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Say NO to tests prior to an interview

In the March 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains about investing time in employment tests before the employer invests time in an interview.

Question

I applied for a Senior Director position with a large healthcare software company. I was “selected” by HR to begin the recruitment process, which starts with “assessment tests” such as aptitude and personality tests. The largely canned e-mail they sent me states that I should block off two hours to complete these examinations, and I was provided with a link and logon information to the assessment website. Mind you, I still have not talked with the hiring manager.

no-to-testsI don’t really have two hours to perform these silly tasks, though the job itself does sound challenging from the description provided. Is there anything I can do to bypass this process, or should I just run and hide from this firm? How can I be sure the third party contracted to perform the assessment isn’t selling or trading my information with other employers without my knowledge? Thanks very much, I am a big fan of your blog.

Nick’s Reply

Glad you enjoy the blog — thanks for your kind words.

My approach to situations like this is not to say no. It’s to set terms you are comfortable with, and then let the employer say yes or no. If your terms are prudent and reasonable, and they say no, then you know something funky is up — and that you’ve really lost nothing in the bargain. You merely avoided wasting your time.

But I don’t think it bodes well when a company wants you to do tricks to get an interview, so you’re justified to be concerned. What I’m about to suggest will likely result in your being rejected from further consideration by this company.

  • I’d tell HR you’d be happy to comply with their request, but your busy schedule precludes you from filling out forms and going through administrative processing (tests) until you and the manager “establish good reasons to pursue the possibility of working together.” In other words…
  • No testing prior to meeting the hiring manager. Why invest your valuable time if they won’t invest theirs?
  • No testing with third-party firms unless they provide in writing (a) a disclosure that defines who will have access to your results, (b) a confidentiality statement (signed by the testing firm and the employer) stating that they will not disclose your results to anyone without your express written permission, (c) credentials of the test administrators and those who will score and interpret the results, and (d) written assurance that they will provide you with results and interpretation of your tests.

The last word about why pre-employment tests should concern you is this article by Dr. Erica Klein: An Insider’s Biggest Beefs With Employment Testing.

Now let’s get down to business. You’re interested in the job you read about, so pursue it on your own terms.

I’d contact the office of the person you’d be reporting to if hired. (See Should I accept HR’s rejection letter? for some tips.) I’d politely explain that you’re glad the company wants to interview you, and that you’d be happy to come in to meet and talk. If you mutually decide to continue discussions about a job, you’d be happy to take tests and suffer through the HR gauntlet.

How to Say It
“I get a lot of requests to do such tests but I judge how serious an employer is about me as a candidate by whether they will invest the time to meet me first. I always go the extra mile for a company that demonstrates that level of interest. In fact, if you have time to meet, I’ll be glad to prepare a plan for how I’d do the job — and we can discuss it.”

I’m sure you get the idea. The point is to say this to the hiring manager — not to HR. If you need help with that last part, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire, particularly the sections, “How can I demonstrate my value?” and “Are you an A or B candidate?”, pp. 8-11. I think that offering to arrive with a business plan in hand will reveal whether the manager is on the ball. How could any good manager not be intrigued?

As you’ve already surmised, the odds are extremely high that the HR department really doesn’t know whether you are a viable candidate. They’d rather spend money on tests to filter you in or out, than spend the hiring manager’s time to interview you to make a judgment. So, I don’t think you have much to lose. At this juncture, you’re probably not a serious contender. If you were, they’d handle you with kid gloves and they’d be seducing you rather than harassing you.

Of course, the tests might be useful, interesting and valid tools to judge your skills. After you talk with the manager.

Your last concern is valid. Those third-party testing companies invariably own your results. The papers you sign usually give them the right to share your results with anyone they want to, including some other company that obtains your resume — and looks up your test results because it’s already the testing firm’s client. You could get rejected without ever knowing why.

Be careful. Use your judgment. Be polite, be professional, but don’t be a sucker. Expect the kind of professional treatment and consideration that you give others.

Have employment tests taken the place of screening interviews? Is this just another way to save HR time? More important — does this extreme testing practice waste your time or help you get interviews?

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56 Comments
  1. Nick, my favorite line in your post is this one: “At this juncture, you’re probably not a serious contender. If you were, they’d handle you with kid gloves and they’d be seducing you rather than harassing you.”

    Given that a candidate is likely not a “serious candidate,” if the job seems attractive, the candidate should probably go the extra mile to go from the not-so-serious to serious bucket.

    However, taking a faceless and potentially arbitrary third-party personality assessment is not what I would call the extra mile. Instead, I don’t think it’s wrong for the candidate to audition for a role — it should probably be something more meaningful.

    For example, if it’s a senior director of sales role, I’d think it’d be valuable to the hiring manager to get a list of prospects that the company is not targeting, prioritized by importance, with a concrete recommendation on how to approach that prospect.

    That’s probably how I’d go the extra mile to make that killer first impression.

    – Lewis @ ImapctInterview.com

  2. It’s disturbing that a Senior level hire would follow such practices. The good news is it should be very easy to ascertain the reporting structure of boss and colleagues. This is one function where LinkedIn excels.

  3. I was recently recruited by a large consulting firm in another city. I had a very useful phone conversation with a senior associate (the hiring manager)and was offered an interview. I accepted their offer and simply asked for a week’s notice in order to take the time off and fly down.

    Rather than do this, they just inundated me with an extraordinarily in depth series of online applications (things that the ATS asked me to block off hours to fill in online forms) and a background check similar to what the State Department and Pentagon would use.

