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He got 1%, we can't hire him (codingjohnson.com)
835 points by gringofyx 1429 days ago | hide | past | web | 576 comments | favorite

There is absolutely zero reason why HR/recruiting people should have final say on a candidate. None. It should be inconceivable, at a technical company, to hand over that much hiring power to a non-technical person.

HR people are valuable in a company. But their role is to get resumes in front of the real decision makers, and to take care of all the stuff like W-2 forms and whatnot nobody wants to deal with, not make decisions about who to hire.

It seems weird to me that so many tech companies have adopted this particular Big Corp characteristic, because it's certainly not a universal phenomenon. A tech company is not Wal-Mart. Its hiring process should not be structured like Wal-Mart. People are the lifeblood of a technical company. Tech companies should not therefore look to Big Corps who just hire large amounts of unskilled labor. They should look, instead, at how hiring is done at a consulting company or an investment bank, companies that are also reliant on skilled people as their most important asset. At those places, from your screening interview forward, you are only evaluated by someone on the business side of things. It might be a junior analyst or a senior managing director,[1] but it's someone who does the work that makes the business money. HR's job is to get good candidates in front of those people.

At least in my experience, start-ups and very small tech companies do this right, out of necessity. Where I used to work, interviews would involve talking with a few line engineers, then the VP of Engineering, then briefly the CEO (who was a technical person). I think as companies get bigger, they feel like they need to adopt the Big Corp model. But this start-up model of hiring scales just fine to companies of 500-1,000 technical people if you're willing to create a culture where everyone, especially the top technical leadership, is personally invested in hiring and devotes a reasonable amount of time to evaluating people.

[1] Anecdote: I once had a screening interview conducted by the managing partner of the D.C. office of a major law firm. He flew out to Chicago for a day every year to talk to prospective entry-level candidates.

> their role is to get resumes in front of the real decision makers

I worked for a while for Company A, which was founded by a team that included senior engineers and senior management from larger company B, licensed technology from B, did critical contract work for B, and at one point was supposed to become the primary manufacturer of B's products.

Company A shut down. My resumé went into company B's HR department, never to be heard from again. Eventually I had to pull a string that led to B's senior management. Suddenly an interview process was setup.

I get there, and the first words out of the HR drone's mouth when we sat down, with a deeply confused look on her face, were "What's Company A?". She'd just suffered severe whiplash when a directive from on high had told her that she would be setting up an interview for a candidate she'd ignored. She wasn't new, she'd been there over two years.

Everyone involved in my hiring except her knew what A was, who I was, and why I was there. The interview process was little more than a check for whether I annoyed the hell out of the people I'd have to work with or not. I was being handed to B on a silver platter, a pre-vetted, pre-trained, instantly-productive candidate. The most senior technical person who interviewed me walked into the room, sat down, and said "I really don't have anything to ask you".

If you insist on using recruiters, do not put them in HR. Embed them with the departments they're hiring for, where they might actually learn something about the work the company does and what it needs.

This sounds like a case of bad (Too centralized? Too incompetent?) HR, rather than an issue with having an HR department. You get what you pay for with recruiters, and more broadly HR. If you go to the lowest price resource for Java programming, HR or Accounting, expect to pay the price later.

But you did the right thing too, which is working around HR to get your name at the top of the stack. There isn't anything nefarious about doing this. You're creating your own referral, which is the best source of employees for a company.

"Too centralized" is exactly my point. An "HR department" is a monolithic unit that operates in its own bubble. It doesn't understand what anyone outside its bubble does. It's an inherently poor vehicle for staffing the rest of the company. The people screening resumés should have some meaningful criteria by which to judge them, and it's just impractical when they spend all their time in administrative-land.

At my prior employer I found that I was 10X more efficient than HR at screening resumes, so I would do it after hours rather than trust them. But... This would be inefficient if I were the CEO. And I've worked in situations where the recruiter had done the jobs that they were recruiting for - now that was efficient!

I suppose, HR unit for recruitment belongs to the Taylor's scientific management; where companies were machines and recruitment unit would efficiently find resources to fill the openings. Also, resources were abundant and job openings were scarce, so HR's non-smart screening made some sense.

Now, for the technology world, the valley, or any company where people with unique skills are needed, HR unit struggles to help the company to hire the right people. That's why we hear everywhere rants about HR, recruiters etc. The solution may be to focus on newer tools for hiring or in contrary to focus on pre-modern methods; like leveraging your existing connections, using conferences, hiring competitors etc.

From a skills perspective HR maybe struggling, but recruitment is more than finding the right skills. It includes background checking, psychological screening, screening for fitness to corporate culture etc. I don't claim all HR are more skilled than everyone here, but most of non-HR people are not experts in all aspects of recruitment neither.

Background checks are contracted out to third parties, psychological screening is nonsensical and discriminatory, and HR has not the first clue what corporate culture is like outside their bubble.

> their role is to get resumes in front of the real decision makers

For recruiting technical people, it is ideal that the recruiters has relevant technical background. The reality is mostly the opposite. So you never know how many good candidates are filtered out because their resumes are lack of flashy keywords.

If the recruiters don't feel hurt, I prefer to screen the resumes by myself. The worse scenario is that you are scheduled for a phone interview. When you look at the resume, it is full of flashy keywords while lack of experience in "serious" projects. I fully understand the candidates are eager to get a job. But after you spent dozens of hours to talk to these unqualified candidates with flashy resumes, it becomes a negative flag. Well, these flashy resumes are a result of the tech-recruiting industry.

And this is why I believe the HR department needs to give less emphasis on Resume and the "flashy keywords" and focus on the projects that the candidate is involved in / what role he/she played in it. Just looking at the portfolio, you can have a pretty good idea of what you can expect.

In many places HR is just a dump for unproductive people that can't be fired.

"There is absolutely zero reason why HR/recruiting people should have final say on a candidate. None. It should be inconceivable, at a technical company, to hand over that much hiring power to a non-technical person."

And yet they often do. Consider that for a moment and wonder why it is so common, especially in technical companies.

What I have found over the years is that technical people hire people they think are great without regard to the HR "signals" and then one day they get screwed. Maybe they hire someone with anger management issues, maybe they hire someone whose antics expose the entire company to a crushing lawsuit. Or many they hire someone who, in short order, irritates all of the other employees such that there is a huge morale crash and exodus. Basically their hiring on technical merits and/or interview results in a very bad outcome. And then someone they know and respect says "Gee, an HR person would have spotted that right away, why didn't you listen to them?" or worse "Gee if my HR person had let that person through I would fire them on the spot."

You see in both cases something a bright technical person might be actually unable to see, could be the difference between a "good hire" and a "bad hire." And that is how HR people get into positions of power over hires and fires.

1) The hiring manager has someone else to fire (and blame) when a hire goes badly.

2) The hiring manager has some 'cover' over the things they don't readily see (like emotional issues).

Of course since the whole emotional/psychology thing is so opaque to some folks it is really hard to judge if the person they have providing that visibility is good or not. Sort of like someone who knows nothing about technology hiring a consultant, or someone who knows nothing about cars hiring an auto mechanic. One has to take things on faith a bit that the other person knows what they are doing and try to come up with ways to re-assure yourself that this is true.

This sounds good in theory, but in reality HR people are not especially skilled in picking up on the character issues that matter to teams; moreover, when you instruct the HR team that their role in the process is to screen for this kind of stuff, you end up with HR people creating sporadic roadblocks for hiring.

