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  warren@allaboutperformance.biz.