    I told them that I would take care of paperwork once they schedule an in interview date so I can arrange logistics (the hiring manager had offered to fly me down for free and put me up in a hotel).

    They kept on blowing me off (not responding for weeks at a time), and then got back to me, offering me an interview time around 18 hours in advance.

    They responded by asking me to go through a few more HR phone screens (I had already gone through two of these, in addition to speaking with the hiring manager.)

    I politely told them that while I had a great conversation with the hiring manager and was interested in the position, I would still need the week’s notice to head out of town for the in-person interview.

    Thankfully, I never heard from them again.

  4. NB: story edit:

    The additional phone screen offers came AFTER I declined the next day interview.

  5. Thank you for this article! I can’t count the number of personality tests or mathematical tests I have taken recently. This seems to be part of the online gauntlet companies like to make candidates run through.
    In one case I went through all the testing and had a friend working for the company waiting for my resume. I filled out everything first thing in the morning and about mid-day he called me to see why I had not sent in my information. Long story short – an HR staffer in another state thought I was overqualified and kicked out my application before my friend could get to it. I should add that he gets into the office at 6am every day. The modern day screening process is an absolute time succubus for all of those involved.

  6. A large hospital chain in a major midwestern city inflicted on me a two-hour test that included simple calculation exercises on how many pencils needed to be ordered for the supply cabinet!

    It also had a word association test that went like this – I’d rather eat pineapple or go to a parade – pick one.

    in my view the tests were absurd and had nothing to do with my ability to manage large IT hardware projects. I think the tests may have an element of smoking out people who might be a poor cultural fit whatever that means.

    HR did not respond to me efforts to speak with the hiring manager.

    It left a permanent negative impression. I later learned the IT dept has a button down culture which would not have been a good fit for me, but I do wonder what happens to all those pencils?

  7. I recently interviewed for an HR Mgr position with a local distributor in my area, I met with the hiring manager, and met with the EVP, prior to meeting with the EVP, I was notified by the current HR Manager that I would have to complete an “employment questionnaire” that is typically given to prospective managers, and it would be sent to me by a third party consultant. I did not receive the questionnaire prior to meeting the EVP, so I had to complete the ” employment questionnaire ” while I was in the office. It turned out to be a personality & mathemtical assessment test not an ” employment questionnaire” this assessment was 6 parts and it took me 90 minutes to complete. I honestly have to say that I was truly disgusted when I saw that it was an assessment test, and was about to walk out but didn’t because I need a job. After I completed the assessment I met with the CFO who is the hiring manager, and he was unaware that it was a 6 part test, in fact he had never seen the contents of the test or what it entailed, which floored me when I heard him say it to me. Most of the candidates that have taken this assessment have done it from home so had the time to complete it in a comfortable setting. I had to complete it in a conference room, using a wide screen computer screen mounted on the wall. I gave my opinion to the CFO about the assessment, and told him that I did not think it was an appropriates test for that company culture, he said he would be looking into it. I don’t know if that hurt my chances or not but I just had to say it. I’ve been in Human Resources for 15+ years and know what are the types of recruitment tools to use based on the company culture.

  8. Could not agree with you more. Testing before a meeting or asking for additional personal information on any level is inappropriate. I actually don’t agree with any testing (unless specific to job…writing, developing software, etc) as I don’t see the value. Appropriate interviewing, understanding of accomplishments versus role being filled, along with proper professional testimonials and honest disclosure of areas that one is less enthused/inclined, should be all that is needed.

  9. These tests are nothing more than CYA stuff to reject people. I once interviewed with a company, and I had some great discussions with the people I’d have been working with. I even used Nick’s do-the-job technique to great success. One person interviewing me said, “Man, I wish Steve was in today. This is *exactly* the type of solution we need for this problem. He’d love this.”

    In my final interview with the department head, he opened the conversation with a statement that he had a concern about my test results. Some conclusion said I was not a problem solver or something like that. This was based on a 20 minute online test. I could tell the department head didn’t really care for me, and this gave his the perfect excuse to, IMHO, overrule everyone else.

  10. I agree with the blog post and all of the comments so far.

    On paper, testing could be a good thing. However, it seems like testing has been perverted much like online job boards and applicant tracking systems.

  11. @Lewis: I agree with you on what the extra mile should be, but there’s a bit of salesmanship that goes into getting that manager to see that what the HR department is asking for is just goofy. By offering that “I’ll do HR’s test… if you meet me first,” you’re putting a little bait on the hook.

    @Carl: Your story is a good example of how an employer will badger an applicant, counting on your desperation and compliance. Do you think they’d treat a prospective customer this way? Of course not. You did the right thing, though at the time it can be difficult to walk away from an “opportunity.” This wasn’t an opportunity. It was an over-bearing employer that’s accustomed to acting like a bully.

    @Anna Mouse: No matter how many such stories I read, I’m amazed. Top management has NO idea how many good candidates are casually rejected by HR. Time suck, indeed!

    @Mayor Bongo: HR routinely kills a company’s reputation, and gets paid to do it.

    @Joanne: Thanks for the view from HR. Think about it – the CFO has no idea how applicants are treated by HR. Then the CFO basically ignores the problem where you are concerned. Who cares? There are millions of unemployed applicants waiting to take your place – AND THAT CFO IS WILLING TO REVIEW EVERY SINGLE ONE. Dope.

  12. This reminds me of the good old days when the interviewer would take out a sheet of paper and intone “we ask all candidates the same questions”.

    IMHO it doesn’t matter if it is personality, math, problem solving, technical or a Rorschach test: If you ask everyone the same questions, you are largely going to get the same answers. If it is so unimportant that it can be fobbed off to a 3rd party (who will own the results), it is justified how?

