter their typing right on the computer keyboard. "We push a few buttons at the end of it, and it gives us their score and where they fall in terms of distribution scores from the groups we've tested," explains Haines.
Several years into the new testing system, Haines says the scoring is more accurate and immediate -- and the department appreciates the extra time computerized scoring has freed for them. "Now we're allowed to do other things with our staff. It's a better use of resources."
Emily Nunn, supervisor of staffing administration services for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, echoes Haines' appreciation of skills testing -- which the company uses for all its clerical candidates. "Anybody can tell you they can do it right, but it's nice to have some proof," explains Nunn. The computerized testing system quizzes candidates over typing, spelling and punctuation. …