I just read an interesting blog about John Edwards, Pre-employment Tests, and Lying. Dr. Michael Mercer proposes that all Presidential candidates "should take a personality-based pre-employment test. Then, everyone would know what each presidential candidate really is like, rather than the slick persona they present to the American electorate … a personality-based pre-employment test can catch a job applicant lying on the hiring evaluation, so tests can catch lying politicians."
While I’m a huge proponent of pre-employment testing, I’m also wondering if a few innocents might be condemned based on misinterpretation of the assessments. While Dr. Mercer didn’t specify which assessments he might use, I’d like to walk you through what is going through my mind.
Assessments like SELECT and Candid Clues are often called honesty and integrity tests. For obvious reasons these assessments would be considered top choices to test candidates. In fact, one of the scales on Candid Clues is even called "honesty." How cool is that? If the candidate flags honesty, everyone could know!
The problem with using an "honesty" test is the reliability. Our research finds them very predictive for hourly and entry-level positions but not so much for experienced workers and professional positions. Why? Because the more educated and experienced candidates have a tendency to read too much into every question. As a result, the response patterns become a bit erratic and the results are less reliable.
Another option I’d propose would be that each candidate complete an assessment like Prevue or ASSESS. These tools are based on the five-factor personality model. While you couldn’t predict honesty (or tendency to lie), you can very accurately predict how far a candidate is willing to "push the envelope."
But pushing the envelope isn’t illegal, immoral, or unethical. In fact, strategies like innovation require a willingness to push the envelope. But that doesn’t make innovators liars and thieves. The pre-employment test nevertheless would help voters understande how the candidates approach decision-making and problem solving – and that could be a very good thing in helping voters decide who the best candidate might be: will they tend to stick to tradition, customs and rules or would they be willing to think outside the box? Would they be willing to challenge authority and stand up for what they believe is right even if it meant losing votes?
Another assessment that might provide clues to what makes the candidates tick is Business Values and Motivators. One scale in particular is called Power & Authority. When P&A is the strongest value, it means the individual candidate is out to control his own destiny. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to control your destiny. But when push comes to shove, how far would the candidate go to protect his own hide vs. doing what’s right? (Hmmm – any bets on John Edwards being high Power & Authority?)
Another value is Social. Individuals who have a strong Social value get the most satisfaction when others benefit from their actions. Isn’t this the message politicians speak? Well, by "testing" what they value, it might be possible to check if they are walking the talk.
Is pre-employment testing a viable option for detecting candidates who lie? At best the answer is possibly. But can leadership assessments help the public understand how the candidates approach difficult decisions and complex problems? Absolutely.