Rayiner is absolutely 100% right about this. The real role of HR people is tax forms and health insurance, and little else.

I don't disagree with Rayiner here, I'm just sharing how I've seen this sort of stuff get put into place. When you ask "How the hell did HR get to have veto power over hires?", I have found more often than not there is a story of "that guy" or "that gal" who got through the "old process" which is now some legendary part of the company history.

One thing I try to determine about startups is their ability to fire people.

Lots of the problems you mentioned sound like they were in part due to the company finding that difficult, and of course it should be noted that any process like this, about humans and done by humans, is going to have errors on occasion. The real trick is realizing and correcting them.

Yes. I've been at start-ups unwilling to fire people and it sucks.

I've had people suggest that "willing to fire" is a bad sign, because we can be even better by just always hiring the right people! Which is a self-reinforcing style, because now you really can't admit you hired the wrong person.

100% agree, but I think the real trick is not taking it personally. Too many people think that having to fire someone reflects badly on them, it doesn't[]. It only means that it didn't work out for some reason. I try to explain to people "work" and "not work" are two different places, like killing you in World of Warcraft has nothing to do with killing you in "real life", and not being able to work with you doesn't mean I don't enjoy or want to hang out in non-work situations. But that is a hard thing to separate for many people, they are their work and that means work is them.

[] The exception is when it does, they clearly hired someone for some bogus reason, but there will always be exceptions.

The real role of HR people is tax forms and health insurance, and little else.

Well said. And their role definitely should not include administering bullshit voodoo science "psychometric evaluations" and making any decisions based on them.

Typical "those guys know nuthin and we got it all figured out" comment that seems all too common on Hacker News. Calling psychometric evaluations voodoo is akin to doubting climate change or casting a wary eye on vaccines. The evidence, methodological rigor, and results are there for all to see, but it just doesn't mesh with your gut feeling. Of all the things in the field of psychology to call voodoo, this is almost certainly the least deserving.

Like everything, competent implementation and use are key, so I'm sure you have had experiences that give you reasons to doubt their efficacy. But every field suffers from some form of that in some way or another, and the degree of transparency into the process varies greatly.

Like everything, competent implementation and use are key, so I'm sure you have had experiences that give you reasons to doubt their efficacy. But every field suffers from some form of that in some way or another, and the degree of transparency into the process varies greatly.

Fair enough. BTW, I'm not the one who downvoted you, FWIW.

Psychometric evaluations are not voodoo science.

Honestly, as a PhD psychologist, they are the only useful (i.e. scientific) part of psychology.

For example, see Hunter and Schmidt (1998) http://mavweb.mnsu.edu/howard/Schmidt%20and%20Hunter%201998%.... This (and if you've been around here a while, you've probably seen this) is a meta-analysis of the utility of particular selection procedures for jobs. That is psychometrics.

Unfortunately, much of the bullshit surrounding the particular psychometric tests used by HR departments has thoroughly debased a discipline that invented cross validation. Smith and Mosier, 1958 (Method 6, I believe).

Another boring comment shitting on psychology - and theoretically by someone who should know better. It's really tiresome.

cut/pasting from another comment of mine:

by saying that psychological research is itself useless, you're also throwing away things like A/B testing, UX testing (including Apple's much-vaunted usability stuff), research into grief management, team-building research, research into cognitive recovery therapy after acquired brain injury, work looking into ameliorating sexism and racism, perception research for HUDs in fighter aircraft (my honours research), some pain management research, research into dealing with PTSD, research into crowd control and management...

Someone with a PhD in the topic should be well aware of the breadth of the field that is 'psychology', and to say that the only useful thing in the field is psychometric testing just displays your myopia.

Half the stuff that HN talks about is psychology, from A/B testing to building staff relationships. It is far from 'useless', particularly given this audience.

It is ironic in the extreme that the people that shit on psychology do so because they see it as a 'pseudoscience' that 'doesn't observe things properly', yet so very few of them actually see psychology for what it is - instead just falling back on their own narrow stereotype of it.

Dude, from my perspective, its the only sub field that is even halfway right in statistics. I have read so very many psychology papers in top-ranked journals that commit basic, stupid statistical mistakes all the time. And no-one seems to learn.

If you use a linear regression rather than ANOVA, you will often be asked to change it to an ANOVA.

I am well aware of the breadth and depth that is psychology, and most of it is poorly conducted and irritatingly bad. I actually think it has a lot to do with applying a particular experimental model of science developed for non-reflexive systems to reflexive systems, with predictably hilarious results.

Please do not take out the rest of the commentators opinions on me, it upsets me also when people bash psychology from ignorance, but I come from a place of love when I bash it, as I do really adore the subject, but feel that much of it is so very, very awfully done.

A/B testing - psychology degrees teach pretty good experimental design, but you wouldn't know it to see a lot of published research. Additionally, rigorous experimental design owes a lot more to statistics than psychology.

UX Testing: This is definitely a good area, but again I think we don't control enough for the impact of the researcher(s) - see Rosenthal, 1969 for the problem, and note the complete lack of care regarding these effects in modern psychology.

Grief management? Seriously? I don't really think psychology has added much here, but would be delighted to read some good papers that prove me wrong.

Ameliorating sexism and racism? Good intentions, but given that I read a lot of this stuff I would have to say that they are perhaps the worst for statistical sins and errors (with the notable exception of Brian Nosek).

I know very little about perception research in HUD's, do you have some good papers?

I'm not entirely certain why you felt the need to correct me, when if you look at my comments in the overall thread it can be seen that I am pretty much on the same side as you.

It is possible that I am so sick of people who commit statistical sins for career advancement purposes (something I could never do) that I may be taking it out on the field.

Incidentally, what is psychology? I would be interested to hear your definition (as long as its not waffle like the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour, which merely begs far more questions).

I won't question that some psychometric evaluations may reveal something interesting about the person taking it. I have much less confidence in the ability of anybody (HR or otherwise) to accurately map those results to anything related to a hiring decision. I lack ALL confidence that the results of such a test should trump the determination of a group of co-workers who interact with the candidate face to face for a period of time and cover a broad ground of topics.

Unfortunately, much of the bullshit surrounding the particular psychometric tests used by HR departments has thoroughly debased a discipline that invented cross validation.

Yeah, that's the rub, innit? The times I've worked for companies that did this stuff, and when I've seen results from them, I've seen nothing that leads me to believe in the utility of the tests. Unfortunately I can't recall the specific name-brand of the ones I've been exposed to or I'd criticize them specifically.

Which is why we screen people for submission to authority? I don't doubt that they "work" for certain easily-measurable traits of personality. I'm also certain that (1) the tests will be abused and (2) HR people are screening for attributes that are probably more useful in a factory setting.

To varying extents, submission to authority is why you get a paycheck.

If an organization has a successful process of doing something and they bring somebody in who bucks their methods without regard for the establishment, that can be problematic. Sure folks can come in and disrupt organizations for the positive, but I'd say that's probably not the majority of organizational disruptions. Most of them are just obnoxious and unproductive.

People always doing whatever they think is right works until someone's sense of what is "right" is actually wrong, or harmful to their employer. For example, consider all the people who thought their particular brand of humor or affection was ok, but it triggered a harassment suit.

Loose cannons can destroy more value than they create, even if they are brilliant in certain skills.

Good post. These HR tests favor extroversion and obedience. In my experience, brilliant people are highly unlikely to exhibit these traits.