    You really don’t know what a candidate is capable of until he or she on the job for a while after acclimating, and you can see the results. (Unless it is a vet that has not yet civilianized the resume. In that case, you do have it in black and white.) Same with whether they is a “good fit”. I’m not even sure you can accurately test for “good fit”.

    Regarding resumes, I saw a resume on a license plate bracket today: Alumni University of Mogadishu. You really don’t have to ask about what you are getting there.

  13. To me a good acid test of most of these pre-employment test would be to have ALL of the current employees take the test and see which ones should not have been hired. If the results indicate that some good people (based on recent review results) should never have been hired, the the test is garbage and should not be used. Oh, and ALL of HR (all the way to the top) should be tested. I suspect most of HR would no longer be fans of this waste of time and insult. I don’t believe in silly legislation, but maybe it should be law that a company cannot “discriminate” against potential employees unless it has submitted current employees to the same treatment and evaluated everyone equally.

    By the way, I used to be a Software Development Manager. I took great pride in sifting through stacks of resume’s and interviewing candidates. In the last 10 or so years, I started seeing the trend of lazy managers. They relied on HR or 3rd party recruiters to get them candidates and then complained when they didn’t have good people. I asked them what they thought their job was and usually got the deer-in-the-headlight stare. Totally clueless. HR recruiting/hiring practices are ruining most businesses. I’m now a self-employed freelancer and loving it.

  14. PS – Forgot to say in my last post. Someone from a local employer sent me a test out of the blue and in the email said “thank you for your interest in us.” Of course, I did not apply to this place. I have no interest in their work/positions at this point in my career. Someone did call me to touch base – and they did confirm my suspicions. It was for a simple $13/hr job and they put people through the ringer to get these positions. Of course, I thanked the woman and said I was not interested because it would be like taking a step back, and I already make that salary several times over.

    @Kevin C Smallwood

    “In the last 10 or so years, I started seeing the trend of lazy managers. They relied on HR or 3rd party recruiters to get them candidates and then complained when they didn’t have good people. I asked them what they thought their job was and usually got the deer-in-the-headlight stare.”

    I agree with this 110% I would also say that the assumptions made about people who do not fit into their box is equally as concerning.

  15. It seems to me that the use of a 3rd party to provide information on candidates would trigger the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act which require an employer to first get the candidate’s written permission and notify candidates if an adverse hiring decision is planned based on anything provided by the 3rd party. The notification must also include what the information is and its source as well as provide the candidate reasonable time to dispute any information. If the adverse decision is made final, the candidate must be notified in writing of that fact.

    A number of large employers, Publix and Dollar General to name 2, have recently lost class suits over violations of the FCRA. In October last year Linkedin was sued over allegations that its Reference Search service also violated the FCRA because LI (a 3rd party) was providing information to potential employers without first obtaining the candidates permission.

  16. Don’t mind me, I just forgot to check ‘Notify me of followup comments via e-mail’ box. Nick, for forgetful old farts like me, you should check that by default.

  17. I wonder if these stupid tests are a result of HR wanting to screen candidates while not having a clue about how to evaluate their qualifications. A standardized test makes it seem very scientific while not getting a hiring manager or the peers of the candidate involved. I do software, and there is no test that would be useful in evaluating a candidate. I’ll take graduation from a good university and an in-depth interview going over the work they’ve done.
    Our HR doesn’t even pretend to know what we do, and so are helpful instead of hurtful.

    • Even the “good university” part isn’t of much value to be honest. All I need to know is what kind of experience you have, and for me to talk to your prior bosses to know what type of worker you are. A person can graduate from Harvard and still suck at their job and not be able to get along with people.

  18. I have a suggestion. I have taken a number of aptitude/personality tests; two within the last five years. The results on all tests have pretty much been the same. So, if I am ever asked to take an aptitude/personality test, I can offer the results from one of the two last tests that I took.

    I also want to put in a plug for the last aptitude/personality test I took. The site is: http://www.pathfinderscareerdesign.com. You take the test on your own. The results are tabulated and then a matrix of career options is generated specifically for your aptitudes and personality. It is the best program I have encountered so far.

  19. Despite your advice, my initial reaction would be to refuse any testing unless very limited, hedged with specific consent and well into the interview process. Here is why.

    I had a horrible interview/testing experience which is difficult to forget, with a large healthcare (rehab/LTC care, mainly Medicaid) non-profit in the Bronx some years back. They were seeking to reorganize their marketing department from the top down and I was recommended in through contacts for one of the more senior positions as a marketer with healthcare experience and knowledgeable on older adult/disabled issues plus long-term care.

    After the first interview with the head of HR (!) and the (soon retiring) division head, I was told by him that in the next round, I should block out about four hours, and oh, by the way, I’d be ‘taking some aptitude tests’, the first of which I’d take before the interview. It was a Myers-Briggs, which I had taken before, so no red flags, but I was beginning to wonder what this had to do with the job. I was then told, right before the interview, that I would go through a screening with a psychologist. THAT raised a red flag.

    I was interviewed in the same conference room as before, and learned that the psychologist was specially flown in from Minneapolis (now this is NYC, not exactly a place where they’re scarce). The room was hot, and I was dressed warmly because it was the middle of winter. I was warm, but didn’t take off my jacket. The psychologist then started off with my family background, my childhood, then segued into my high school ‘challenges’. Then he asked about my dating patterns and relationships. I stopped, and asked him how this was relevant to the position. I was ordered–yes ordered, to answer the question. I kept it short and vague. Then college. Then my first job. By the time we got to ‘modern times’, the minute I started to talk about how my experience would be a fit for the position, he raised his voice and said ‘Tell me the 10,000 foot view’ to which I said,’I’m giving you that’. ‘Well, hurry up’.

