This Application Will Self-Destruct in 5 Seconds

Let me start by saying that I have a lot of respect for my I/O psychology colleagues who work in the public sector.  They work under many constraints that the private sector does not and their selection systems face much greater scrutiny.  And they also have to deal with silly rules not necessarily of their making.

For instance, this article outlines how firefighter applications in Los Angeles were screened based on how close to the 8am opening period (not deadline) they were submitted.  Note that only those who passed the written and physical exams could submit the application and they could be sent in via fax, e-mail or in person.  There isn’t a job related reason for this nor were people told that this is how they would be screened.  Management explained that this was an unbiased way to winnow down the number of applicants.

In many situations if you had too many “qualified” applicants you would raise the passing scores on the valid tests or you would interview people on a top down basis by ranked exam (physical + written) scores.  I’m guessing that neither of these was an option as they would lead to adverse impact claims.  But, there would seem to be some other job related way to sort the applications.  Or, gather them all up and choose randomly.  Why have a test (who can get it in first) when people do not know the rules?

While this random way of sorting ordering the applications is fair (in the statistical sense of the word), it does not do much for the reputation of the city’s human resources department.  In a bad economy that is not much of an issue.  But, when things turn around (and they always do), then how will their reputation affect the quality and number of applications (LA’s firefighter process is nuts—I’ll apply with the county or in a neighboring city)?

Of course, all of this controversy will just get elected officials more involved in the hiring process.  Nothing like having unknowledgeable grandstanders making rules to make something better.

For more information on pre-employment testing, skills assessment and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or



Giving the Right Rewards

When providing incentives on job, you are making a couple of implicit assumptions:  That the incentive (money, time off, balloon, etc.) is meaningful to the person receiving it and that it encourages behavior that also helps the business.  So, what’s not to like, especially in sales (more revenue=more money)?

Incentives are good at driving very specific behaviors.  Otherwise, they get complicated and lose their effect.  However, how many jobs truly have performance defined by very few actions?  For instance, when we think of incentives we think of sales.  For a sale to be truly of benefit to the company (obtaining a long-term customer or one who will refer the product/service), many things need to be in place besides the persuasiveness of the sales person, such as (and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):

1)    The product must be in stock or the service available.

2)    The quality of the product/service must meet the customer’s standards.

3)    There must be sufficient product/service support.

4)    Billing/invoicing must be handled correctly.

Any recruiter of sales people will tell you that the “best” ones will chase the position where they can make the most total pay.  As good sales people tend to be very confident, this means they are looking at the highest incentives.

Management needs to consider the business outcomes of providing incentives.  This article contains several different perspectives on incentives and why some companies have scrapped them while others continue paying them.  Interestingly, a lot of the reasons have to do with culture:  both the ones the company has and wants to avoid.

Incentives are more complicated than they sound.  People want to be rewarded for their individual contribution, but there are not many situations where a single person’s efforts are the sole reason for a business success.  My advice?  Identify the 1 or 2 things that your company really wants to achieve.  Provide an incentive to all of those who contribute to the overarching goal(s)–which should be everyone at the company. 

Oh, and hire people who have a group success, rather than individual success, mentality.  Also, beware of those who are very extrinsically motivated.  They will always be chasing the bigger paycheck, either with you or someone else.

For more information on employee engagement and pre-employment testing, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or

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