I work with a guy who pounds on his desk daily, curses at code, has OCD, walks about aimlessly, is anti-authority, depressed, and is a self-described autistic. In other words, he's the type to score 1%. However, if you have any advanced math problem he can solve it in minutes, whereas most people would either take days or never get the right answer. For me at least, I have no problem interacting with the guy and joke around with him often. But I do notice that with other people things will usually end up standoffish or awkward.

Perhaps, HR would be better served by using the personality profile to train the other workers in how to interact with a new hire and get the most out of them. The idea that a company should have a singular culture built of singular personality types, not only sounds like a flawed plan, but one that in the end is impossible to achieve.

I think that these HR tests basically ensure uniformity of candidates to a certain extent. But if all people in a workplace are of the same nature, if they wear the same clothes (some companies require that too), and if they think in the same manner, a lot of out-of-the-box thinkers would be left out. And it is a law of nature that the higher the variety, the better the yield. I believe that a lot of differently thinking people can generate great ideas by mutual interaction.

By the way, that's exactly why I left a corporate career at a bank: I was the only person in the entire floor to question the dress code, I was the only person in a 10.000 people center to commute by bike (among other things) and I got tired of being the ugly duck and having my ideas being completely rejected just because they were different.

it would be better, but that would require competence from HR. In other words impossible.

You basically shift responsibility to HR people (who don't know shit about candidates) and they only hire mediocre bets to avoid blame.

That's because they're not sharing wins from stellar candidates but they take blame for bad ones.

I wonder why blame shifting seems so central to american way of thinking. You'll give talent away to avoid it.

> I wonder why blame shifting seems so central to american way of thinking.

Because blame goes down, and reward goes up, so its a lot more important to make sure that the blame for wrong doesn't get to you than to make sure you get the credit for right, since the reward for right is an "attaboy" where those above you reap the substantive benefits, while the punishment for wrong remains substantive.

TL;DR Because capitalism, mostly.

TL;DR Because capitalism, mostly.

This isn't really unique to capitalism - it's just politics and interpersonal competition.

This kind of thing happened in the Soviet Union, it happened in monarchist France (court of Louis XIV), it happened throughout all of human history.

> they're not sharing wins from stellar candidates but they take blame for bad ones.

It often seems like hiring stellar candidates involves circumventing HR policy. HR responds, instead of asking how they can help be part of the solution in the future, by incorporating new policy. Hiring stellar candidates, therefore, creates a situation where it makes it harder to hire stellar candidates in the future. There is no "win" in that game.

> I wonder why blame shifting seems so central to american way of thinking.

FWIW, the story the OP told took place in the UK.

Where do you think those americans come from? ;)

But I expected it to be US, frankly. Didn't expect "personality tests" from UK.

I've seen this happen myself as well, in 3 cases at 2 different companies we wound up firing a person due to those sorts of issues. But in my opinion it should not be (and it was not) a big hassle to fire someone. I've also hired some people I was on the fence about from a personality perspective and have been pleasantly surprised at working with some productive, albeit quirky people.

But, underpinning your story is the blame/cover angle which I completely understand, and would consider an antipattern itself. If a few people screen someone and decide to take a bit of a chance on them from a personality perspective and they don't work out, let them go, learn from it, and move on.

Technical people also look for "signals" or "red flags" during interview. They ask themselves questions like, if the candidate is a good fit for the team, if I want to work with him, etc.

HR people are not necessarily better in identifying these "signals". They might emphasize on "signals" that are not a big issue for technical people. Some technical people could be a little quirky. As long as it is not serious, it is not a big deal.

I have a solution: Give HR hires a psychometric test that weeds out ones who like psychometric tests

What is "Big Corp" though? I work at MS and they certainly don't do tests like this - and from my understanding neither does Google, Amazon, Facebook (is fb a "bigcorp"? perhaps not yet..). Dunno about IBM - wouldn't be surprised either way I guess.

Perhaps the bigger lesson here is to not do personality tests. With that said, obviously gauging team fit is super important - but you don't need (and should avoid) a test for that.

On a related note, it seems another lesson to be learned from here is to be cautious when searching a technical job at a non-technical company. We don't know whether this is the case in OP, but nevertheless the whole "BigCorp" caution you give is likely more applicable when you look at financial companies or otherwise "companies that don't focus on making software/etc."

But I have no idea why growing startups would model their HR after them. If they want to model their HR after a "Big Corp" then they might as well model it after a technical Big Corp. Let's not compare apples to oranges.

> What is "Big Corp" though? I work at MS and they certainly don't do tests like this - and from my understanding neither does Google, Amazon, Facebook (is fb a "bigcorp"? perhaps not yet..). Dunno about IBM - wouldn't be surprised either way I guess.

I'm an Amazon employee and I can confirm that I didn't have to take any kind of personality test when I applied here.

I was also encouraged to apply to IBM via a friend of a friend, and while I didn't have to take a personality test for them, I did have to fill out a questionnaire asking me about my years of experience in various topics. I was automatically rejected by their system for not having X years of experience in language/framework Y. I didn't find this quite as bizarre as rejecting a brilliant candidate due to some personality test, but I definitely found it a similarly poor experience. It was weird to run into an issue that seems to be brought up every time developers talk about poor interview/recruiting practices.

The only time I can remember actually filling out any kind of personality test when applying for a job was when I applied to McDonalds as a kid, which echoes the GP's point.

When I was younger I applied a few places that had those McDonalds type tests, they are so completely trivial to subvert.

The questions basically where a thinly veiled attempt to figure out how pliable and compliant you where.

They should have just had one question "Do you like having a roof over your head?" because lets be honest you don't work those kinds of jobs because you enjoy them.

All this psychometric stuff is just a lot of crap.

To be fair, they likely get a lot of applictions, and some portion of those applicants may be mentally ill in some way, possibly on drugs, or may otherwise be truly abysmal employees who don't care about anything. Tests like those can weed out people who clearly shouldn't be considered.

They have no place at a serious company hiring for a technical position, though. Usually 10 or so minutes of face-to-face talking is more than enough to tell you if your candidate is mentally ill, on drugs, or a major asshole.

Well, that's the thing. I happily stipulate that anyone that doesn't recognize that answering "strongly disagree" to "I think it is okay to steal office supplies" probably will not perform well on the job. Not so much due to the minor stealing issue, but more due to the inability to recognize this answer will never, ever get you hired (this is of course confounded with the people that decided the test and job is BS and they are willfully answering 'wrong').

We were all subjected to a test like this recently here. I'm talking most people have been here 5+ years. And suddenly my boss needs a test like this to figure out that I am introverted, that Bob likes to take charge, and so on??!!?!? Really? Fire that manager, if they are that incompetent. I refused to take the test, and fortunately my boss felt the same way and backed me 100%.

It's outrageous. You've observed my capabilities, you know I am great (or poor, or whatever), and suddenly I have to take a test where I am supposed to tell you if I am lonely, if I make friends, and so on. No. No. No.

the problem is discrimination lawsuits.

an old person contests a no-hire decision with "I wasn't hired because I was old"

option A: Hiring manager says "well I just thought you were a jerk"

option B: An objective and universally applied test scores the applicant as being 95% jerk, which is above the 60% cutoff that the company uses globally

which would you rather defend yourself with?

You might be correct about the reasoning. But those records are likely to work against if a suit ever hit full speed, because those scores could easily support the plaintiffs. "Gee, everyone over 55 ever hired has a 75%+ score. But your 25-54s range wildly from 56% and up."