    By this time the room was brutally hot, I was damp, there was an odor which emanated from the psychologist, and I was between queasy and furious. I thought about leaving, but I wasn’t working and of course I needed the job. He closed the interview and I mentioned that he didn’t ask me many questions about work. I got silence and a dirty look in return. His next move was to throw some more abstract skill quizzes at me that were timed, grabbing most of them away before I was finished. He then moved me to another office across the hall where I took on a PC the California Personality Inventory, a decriminalized version of the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Multiple, repetitive questions on my honesty (‘It’s OK to steal if everyone else does’), socialization (‘I like parties’) and stuff like ‘I don’t mind being told what to do’ and ‘People expect too much of me’ which are impossible to answer correctly. I finished, wandered out into the hall, I heard another person being grilled behind the closed door of the conference room, no one was around to check on me or escort me out, which was not exactly courteous or great security in a care facility. I took my coat and brief, and left.

    I ran into my contact in the lobby and told her of my experience, but kept it casual. She told me that they were introduced by the HR VP and that they were ‘very good’ for hiring. In fact, she had taken one of the tests herself, though she was onboard well before the testing routine started. She thought it was great. I left quickly, shaking my head.

    Naturally, you get down on yourself and think you did wrong. Fortunately, I had support to tell me otherwise. My brother (a psychiatrist) told me I was in a classic stress interview, complete with hot room–and a friend who interviewed with the FBI and DEA was amazed at the similarity to his interviews. Both wondered–what was the purpose of this for a marketing position? Not exactly high security or patient contact….

    No, I didn’t get the job, not even a rejection note. I learned they paid an executive recruiter to hire a high powered marketer to be the CMO, out of one of the major investment banks (!) She’s still there. I wonder if she had to take all those tests. And I wonder how the HR guy (now an SVP!) could justify flying in a psychologist. The organization had many other issues, including financial, which I learned of only much later.

    Whatever its purpose was, they botched getting a high quality marketer on board who understood their problems, their customer base and was aligned to their mission.
    .

  20. @L.T.: “If you ask everyone the same questions, you are largely going to get the same answers.”

    You have exposed the fatal flaw in HR’s #1 rule: Be fair. HR argues that by asking everyone the same questions, we make interviews fair and unbiased. Yet the employer wants an unfair advantage and edge over its competition by having unique, exemplary, incredible products and services.

    Unbiased interviewing. The point is to be incredibly biased – toward the unique, exemplary, incredible candidate. Asking the same questions of everyone doesn’t get us there.

    Before anyone pounces, this has nothing to do with bias against the stuff that it’s illegal to be biased about.

    @Kevin C Smallwood: What a great way to open up new positions and to improve a company’s prospects! Use the test to weed out those who don’t pass!

    “To me a good acid test of most of these pre-employment test would be to have ALL of the current employees take the test and see which ones should not have been hired.”

    (I can’t wait for the employer who says this isn’t the point. Hey, if your test is good enough to weed out the poor suckers who interview with you, it should be good enuf for your employees.)

    “I started seeing the trend of lazy managers. They relied on HR or 3rd party recruiters to get them candidates and then complained when they didn’t have good people. I asked them what they thought their job was and usually got the deer-in-the-headlight stare.”

    See http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs41managersjob1.htm

    You made my day, Kevin.

    @Chris Walker: RE setting the default option ON to notify you of new comments via e-mail, I don’t think every visitor to this blog would appreciate that! But thanks for the endorsement!

    @Scott: “I wonder if these stupid tests are a result of HR wanting to screen candidates while not having a clue about how to evaluate their qualifications.”

    Bingo. This is all about CYA for HR. But think about it. How can a personnel jockey screen an engineer who designs circuits for computer chips, or a marketer who develops complex digital campaigns? They can’t. So they load on the “indirect assessment tools” and call it a day. How else could HR filter the millions of applications they solicit blindly on job boards? Meanwhile, hiring managers and applicants all get screwed out of potentially good matches. Engineers refer to this as a false negative signal. But HR doesn’t know that.

  21. @Nick

    Back when my father worked for Harnischfeger Corporation in the 1950’s, it was the Payroll and Benefits Department, not HR. Their job was to (a) make sure that you got the correct amount in your pay envelope on Friday, and (b) your insurance and pension were administrated correctly.

    You know the rest …

  22. @Dee: That is a terrible experience and thank you for that detailed report! The very first piece, where you took the MBTI is informative. Even though you were comfortable with that test, that test is specifically NOT VALID for employee selection. The vendor states this very clearly. So right from the beginning this employer was using terrible testing practices. The MBTI is not useful for predicting successful job performance of job candidates.

    I think this helps illustrate another point I make in my Get the Edge book on employment tests – it is not easy to tell from the look of a test whether it is actually valid for predicting job performance.

    I’m sorry you had that bad experience which obviously went seriously downhill from the MBTI to that awful hot room interrogation.
    Erica Klein PhD

  23. Here’s what happened to me.
    – Successful phone screen with internal recruiter for an IT project management role in an IT managed service and consulting firm. At the time I was an experienced, senior PM.
    – Scheduled for onsite interviews for 4 hours.
    – After meeting with HR recruiter, she walked me down a hall and into a room with a desk and computer.
    – She said you have 30 minutes to complete the test on this computer. No warning, no request; without really coming right out and saying so it was, “before you meet or speak with anyone else, you have to do this.” Felt stunned and totally blindsided but didn’t want to be perceived as uncooperative.
    – Test was simple math, language and other basic skills.
    – I passed (I’m not sure what would have happened if I would have declined OR failed).
    – I went on to interview with 3 members of the management team the same day.
    – 4+ weeks later I was made an offer. Worked there for 4 months and hated every moment.