Once the company asserts this defense, the plaintiffs ask for demographic details on every employee in the company, and what the scores were at time of hiring.

Think of them this way: they don't test your personality, they test whether you know what the obviously correct answers are for a personality screening test.

Now imagine what must be going through someone's head when they answer "never/strongly disagree" to the question "How often do you try to treat customers and coworkers with respect?" and the tests start to make a little more sense as a screening mechanism.

And whether you can lie for them.

I took a PHP test for a recruiter once. Half the questions were "what would you get if you typed this into the intrepeter?", which you weren't allowed to do. It seemed to come down to an honesty test.

An anecdote, for sure, but a friend of mine just failed a Google interview for not knowing 'Dalvik' was the name of the Android VM, despite knowing it was stack-based and used, among other things, to avoid licensing fees. The non-technical interviewer saw that his answer to the trivia question was wrong, and that concluded the interview.

It's possible that trivia question was the straw that broke the camel's back, but since she wasn't sure whether or not his additional information was correct and/or sufficient, he 'lost out'.

But isn't Dalvik register-based, not stack-based? Missing the name could be excusable, while getting the architecture wrong might have been a relevant factor.

Yeah, mistype on my end. He answered it correctly :-)

Facebook has 5,000 employees. Target has 350,000. So when I say "Big Corp" mean the latter. The primary users of these tests are companies like Target, Starbucks, etc, who hire large numbers of relatively unskilled people for jobs where personality factors are more important than anything else.

Fair enough. In that case, my last 'paragraph' is definitely what the takeaway from my comment should be.

I read "Big Corp" as "non-technical Big Corp" in this sense. I think it's pretty well known that the major tech players have difficult technical interviews, but that the people ultimately making the decision are engineers.

IBM uses a test called IPAT for hiring. It's more of an IQ test than personality.

>>But their role is to get resumes in front of the real decision makers, and to take care of all the stuff like W-2 forms and whatnot nobody wants to deal with,

Don't forget enforcing dress codes and other such nonsense policies in the "employee handbook."

Don't forget enforcing dress codes and other such nonsense policies in the "employee handbook."

I personally don't have a problem with this. Someone has to be responsible for making sure that the office doesn't look like a sty / homeless shelter. When investors/customers/interviewers stop by, there's a certain level of professionalism that needs to be present. So if there's a rule that people need to wear a top, they should be the ones to enforce that, in my opinion.

If I were a business owner and a customer judged me for allowing my employees to wear comfortable clothes around the office, I would not want them as a customer. Same with investors.

Why? Because them caring about outward appearances would signal to me that they have a fundamental lack of understanding about what factors are relevant to running a successful business.

Don't get me wrong: if an employee is visiting a customer or business partner, then yes, they should dress up. But the office should be an environment where people focus on their work instead of how they look. My philosophy: people should be able to wear anything they would feel comfortable wearing around a roommate that they don't know well. I think once you provide that guideline, people will auto-adjust towards a standard that is acceptable to everyone.

I agree with your sentiment, but on the other hand, what's the big deal to put your best foot forward when a VIP is visiting?

When I was in a small, casual start-up, they asked us to dress nicely for just one day to impress some visiting investors. None of us had a problem with it; we all had a stake in the company's continued health. It seemed like the natural thing to do, and I'd do it again if needed.

I've done that too, in the same situation. But I think it may backfire. Some investors may be nostalgic for their days in a startup. Others are still looking for that "startup edge" which differentiates from stagnant corporations.

If your clothing says "corporate", you may send the wrong message and drain some interest.

Obviously this varies by area and industry.

> Why? Because them caring about outward appearances would signal to me that they have a fundamental lack of understanding about what factors are relevant to running a successful business.

why does it matter to you if your customers understand what factors are relevant to running a business?

What do customers do in your back/development office?

Because like it or not, first impressions are incredibly valuable. If I am looking at giving you, say, $100k worth of business, and I walk in and it smells vaguely terrible, people are disheveled and the office is a mess, then right off the bat you're down a peg.

Assuming you have a competitor that is clean & neat, with employees who are presentable, all things being equal I am more likely to choose them. You & your employees might actually do better work, but you're fighting an uphill battle from the get-go. And that to me is one thing that a successful business doesn't do: immediately put themselves at a disadvantage.

And it's not just customers or investors. It can be vendors, partners and, quite frankly, other employees. Ultimately it's a place of business and there are certain standards that need to be set that otherwise some employees might not set their own appropriate ones (whether it's smell, hygiene, shabby dressing, what-have-you).

To clarify, I'm not saying you have to have everyone in suits to have a successful business. I'm just saying that someone should at least be able to enforce a basic level of present-ability throughout the workforce. Even if that just means "Hey, ABC, you gotta start wearing deodorant to the office."

How did we get from comfortable to disheveled? No-one dresses up at my office but they do still smell like they take showers and wash their clothes.

Well, HR does have final say-so in terms of logistics. Like does the candidate require sponsorship to work in this country, do they have a criminal record, did their reference say they were an asshole, are they asking for more money than we can afford. Even judging personality and communication skills is not outside their expertise. The lesson of this article is to not use personality tests.

Well there are obviously certain areas where they should have final say (e.g. this candidate is great, but here illegally and not authorized to work in this country).

They should not have final say over a candidate based on personality or communications skills. They should be a source of input (i.e. this guy is an asshole, because he was very rude to the guy who helped him scheduled his callback interview, or perhaps more importantly to inject some company-wide context into what can turn into a group-specific analysis) but it's the technical people who know what kind of communication goes on in a technical team, and thus it's the technical people who should evaluate a candidate on that characteristic. Yes, this requires trusting your technical people and investing them with a greater responsibility to understand the dynamics of their work group. That's a good thing.

Even with this, should they have the final say? I don't think so.

They should give you the risks -"he has a criminal record of fraud, and will expose us to some lawsuits that could close the doors. In addition, we will have to quit doing business with our 5 top customers". But that's not a decision. It's information.

They can give you their capabilities - "I am unable to come up with a way for us legally employ them in the U.S." or "It will cost us approximately $500K to manage the legal end of hiring them." This is not a decision, it's information.

They can give you personality notes - "He was extremely rude and insulting during the initial phone calls, and asked me to perform a sex act for money. I believe he will be a personality cancer in this company". This is also not a decision, it's information.

When you actually trust and value your HR department they no longer feel the need to be gatekeepers. They are a valuable source of information during the hiring process. Of course, you have to trust your hiring managers to make the right decisions based on this information.

Policies that give multiple departments "final say" or veto powers are put in place because the individuals are not trusted... which points back at poor hiring or promoting.

To be fair, you did say:

> There is absolutely zero reason why HR/recruiting people should have final say on a candidate. None.

Now you're saying:

> Well there are obviously certain areas where they should have final say

Fair, if pedantic, criticism.

If you are hyperbolic, then you can expect pedantry in return.

If every hyperbole was met with pedantry then nobody would ever go fishing again, and HN would turn into the worst newsgroup you can remember from the 90s.

This would be good for the fish.

Be pedantic towards hyperbole and save ALL the fish!

When groups designed to serve become self-serving control apparatuses, I think a company is deeply fucked. Probably irrevocably so, although I'd love to learn otherwise. It means people have forgotten the mission, and once that happens I think it's slow death by turf battle.

You also see this happen with IT, Ops, and software development organizations, not just HR. E.g., feature X is the company's highest business priority, but the DBAs don't like it and they control all schema changes, so they just say no.

In my view, HR's job is to help hiring managers find the people they need, and then to support those people when they're there. If hiring managers need help with making hiring decisions, then by all means offer them help. And if HR,or anybody, spots something that concerns them, they should speak up. But I think giving HR a veto is a clear mistake. So no, I'd say that tests just make this an obvious problem, rather than a subtle one.

You explained why they should have input, not why they should have final say.

We tend to say anyone involved in the process can veto and I'd extend that to HR if they'd shown themselves to add to the process.

Work permit issues are entirely a reason to veto and they're better placed to spot that sort of thing that the dev team, similarly issues around references and the like.

The issue here isn't with HR per se, it's with a bad HR department overreaching, but personally I'd be just as skeptical about a technologist pointing to poor performance on a technical test (with good face to face interview results) as I would about this.

If you're trying to separate "face to face" performance and put that in the domain of HR, and "technical test" performance and put that in the domain of the technologists, then you're going to have a bad time. That prospective hire who did great on the face to face isn't going to spend part of every work day chatting with HR...

Between your technical people and your technical management, there should be enough people skills to function coherently and effectively as a team. As such, those people together should have enough people skills to figure out whether a prospective candidate has the people skills to function effectively in the team. If those people see people skills as exclusively the domain of HR, well then you made prior mistakes in hiring that cannot be remedied with further mistakes.

This is exactly the sort of mission confusion that results in HR departments overreaching. If HR sees itself as "the people people" and its role as evaluating candidates for "people skills" and engineering's role as evaluating candidates for "technical skills" that's an unworkable division of labor and will invite improper encroachment from HR into the hiring process.

That's not what I said.

What I'm saying is that putting too much faith in tests isn't just something HR do (I've seen people put far too much faith in technical tests), and that HR having a veto isn't per se a bad thing so long as they exercise it sensibly based on things within their expertise.

we tend to say okay, you say that, but any empirical evidence that this leads to better decisions? Especially when, as in this article, the only one saying no is the one unable to judge the person's ability to actually do the job?

> We tend to say anyone involved in the process can veto and I'd extend that to HR if they'd shown themselves to add to the process.

IIRC there was a woman a few months back with Valve who couldn't get the staff she needed because of that sort of veto setup.

That may be the case.

It works for us because the people involved all understand the log jam it can cause if people don't behave properly but I can see in another company (or even division) it might not work. You would only need one or two people deciding they wanted to throw their weight around to wreck it.

Maybe I'm lucky but I've worked with some good HR people who understood where they could add value and where they should step back. To me this really feels like a good people / bad people thing rather than an HR people / technical people thing.

> There is absolutely zero reason why HR/recruiting people should have final say on a candidate.

I can think of one. If they are responsible for doing a criminal background check, and have found serious criminal activity in the prospective employee's past.

That's not to say that some prospective hires can't be rehabilitated; but in certain cases, hiring someone with a criminal background is just too much of a risk, and it's not unreasonable for HR to have a final say on this.

Other than that, yeah, you're right.

I used to work for a pre-employment background screening agencies. It's illegal to reject someone based on any criminal history as long as the person has not lied about their background. Unfortunately, it's not illegal (federally, with the EEOC, each state may have their own differences) to discriminate by personality test.

This is definitely something I saw prevalent in the hiring world: if it isn't outright illegal, use it to prevent someone from being hired. In many cases we had clients that'd tiptoe the line and ask if certain reasons would be valid for rejecting a person, and some HR managers were upset when they learned it was against the law to disallow someone who had admitted their criminal history from being hired. So they found another reason.

There is still a massive amount of hiring discrimination. It's just not the "official" reason anymore since that'd be illegal. That job was soulbreaking.

It's illegal to reject someone based on any criminal history as long as the person has not lied about their background.

I'm not sure if you are in the US, but that's not true here. As a specific example: if the crime involved money and the position is with a financial institution. We have a big problem in the US where felons can't get jobs which can obviously lead to a lot of recidivism.

> It's illegal to reject someone based on any criminal history as long as the person has not lied about their background.

Source? As far as I know, it's legal, but you have to show a good reason to do so, and finely tailored policies, that aren't simply a broad "we don't hire anyone with a criminal record."

There are plenty of cases in which you may, or even may be required by law, not hire someone based on particular crimes on their criminal background check, such as sex offenders for jobs involving children or felonies for people who need to get a security clearance.

I was overly broad with that, excuse me. It's much more complicated, but generally you can't exclude someone based on a criminal record alone as you rightly point out, and that's not accounting for other circumstances. So yes, financial will matter (of course, any financial crime means that license will be revoked and that record will be accessible as well), but unrelated crimes are different.


The main reason someone gets rejected from criminal reasons, in my experience, is having an old record that's been cleared or expunged, and then answering "No" when the employment application asks a specific wording of "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" - The answer would be yes, and a criminal check would reflect something had happened, but that the record has been expunged due to enough time passing for that particular crime. It sounds convoluted, and it is. Not sure it really should, but I only worked in the industry. Whether or not the industry followed the letter of the law is much, much different.

Its ironic that in an America that lets legal shenanigans turn all kinds into criminals, that the same legal weaselling lets people get away with what is completely illegal, just because they say they didn't do it for the illegal reason, just some other reason they choose at the time.

Even in that case, HR can identify the risk paramters (likelihood of risk manifesting, expected cost if it manifests, overall expected cost taking all of that into account, etc.) but they can't weigh the cost against the expected benefits.

There are plenty of cases in which the company just needs to have a policy that it's an unacceptable risk. For instance, if the job involves getting a security clearance, a felony on your background check basically means that you are unfit for the job. Or if you are dealing with highly sensitive financial data, there can just be too much of a risk.

I'm not saying that all HR departments should have such a policy (in fact, in some cases it can be illegal to request criminal background information, at least on the initial application form). But there are some cases in which a policy like that could be necessary and final.

> There are plenty of cases in which the company just needs to have a policy that it's an unacceptable risk.

Sure, but HR generally shouldn't be setting that policy, and whoever is setting that policy is logically making the decision, HR is gathering an input to that decision (a potentially decisive input, but that's because of decision criteria set outside of HR.)

I think appearance of this kind of voodoo in the hiring practices is a sign that the company has jumped the shark. It may still have many years of good earnings and still be a lot of fun and profit to work for, but once these symptoms appear, it is not on the way up anymore but on the way down, since it is no longer rules by common sense but by black magic of "we do not need to think, we have policies, policies don't have to make sense, they are there to be followed".

> There is absolutely zero reason why HR/recruiting people should have final say on a candidate. None. It should be inconceivable, at a technical company, to hand over that much hiring power to a non-technical person.

Welcome to the world of Asian Bigcos, where HR not only has the final say on the candidate hire, they also have enormous influence on what department/team that candidate ends up in.

I've read a few business related books/taken several courses and it's actually taught that HR should have the largest role in hiring.

The rational: 1) HR is the manager of the human resource. 2) HR should determine and screen employees for possible risks. 3) HR is at fault if the screening is not achieved.

Relying on a test such as personality is pretty B.S. though. Most tech guys compared to the general populous will receive low scores for being social or extroverted. Which should directly translate into being a lesser productive team member (by being unable to communicated his/her ideas). In actuality, introverted individuals often can communicate well or in a manner which is suitable to completing a task such as the man who was not hired in this example.