  24. @ Erica Thanks. MB is used quite a bit in career aptitude testing so of course HR types think it’s useful for job screening!

    Among aviators, there’s a saying that something (anything from a meeting to a marriage to a party)’started at a low level and augered in from there’. While this may not be the most tasteful remark after the disaster of LH/Germanwings 9525, as a description of the whole megillah–it works. With what I found out later, retroactively I dodged a bullet. But it was still a bummer and a cautionary tale.

  25. WOW – Just when I thought HR couldn’t get any more useless/lazier by failing to simply read applications, they’ve added another layer to avoid thinking w/automated psych tests. Once again, they are actively contributing to their own demise as no humans are required.

  26. Does anyone remember the test where one is asked to describe himself/herself by making multiple selections from a long list of adjectives containing many synonyms?

  27. Omar, I took a similar test online back months ago from an employer about describing yourself that I needed to complete after my second face to face interview with not only HR but the hiring manager. I was there onsite for 2 interviews already. He liked me so much he told me to come back the following week and that I would be interviewed by him again as well as their CEO. The next day I received a request to take online tests from him with links to the tests. Once of the tests was about what would I do in a specific situation with 3 answers and I am to chose one. There was over 100 questions! They asked the same questions in a different way and the 3 same answers were listed over and over again to see if you are consistent in your answers. I also took a personality test/culture test. It took over 4 hours to complete online.

    The only reason I took the tests was because I was told the CEO wanted to interview me face to face and that if I wanted to make it to the 3rd round, it was required I complete the tests.

    I had a great interview with the hiring manager and their CEO which took over 6 hours. I was never offered lunch or even a glass of water. I got up and went into their break room and poured myself a glass of water and they asked me why I did that!

    I was then called 3 weeks later for yet another face to face interview, this time the hiring manager wanted to meet me after work for drinks. I told him that was inappropriate and that unless he would meet me in his office or we can meet for lunch and was ready to make an offer, then I decline. He laughed over the phone and then said he was kidding! I said why are you kidding? He said he wanted to see what I said to his having drinks after work to get to know me better. I told him I don’t think his wife would like what he told me. I told him I am no longer interested in the job and hung up on him. He later reached out by email asking me to come in for a 4th interview with him. I never answered his email.

  28. @ Donna When you don’t think it can get any worse, there’s another Tale of Candidate Torture! You were absolutely right to do what you did. But I will disagree on some of your takeaway.
    **Four hours of tests–absurd. The repetitive one sounds to me like the CPI.
    **A meeting with only two people shouldn’t take six hours. (Multiple people or a plant tour–yes) That was your second red flag. The CEO of the company shouldn’t have that much time to spend with you, unless you are C-level or going to be a partner! What this sounds like to me is that they were pumping you for information or (drum roll) free work.
    **Not offering you some kind of refreshment during 6 hours of –and in fact, at the start and during the meeting–is an unmistakable red flag. Ole! It’s also one of my favorite clues to how a company treats people. The fact that they questioned why you took a break is indicative in exclamation points, but rather than going to the break room, I would have asked for that water to be brought in. You didn’t mention it, but in six hours you probably also needed to use other facilities. Were you given a break to do so?
    **And the last–this hiring manager was an idiot and inappropriate. His little test proved it. The wife rejoinder…eh, a little personal. Say you’re not available for drinks, but you’d be happy at this stage to discuss an offer over lunch. If he can’t confirm ‘offer’ say thanks, I’ve invested enough time, and if we are not talking offer at this stage, I am moving on.

    You definitely dodged a bullet with this. In your recon of the company, did you turn this up or was this an utter surprise?

  29. @Dee, I was unemployed at the time and only went through their monkey tests so I can use their offer for employment as leverage against another company I was interviewing with. It got out of hand as I was not expecting after 2 face to face interviews I would have to complete tests. They never stated the tests would take 4 hours. What I should have done was to not take the tests. I know that now.

    I realized they never intended to make me an offer or anyone an offer. In fact, they still have not hired anyone in that position which was for a VP of Sales position and this is 4 months later after I interviewed there.

    I was given restroom breaks, actually I had to ask to use the restroom. Yes so many red flags. He showed me photos of his wife and small children when we went into his office for another part of the interview. So when I got the call from him stating he wanted to get to know me personally after work to meet for drinks, my radar went up. I did ask to meet for lunch or during the day and he said no. I then asked him if he would be extending an offer and again he said no. That’s when I told him it was inappropriate and mentioned his wife. He got flirty on the phone so I told him I am not interested in working for him and hung up. He kept sending me emails to meet after that. It was a complete surprise to me as there was nothing in my research of the company that showed red flags about how they hire people.

  30. Donna, thanks for the additional background. Unbelievable today, and for a VP Sales position. You played it as you saw it. It didn’t seem so at the time, but you were lucky this hiring manager was so blatant in coming on to you–imagine if they offered, you negotiated, accepted and then it happened. And if it happened to you, it would happen to other women as well. I hope you got the other offer, and were happy.

    The upset and yes, anger we feel after being harassed, discriminated against or abused remains with us. At best, we stiffen our backbone.