What HR really needed to do was to just talk with him, clearly he didnt' seem like a threat and was capable of working with a team so it really shouldn't have mattered.

At the previous company I worked for I was given one of these tests in the interview process. Later I asked the HR Director about the test and she told me "Well you did crazy good 100% accurate, however the software also factors in when people give answers that we want to hear you failed that because and it said you were not being honest, however I ignore that one because I think that if you're smart enough to know what the right answers are then you're most likely smart enough to know what would be best for the company given the chance"

Smart HR Directors will get it right however I feel sorry for any company that uses the results of those tests to actually make a decision.

I understand why you think that way, but there are reasons HR-related folks get involved in these types of things. Note that I cannot speak for this particular company or their processes, but I can speak generally.

Properly validated psychometric tests are valid predictors of job performance (by which I mean objectively and factually correlated with actual work performance), and a properly constructed work-relevant test will be on the whole will be more valid than subjective judgments from most technical professionals. Of course there will be hits and misses, but the consistent application is the key to its use. If you don't consistently apply it, it becomes worthless.

But, let's throw that out of the window for a second because in this particular anecdote I don't think it's relevant. This test they were using seems more like a cultural fit, specifically a person-organization fit test. These tests are less about predicting job performance than they are about predicting organizational commitment and ultimately tenure [1]. Surely we can agree that those things are important too.

But, let's again say that this candidate's aptitude is so impressive that we don't mind an increased statistical chance that his or her tenure may short. The real issue is that legally you are obligated to apply the same set of criteria all of your employees for a given role (not necessarily the exact same position, but comparable positions). If the company is applying cognitive testing, personality testing, drug testing, person-org. fit testing, etc. to one group of applicants, you now cannot fail to adhere to that criteria because it is an invitation for legal liability, however seemingly-spurious.

Having said that, it's important that your selection processes have been validated previously, or at least are in the process of being validated (which provides some protection). I also have a big concern with the linked situation because: 1) it's a cultural-related test, which means the possibility to show cultural-related bias is high and 2) they were unwilling to make language accommodations, which seems unnecessarily rigid when native-level English skills are likely not a core component of the job. Point #1 can be accounted for in some shape or form (at a minimum through a low cutoff score), but Point #2 is more problematic.

Anyway, there is a reason companies adopt "Big Corp" characteristics as the scale. The primary reason is for legal compliance through standardization of process, and the other is that data is supportive of the validity of objective predictors of job success relative to subjective judgments.

I realize I may be opening myself up to some criticism and scorn from HN crowd for seemingly representing "Big Corporate" or acting like a Bob from Office Space, but so be it. Despite what it may seem, there are often smart people using evidenced-based processes driving seemingly asinine HR processes that drive you crazy. And sometimes there aren't, and it's just a big pain in the ass for poor reasons.


[1] PDF of meta-analytic findings about person-job/org fit: http://nreilly.asp.radford.edu/kristof-brown%20et%20al.pdf

The problem with psychometric tests is that they're easy to game by answering them with the values the company is almost certainly looking for. Any company issuing a psychometric test is looking for obedience, hard work, discipline, profit orientation, civility, non-threatening creativity, etc. etc. etc.

So what you get by discouraging a broad diversity of personalities is a mix of people who actually have those specific characteristics and sociopaths. The latter group ends up running the company, and of course they issue utterly sociopathic "psychometric evaluations", which are basically just encoded discrimination against entire classes of people, regardless of job fitness, because the people up top are such incompetent leaders that they need subservient workers to obey their crazy orders without question.

Actually, spotting and weeding out sociopaths is one of the points. I know that you may believe that you're a good judge of character, but actually a smart sociopath (not the norm, btw) is likely to be able to game you just as easily as the test.

There are three buckets of people you don't want to hire:

  - helpless
  - depressed
  - jerks
In my subjective experience:

The top one has about %50 shot of being a character flaw, eg, no amount of confidence-building will help.

The middle one has the most hope, if the talent potential is significant. The best in the field can be painfully shy as well as depressed. The problem is that depression (not shyness) hurts morale. [1]

The last has a %75 chance of being a lost cause. Impossible to manage as they are incredibly disruptive to morale and productivity. [2] Their survival is often linked to mastery of politics, which inculcates their position.

[1] http://m.fastcoexist.com/1679208/a-sad-worker-is-a-bad-worke...

[2] The No *sshole Rule by Robert Sutton

Your buckets are quite simplistic and I doubt your company will be successful. First, if this is the states, you are not allowed to discriminate against clinical depression, so (2) will just lead to a lawsuit eventually. As for (1), if they have the skills are they helpless? Jerks are quite deplorable, but its a gradient right? How much jerkiness do you tolerate, or do you want saints?

I agree. I am working with people have these 3 types of characteristics. This 3-type categorization is way too simplistic to describe an individual. I find no problem working with them. People are interesting. They all have some kind of quirks and behavior patterns. It's important to be tolerant and adaptive. But people with strong technical depth is really hard to come by.

Duh. Value is holistic. We can find anything we want to find to support an argument.

When you have worked with someone that screams at their coworkers, can barely feed/clothe themselves or refuses to lift a finger to help you... then you will know how much time and emotional effort these behavioral traits can waste.

Toxic employees exist at the extremes of those buckets. Avoid hiring toxic employees, but the filters available to you might not be good enough to screen them out, so fire them quickly. During the interview, you might just be able to observe minor quirks which are hardly indicators either way.

I cringe whenever I read job ads that are aiming for a culture fit: "we only want to hire harmonious, independent, extroverted employees;" when in my experience, the best employees do not hold strongly to those ideals, but neither to do they hangout at the other extremes.

All or nothing hiring is too risky. Gradual formality makes the selection from both sides cooler, you know. We don't do interviews either; hazing sure, but no stupid hypothetical questions to test loyalty. There is no loyalty. Greed is good. =)

There is the another option. Make something people want and build it up slowly, on the side. If you do, you may free yourself from being at the beckon call of other masters (other than users). Others have, so it's possible. We are each masters of our own fate.


Hiring is discrimination. That's the point.

Only someone without life experience would not read between the lines that buckets are ideals and need the explanation that hiring is holistic.

To then make a straw man fallacy out of the opposite of an ideal is to be inconsistent: you can't have it both ways.

    - people that put their percentage symbols in the wrong place

    - People who capitalise their sentences.
ps. lol

    - People who spell 'capitalize' as 'capitalise'
pps. lolol

- the colonies

Well, my main objection is to hiring people on the basis of their character, whether it's with a test or not. Assess for whether or not the person can do the job and make you a profit.

Can you spot the person who interviews well, but is a skilled sociopath who will destroy the morale of your team, causing other skilled talent to leave?

That's the value of these tests (when properly applied): They allow an evaluator to make statistically accurate predictions of specific types of behavior. The key is the two words: statistically and specific. A single composite score will not tell you anything, but the idea that there's a 68% chance that the person you're about to hire is a schizophrenic kleptomaniac should give you pause.

> there's a 68% chance that the person you're about to hire is a schizophrenic kleptomaniac

Sorry, I don't believe "psychometric tests" can do that either. At least not at the level that we're talking about: distinguishing an otherwise qualified person from someone who's got some sort of psychopathology.

Then you didn't read the other replies in the original thread from actual research psychologists. They described the process and posted links to peer reviewed academic papers. Your baseless disbelief is equivalent to disavowing climate change or vaccines.

> the idea that there's a 68% chance that the person you're about to hire is a schizophrenic kleptomaniac should give you pause.

I don't believe in employment discrimination on the basis of mental illness. After all, John Nash was schizophrenic.

You can't catch psychopaths using tests like these. The whole point of being a psychopaths is that you can change the perception of your personality at will.

So what your letting in is a subgroup of people who pass, and psychopaths.

That isn't actually what psychopathy means.

It's not what it means, but it is something they are capable of. They can be charming, and they can be horrible. They decide what they are going to be like, to fit into an overall selfish strategy. If being shy is an advantage, they will become that. If being confident is advantage, they will become that. They can gain your trust, then flip when it is an advantage to do so.

In these tests, they know what to say, what to do, to give a certain impression. These tests can't catch them, because they are not honest, and lack integrity(No consistent values, only ones that benefit them).

More specifically, the psychopaths that you're likely to run into in a tech company fall into this class.

There are certainly psychopaths who are hopeless at concealing the fact. These are typically the less smart ones, so you wouldn't meet them; they are more likely to be in and out of prison than your office.

There are also psychopaths who are just about perfect at pretending not to be, and have no intention of ever doing otherwise. You can work with one of those for decades, and never notice a thing unless something extreme enough to make 'acting normal' seem a long-term liability happens.

Again, go read the links that the actual PhDs in psychology posted in replies to the parent thread. They provided documentation in the form of peer-reviewed studies that back the claims that this kind of personality is detectable despite your belief that they are not.

If one's character meaningfully predicts job performance on top of whatever other methods you are using, then assessing on their character is the same as assessing on whether or not they can do they job (or at least, how well they can do it). Integrity tests have demonstrated this in many contexts, even taking into account the possibility of faking.

Except that obviously wasn't the case in the linked article.

In the case of the military it can be the opposite: they weed out applicants who they are not confident will pull the trigger every time they are asked to.

Well, they try.

I don't remember where I got the number, but apparently something like two-thirds of the regular army still end up unwilling/unable to aim properly when a combat situation actually happens. That's from the Great War, though; procedures may have gotten better since.

>The problem with psychometric tests is that they're easy to game by answering them with the values the company is almost certainly looking for.

You'd think that, but a quality psychometric test can't be gamed if it was developed in-house and is only taken once by the candidate. This particular company might not have had one of those, however.

Professional personality tests can't be gamed - you also can't find these on the internet, because they're very strictly copyrighted.

Can you go into more detail? It's hard to imagine how a test could be devised that wouldn't be gameable by giving answers that would be expected of a person with a normal personality.

It's not particularly difficult to devise a personality exam that way - in the best case scenario, the candidate cannot game the test, and in the worst case scenario, they game it but the proctor is fully aware of the gaming, so you simply reject the test (or the candidate).

Instead of trying to get rid of questions that are gameable, the psychometrists design the test with statistical consistency - things as obscure as, say, what color the candidate answers in a multiple choice question out of orange, yellow, blue and red can be used to correlate with other questions (not literally, but to a candidate it would be equally obscure and seemingly innocuous as a question). If a candidate answers one question in what they perceive to be the societal ideal, this will be exposed in other questions where it's not possible to cross-consistently game the question unless you've read and thoroughly understand a manual of psychology or psychometry.

Tests designed this way allow for a certain amount of "gaming" by candidates before it crosses a statistical threshold, at which point it essentially tells the proctor, "The answers are so inconsistent that the candidate wasn't being honest." and you have to throw out the whole test (which in the context of hiring, means rejecting the candidate).

The reason why this works is because while people will answer "Would you consider yourself hard working?" with "Always" or some other unrealistically gamed superlative, they won't realize that other questions that are seemingly unrelated are highly correlated with that quality - if you answer yes to one and no to another, you probably lied on the transparent one, with high confidence.

Tests like this[1] have been around for so long that they consistently get better, though there are some valid criticisms of them being easier for non-minorities (for a variety of reasons). They are used in clinical and professional contexts, and while the quality personality tests will theoretically be consistent across multiple-test takings (in other words, results are relatively immutable), in practice you should probably avoid giving one individual a lot of exposure to the same exact test twice.

Hope that helps.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Multiphasic_Personali...

I'm a psychologist, and I game personality tests for fun.

The MMPI is harder than the Myers Briggs, but not that difficult. Additionally its really only optimal for clinical samples, at which it is very good.

However, everyone in the field knows that these tests can be gamed, the only open question is how many people game them consistently.

You can probably estimate the proportion of social desirability exhibited in job interviews by comparing to non-job situations (such as a sample matched on all relevant covariates (whatever they are) from the general population.

Nonetheless, believing in personality tests as an accurate indicator of personality is as misguided as believing that Facebook represents the social graph of all its daily active users accurately, i.e., somewhat misguided.

And I am aware of lie scale, and they are trivial if you actually read the question. Protip: If a question says always or never, its probably designed to trip you up.

I do agree that personality tests are more accurate than this thread makes them out to be, but they are certainly not as useful as your comment implies.

Wow, I have to defer to you then :)

Is there anything you've got offhand that I can read further about this? I didn't know you could actually game them.

All self-report data is inherently flawed, which is why you can't rely on one kind of data while trying to learn something about personality.

Find the scoring manuals, do loads of personality tests, rinse, repeat. Its not particularly difficult.

Despite this, I have ran many surveys back when I worked in academia. You can detect some of this stuff with Guttman errors, but these are not often used, and as long as you are consistent, its very difficult to spot.

> The reason why this works is because while people will answer "Would you consider yourself hard working?" with "Always" or some other unrealistically gamed superlative, they won't realize that other questions that are seemingly unrelated are highly correlated with that quality

Can you provide a deeper example? I'm honestly curious - what sort of question is innocuous enough to be answered honestly, yet useful enough to provide information? (i.e., do slackers like the color yellow or something?)

This is actually part of the so-called "bogus pipeline." Test-takers are told that the test can detect any attempt to lie, causing them to answer the questions more honestly than they would otherwise. The MMPI does detect inconsistent and unrealistically extreme answers, but it's not quite as foolproof as claimed above.


Here are some:


By googling those, you can go deeper into the rabbit hole.

Okay, that is the MMPI. That is not evidence that any test that is not the MMPI cannot be gamed. The MMPI (and I disgree with it in so many ways) was researched and tested for decades, and perhaps they can detect lying. Perhaps. I don't buy that any lesser test cannot be easily gamed absent a heck of a lot of experimental evidence for that specific test.

Often, at least in the work contexts, it doesn't matter if they can be gamed. Validity testing is done with the effects of gaming built-in, and there is some evidence that gaming has relations with performance benefits.

A acquaintance of mine is finishing his dissertation on faking on personality and integrity tests, so I'll know more on that soon.

Yes, but in that context gaming is known and accounted for. My definition of gaming was manipulation without the proctor or evaluation showing any statistically significant deviation, which is virtually impossible on modern personality tests. The "gaming" becomes transparent and used to score the candidate, if it's present at all.

I appreciate your input, especially as counterweight to those who underestimate the sophistication of these tests.

However I question your absolute statement. What man can create, man can circumvent. (How's that for an absolute statement?)

Would you say that the people who created the test cannot game it?

No, it can certainly be gamed. It's just so hard without prior knowledge and preparation as to be statistically negligent. This is also why I said you should avoid giving the same test twice. But a single, cold test administration should be very difficult to game.

You should also read upthread, what the actual psychologist said. It clarified my comment really well.

> But a single, cold test administration should be very difficult to game.