  31. I recently met with the VP Marketing at a large non-profit, for a mid-level marketing position. I had sent a resume and cover to him through a good contact within the organization, who brought me in for a tour and we “dropped in” on the VP while I was there, and the three of us spent over an hour together. I like my chances based on his comments and feedback. He mentioned that his HR people “like to feel involved” in the process, and to let him know immediately when I had made a formal application online so he could them follow up on his end.

    15 minutes after I hit “enter” on the online application, HR calls me for a screening interview, which takes over an hour. This must have gone well, for I next got a link sent to me for a one-way VIDEO INTERVIEW.

    I did some digging and found some info on the company providing the service. Seems the main rationale they use to pitch HR clients is this “saves the cost of flying in candidates. Well, I am in the same city, and am literally 7 minutes away by car from their office…AND I’ve already interviewed with the hiring manager.

    I’ve spent most of the afternoon rigging lights (“to eliminate any harsh shadows and hanging a sheet for a “non-distracting background.” While I don’t have the actual questions in advance, the company does offer a free “practice test” (had to discover this on my own) that includes the standard “tell me about yourself” “what are your strengths, etc.” While those are softball questions, the company, in their advice to HR managers, says to “throw in a tough unexpected question to see how the candidate thinks on his or her feet.” The questions appear on a slide, then there is a 5-second countdown, and the candidate then has 90 seconds to deliver an answer. The entire interview is recorded blind and forwarded on to HR. Since the job requires appearing on camera for PR purposes, I’m taking care to make this come off as best as I can.

    To me this is worse than the personality tests…I haven’t done much of this lately, and it seems like I’m coming off like Ron Burgundy.

    The icing on the cake was that HR sent me the link on the eve of a 3-day holiday and we were heading out of town – at the bottom f the message it said the interview had to be completed within 48 hours. I called to get an extension, but the HR contact had just left for the holiday, and wasn’t due back until the following Wednesday. Really irritated over this!

  32. Eric–sounds like HireVue which Nick wrote up last fall…

    http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/7537/hr-pornography-interview-videos

    Not only is it sheer screaming stupidity, but also what they do with the recording. Do they destroy it or sell it to others? Where HireVue makes their money is candidate analytics–in other words, by recording it, you just gave them permanent access to not only your recording, but also the kind of candidate you are, which can be sold to other companies. (Read my analysis in comments)

    And the sheer balls of a 48 hour window–stunning!

    Next time, refuse. Tell the hiring manager you’re being put through this. And you’re not doing it. A good indicator of his intestinal fortitude.

  33. I received a call yesterday from a headhunter about a job as stated by the recruiter…”I would be perfect for” and I was curious to know more about the job. He then went on to say I first must perform a 5 question online video interview that I must complete within 48 hours.

    I told him “No I don’t do video interviews.” (I learned my lesson from doing 2 of them in the past) He then went on to tell me it is required and that they do this for all candidates they present. I told him well this candidate won’t be performing a video interview. He told me then you can’t move on to the next phase of being presented to the company. I told him well then I am not interested. I am disappointed to hear that this large well known headhunter has turned to video profiling of candidates.

  34. While everyone must set his or her own boundaries, if you don’t do video interviews you will find yourself excluded from more and more opportunities. This mode is become increasingly popular for screening as well as for testing.
    Best wishes to everyone in jobsearch!
    Erica Klein PhD

  35. @Erica: Are u invested in this technology?

  36. Sorry Erica, here’s where candidates have to take a stand and just say NO.

    If you are in town or a reasonable travel distance, there is NO reason to do a video interview ESPECIALLY with technology like HireVue where you have no confidence it will not live on in some database or live on the internet. You’re going to work for them in person. Get interviewed in person.

    If the company execs are in another country or distant in the US, they can pay to bring you into a professional grade setup and setting. Everyone looks awful on Skype, TeamViewer or Google+, and frankly they don’t need to see my home. They can pay to book a professional meeting room equipped with Vidyo, Cisco or Polycom. When companies do teleconferences, they set up a room as a mini-studio. Else everyone looks bloody awful.

    If they insist on Skype, tell ’em that your avatar will do the interview.

  37. @Marilyn – fair question! I have ZERO financial interest in any testing or interviewing technology. I have a day job as a testing professional and manager in local government, and my Get the Edge book with Nick on employment testing, that’s it.

    @Dee – No apologies needed and no real disagreement. Those are your boundaries and you get to say. My point is simply that making those choices will, 98% of the time, mean you are opting out of the job opportunity.
    Erica

  38. I would be very interested in stories from anyone who has been successful in converting a video interview invite to an in-person interview invite instead – any success stories of that type?
    Erica Klein PhD

  39. Erica–any time I’ve bent the rule and done the live video interview, it’s been time in my life that I will never get back. If they are local, it’s sheer laziness on HR’s and the HM’s part. What are they going to find out that they would not from a phone conversation? Also it’s an easy way to discriminate on age and appearance. If they are out of town, I’d actually bend a rule and pay for a video conference room myself–but then I’m in an area where they’re easily hired.

    Re HireVue and similar canned systems, are you actually for them?

  40. @Dee, I don’t like a lot about systems like HireVue. I do want to be clear here that they are increasingly popular and likely to be a fact in your job search.

    Employers should be aware of and attentive to applicant reactions to selection processes. Applicants who feel they were treated with respect and were part of a fair and relevant process are less likely to pursue litigation against an employer and are more likely to accept offered jobs and become engaged and productive employees. They are even more likely to be satisfied customers of the employer.

    Job seekers can choose to not participate but increasingly that means there is a smaller subset of job opportunities available to you.

  41. The first testing inflicted on me was in 1995, for a software development position, by a small company in Seattle, before any interview. It was a personality and basic arithmetic/language skills test. For a job that normally requires a computer science degree? It was all perfectly ridiculous, and just as awful as prior comments indicate. At least the company freely offered to shared the results, which I never followed up on since I didn’t care. I never considered asking about the confidentiality of the results, naively assuming that was a given (oops!).

    Reminds me of the dreadful drug testing bandwagon that started about the same time, which is now so standard that they can’t be avoided. Very scary to think this could happen with these godawful tests. Yet despite drug testing being totally ludicrous and useless, hasn’t stopped its near universal adoption. Looks like it may take legislation to curb these practices, similar to what has been done by some states to prevent things like credit scores from being used by employers.

    As for a health outfit administering a stress interview, that is a real head scratcher. But I’ve heard in Europe that graphoanalysis is still used for pre-employment screening! And I remember some applications for US companies in the 1980’s had a box for a handwriting sample, which always puzzled me until I learned what it was actually for! So silly verification practices have always been around, but they are becoming far more intrusive and annoying.

  42. Hello everyone, awesome post! And here we go again – I have an interview today with the two hiring managers and afterwards a basic math (lol) and personality test. I’m going to see how the initial interview goes and then make a decision about the testing.

    The purpose behind personality tests is not to see who you are personality-wise, but to determine consistency. In a hundred question test there are only twenty actual questions, asked a dozen different ways. The tests look for consistency – nothing more. However, (and that’s a BIG Honkin’ However) the tests are USED by managers etc for more than their original purpose. That’s the sticky wicket.

    I mentioned during the interview invitation call that I’ve taken every known test in existence and might I save them time and effort by bringing their brand of test with me? The manager laughed and sheepishly said I would still need to do. At least she has a sense of humor. The thing that cracks me up is that my tests show little difference between ‘public’ and ‘private’ behavior. I’m WYSIWYG!!! But you can’t explain that to hiring managers. So I’ll share – like a kid in the sandbox – that i play well with others, am a “conducting-persuader-ENTJ…” blah blah blah and know that, whatever the results, there is a one in five chance I’ll get the job. Very sad. so sad…

  43. Thanks for this post, Nick, it’s really helpful. Glad I read it, as my suspicions were raised recently. I had applied for a senior level project management position at a bank back in the summer. After about two months, I received an email where they said no thanks (worded with the usual wording). Two months later, I received an email from their HR saying they have other openings, my skills and background are impressive etc. and HR would like to talk to me. During the phone conversation, they said I need to complete online assessments which will be used as a decision point before moving further into the process and interviews. I haven’t even spoken with the hiring manager yet. Don’t know what positions they are thinking about, and strangely they already brought up salary. I took a look at the tests, simple numeric and verbal reasoning as well as work style assessments, and decided I’m not investing my time at this stage in these exercises.

  44. @Satu, if you choose not to take the assessments then you are likely removing yourself from further consideration for the job. Of course, your choice. What is your concern about the assessments, they seem reasonable on the face from the basic description you provided.
    Erica Klein, PhD
    Author of Employment Tests: Get the Edge

    • The concern is, just like Nick stated up above in the opening statement, that I am required to invest my time and effort up-front before even talking to a hiring manager–even before any kind of a consideration for an interview. Not sure what was not clear about that. On top of that, the concern is submitting these pre-interview tests through some 3rd party company who does who knows what with the data. Huge red flags.

  45. The concerning aspects to video taped interviews is many and smacks of pre screening discriminatory practices.

  46. Thank goodness people are speaking more about this new type of screening process. While it is dubbed as being an interview, it is not. It is cold, impersonal, lacks transparency and accountability on the company side. Furthermore, the nature of having a third party provide this service brings up serious considerations. For example, who owns the copyright? Who owns the rights to access? Who stores the video and for how long? I was invited to interview in this manner via #hirevue for three different significant companies: #iorahealth, #pfizer, #unitedhealthcare. Not one of these companies HR contacts that supplied me the information to take the video interview ever replied to my e-mails asking to forgo the method in favor of a phone or in person exchange. I repeatedly e-mailed HR as well as HIREVUE in all cases. I even called HR in one company and no one would speak to me nor ever returned my call.

    Additionally, the prompt to interview permitted me 48 hours from receipt of the invitation to record is all that was allotted. I was not asked tin advance if this was acceptable. One of these “opportunities” was given on a Thursday evening prior to a huge holiday in which I was on a trip with numerous family members.

    What about the fact this is NOT an interview because that requires two people in a mutual exchange? The verbiage surrounding interview skirts the fact that this method is akin to sending out a resume with a photo. Racial, gender, age related bias come to mind. There is NO denial of this potential!!!!!

    To further irritate the issue, these interviews were behavioral interviews which essentially disrespect the candidate through a series of insulting questions. “Why do you want to work here”, “Sell me this pen”….”Why would you be a good fit for this company?”etc. If my resume sparked an interest, why insult my intelligence with such impersonal, degrading questions?

    I copied the agreement I would have to permit in order to take this recorded “interview”. I declined due to the intense terminology and laws under which HIREVUE is protected – yet nothing to protect me as the subject. Why is nobody concerned this recording could enter public domain?

    Here is a huge red flag:

    “HireVue is not an information technology security service provider. While we do employ certain limited physical, managerial, and technical safeguards designed to help improve the integrity and security of our systems and the data stored on our systems, no physical or technical system, process, transmission, or storage mechanism is completely secure or immune from outages, losses, attacks, circumvention, design or implementation flaws, and human error. Therefore, we cannot and do not ensure or warrant that information you transmit to HireVue will not be lost or compromised, either during or after transmission.”

    Here is the full terms and conditions from HV’s webage

    [THE COPY OF THE T&Cs IS TOO LONG SO HAS BEEN REMOVED – IT SHOULD BE AVAILABLE ON THE HIREVUE WEBSITE. -Nick]

  47. By simply making an outright refusal to participate in such pre-employment testing: aren’t we all essentially sabotaging any possible chance; slim though it may be at actually being offered a position?

    For nearly every job for which I have recently applied and interviewed such testing seems to have become S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) from my own perspective it is very difficult not to acquiesce to such a request; particularly when one is “on the outside looking in” as related to being employed. If a job offer were in the offing, I’d jump through a dozen hoops, including a “ring of fire.”

    Encouraging prospective employees not to acquiesce or submit to such testing; from my personal experience only serves to have their candidacies for such positions terminated prior to them even being fully considered.

    If it meant a reasonable job offer at this point in my life I would walk barefoot over smoldering hot coals, if that was the request made to secure such an offer. Sadly, I think that your contention that prospective applicants refuse to participate in such during the hiring process only ensures, assures, even likely guarantees that they will not even be given realistic consideration for such. Such a refusal at this point in the hiring process is tantamount to insubordination and a defiance of authority and institutional norms: that ensures and assures that one adhering to such will not be selected to fill an opening irrespective of their other stellar qualifications.

    Your explicit proposition that prospective employees refuse such during the hiring process; ultimately will only succeed in guaranteeing that they are not selected to fill such an opening.

    While I agree with your premise that such testing is fraught with opportunity for abuse; and that the validity of such is nearly entirely subjective, and questionable; at best: if it is the price of admission to a reasonable job offer being proffered then I would suggest that any applicant simply “suck it up” and do “what needs doing.”

    As someone whom has been searching for that elusive job offer for far too long: loosing hope on a daily basis of one ever being made, I would say that irrespective of their analytical or diagnostic value if it were requested of me to complete one as a condition of being hired and thereafter employed; I would do so instantly. It is difficult enough to move beyond the preliminaries of the hiring process without sabotaging one’s entire efforts by a refusal to accommodate those holding that “Yes or No” authority and power over one’s employment. Not acquiescing to such requests; sound though such advice may actually be: I think that such advice in the context of the current given employment landscape is very ill-advised.

    And while, I agree wholly with your premises and points regarding the fairness, value; and, efficacy; of such pre-employment testing: due to the anomalies. Pragmatism dictates that one is better served by simply acquiescing and adhering to the norms and mores of those holding and yielding that power to say” Yay or Nay to one’s prospective employment. Being overly apprehensive that simply refusing to comply and accept such pre-employment testing only assures that one will remain on the unemployment line; makes me extraordinarily reticent to believe that such advice is not going to significantly adversely affect one’s chances for gaining that ever elusive job offer.

    Respectfully, I submit that if such testing is what it takes to advance one’s employment then just complete that damn test and get back to work. The world already is an unfair biased place; why add an additional roadblock, barrier and obstruction that truly is unnecessary

    • TL:DR

      I submit that if such testing is what it takes to advance one’s employment then just complete that damn test and get back to work.

    • No, we are not. There are good companies out there, find them. The way a company hires says a lot about them. I am against any kind of a pre-interview testing. Just say NO to pre-interview testing.

  48. For me, video recording sessions are a cold way to introduce yourself to a potential employer. First impressions are not well-suited to one sided conversations. I would gladly participate in any hiring tests until the point where recorded video sessions are requested. Depending on the job being interviewed for, I think this is a terrible way to make any sort of impression or create a leadership persona in a new organization.

  49. I recently had a phone interview for a position I was interested in. The recruiter informed me that I would be interviewing with the hiring manager during that phone interview. However, that’s not what happened. I was actually interviewed by the company’s third party HR rep. He turned his report of my phone interview in to the hiring manager, who wanted to move forward in the process by having me take a personality assessment.

    Not gonna happen.

    At this point I haven’t had a single encounter with anyone from the actual company! I’m not desperate for a job so I have the pleasure to pick, choose and refuse. Well im definitely refusing on a company that hasn’t taken the time to even speak to me.

  50. Is HR is getting too big these days that it is not doing companies any favours? I just got off the phone with an HR person of a corporate training firm. We were about to schedule an appointment, and she told me that there would be a test an hour long. Here I was thinking: it would take me over an hour to get there, then I will write a test for another hour before I will get interviewed? Is this necessary? Why can’t we just get to the interview first an if there is a match, we will write the test? I asked her what the test is about and what will it reflect that my resume doesn’t, and she jumped right to how she can’t disclose what it is. I asked if that will be a history test, math test, or writing test, and she said that it would be a little of everything. Combined with how the first person answered my call, the gaudy hold music, and the Hong Kong feel overall – for lack of a better word, I was about to decline when the phone connection got bad, and I could only hear her and not the other way around. I am not going to call them back. Thank you for confirming my instinct, guys!

  51. Honestly, I work in tech sales and if a company hiring manager hAs the time to watch a bunch of self recorded candidate videos than that manager has too much time on their hands and i dont want to work for them. Seriously!

    I understand tests that are relevant but I have had a few pretty ridiculous IQ and math tests for a software sales position.
    They just seemed completely irrelevant as a sales person and thus, a waste of time. If anything, these type of hiring practices are a red flag for me. I dont want to work for a VP of Sales who wastes peoples time with such things.

    • @Mary: Amen to that! I hope some managers are reading this!

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