Oh come on. This was posted in a different comment:


The following are very obviously the "correct" true or false answers to these questions from the MMPI-2:

  T * My mother is a good woman.
  F * Evil spirits possess me at times.
  F * There seems to be a lump in my throat much of the time.
  T * At times I feel like swearing.
  T * My hands and feet are usually warm enough.
  F * Ghosts or spirits can influence people for good or bad.
  F * Someone has been trying to poison me.
  F * Everything tastes the same.
  F * Someone has been trying to rob me.
  F * Bad words, often terrible words, come into my mind
      and I cannot get rid of them.
  F * Often I feel as if there is a tight band around my head.
  F * Peculiar odors come to me at times.
  F * My soul sometimes leaves my body.
  F * When a man is with a woman he is usually thinking
      about things related to her sex.
  F * I often feel as if things are not real.
  F * Someone has it in for me.
  F * My neck spots with red often.
  T * Once in awhile I laugh at a dirty joke.
  F * I hear strange things when I am alone.
  F * In walking I am very careful to step over sidewalk cracks.
  F * At one or more times in my life, I felt that someone
      was making me do things by hypnotizing me.
I cut out a few because I couldn't see how true or false mattered.

Those are the obvious ones. I've taken the MMPI. There's a lot more than just those. None of these are the seemingly innocuous ones I was talking about.

Again, I'll reiterate: can they be gamed? Yes. Is it likely? Emphatically, no.

Okay, I didn't know you've taken the MMPI, so fair enough. I would be surprised if answers to the innocuous questions were that important though; they strike me more as luring you into a sense of complacency and so that you end up answering honestly when it comes to the important ones.

Now that I've read some more, I'm curious.

Are you referring to the MMPI or something similar? Or to Unicru and Kenexa? Unicru seems to ask much more prosaic questions than MMPI.

And yes, when I speak of gaming, I am assuming prior knowledge and preparation - but not necessarily inside knowledge.

Properly validated psychometric tests are valid predictors of job performance (by which I mean objectively and factually correlated with actual work performance), and a properly constructed work-relevant test will be on the whole will be more valid than subjective judgments from most technical professionals.

Do you have any support for this where the employees are both technical and creative? I'm obviously thinking about software development, but it should apply to any kind of engineering or technical job where the employees need to have a deep technical knowledge, know how to apply that knowledge practically, and have to use that knowledge to create new solutions to new problems.

I've been personally involved in validity testing for graphic designers, and while the validity coefficients were reduced they were still of practical significance, and had incremental validity over cognitive ability testing (which is always the best predictor, but tends to show racial bias). I will see if I can find any published research as I've not seen any and am now curious myself.

Is this an accurate description of what you mean by a cognitive ability test? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_Abilities_Test

If so, under which circumstances are they used? For a graphic designer, the natural "test" would be for fellow graphic designers and potential managers to look at an applicant's work samples, or to ask them to produce one. This method directly tests the applicant's ability to do the type of job, although there is no objective metric. You are relying on people's subjective assessment. How do cognitive ability tests compare?

Yes, in essence. When I refer to CATs I'm talking about measures testing g (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_intelligence). And I know it's hard to believe, but g-centric tests like cognitive ability test do a better job than other seemingly more relevant selection measures like work sample tests and assessment centers. The benefit of work sample tests, assessment centers, integrity tests, etc. is that their validity is decent and that a significant portion is independent of g-centric measures.

Here is a good article you can read on the subject: http://www.unc.edu/~nielsen/soci708/cdocs/Schmidt_Hunter_200...

The difficulty I have with that article is that I don't know how the jobs in these studies map to engineering or research jobs. I'm thinking of jobs where one has accumulated close to a decade's worth of knowledge before starting.

Related to this, I think it's important to consider that this correlation between g and job performance is conditioned on the fact that the person applied for the job. That sounds trivially true at first, but it means that the applicant felt like they were competent for the job (in the best case; in the worst case, it meant they felt that they had a chance of appearing competent at the job). In other words, what we're saying is, "Of the people who thought they could do the job, the smartest ones tended to do the best."

But if our candidate pool was everyone, I'm skeptical that g would still hold as a good predictor. I think I'm a bright guy, but I'm pretty sure I'd make a terrible nuclear engineer. And with that in mind, we may need to keep the non-g related selection around to prevent such a situation.

You've made a good comment. I can't specifically point you to a study with research or engineering (though I know there has been some that involved academic research performance as an outcome). The finding tends to be that 1) g is more, not less, important for jobs with higher complexity and 2) job knowledge acts as a mediator between the predicted relationship of g and work performance.

You are right to think that the results would be different if the test was just given on the general population. It's an academic consideration that tends to resolve itself in the field.

And you'll never hear me, or anyone else, suggest that g should be the only predictor for just the reason you describe. Biographical data (e.g., years experience, work history) is much better first hurdle.

The Wikipedia article talks a lot about correlation between performance in different subjects in school.

I've also read that two of the strongest predictors of performance in school are your parents' performance in school, and (after controlling for that) your parents' income.

Do studies of general intelligence usually control for the impact of parents' education and income?

> cognitive ability testing (which is always the best predictor, but tends to show racial bias).

I'm intrigued, is the "bias" because the test is unfair to one racial or more racial sub-groups or because the test is "fair" and that is how they actually perform or is it a language thing.

I do reasonably well on standardised IQ tests but I suspect if I did a German one I might struggle.

It's a bit of a mystery, truly, and bias can mean different things (e.g., slope vs. intercept predictive bias). Note also that predictive bias is not the same thing as mean subgroup differences (e.g., mean score differences of White vs. Black candidates).

This is a quick overview of the topic: http://www.siop.org/_Principles/pages31to34.pdf

An interesting thing is that the predictive bias is reduced for open-form response questions vs. select-one tests. It's an indication that there is more at work than just subgroup differences.

When my mother was doing sociology at Uni I read one of her texts (as you do) and it had an example of an IQ test been flawed, they gave the same test to two different groups of children and found that the poorer (working class as they where grouped in the study) children performed less well consistently.

One of the people looking at the results then looked at the breakdown of questions by group and noticed immediately that questions like "The cup goes on the a) saucer b) floor c) table d) shelf" where consistently "wrong" (correct answer was a) for the poorer group at which point he realised that working class children drink tea from mugs and saucers where a middle class thing.

The story might be apocryphal but its stuck with me since I was 12-13 whenever I run into any kind of standardised testing/results.

The latter. The races perform differently on "fair" cognitive tests.

How do we know the tests are fair? For a given test score, life outcomes like income and criminal conviction rate are the same.


As, I'm sure you can tell, this isn't specifically for technical and creative employees, but in general it appears that structured interviews, IQ tests and work samples significantly out perform unstructured interviews.

> If you don't consistently apply it, it becomes worthless.


Having read Thinking Fast and Slow and been convinced by this book's many useful views, I would agree that a simple questionnaire-based ranking is actually better than any subjective assessment of candidates. And it should be as neutral as possible, ie not letting one's "first impression" influence the ranking (because it is almost always based on irrelevant physical features).

But even then, there is no reason for this neutral evaluation to become worthless if not 100% consistently applied. There is the broken leg case: If you want to evaluate the probability of someone going to see a movie tonight, you just base yourself on simple statistical facts (how frequently people go to the movie in this country), and should not try to infer more from subjective context, except if the guy in question broke his leg this morning.

These tests and evaluations help much in reducing system bias due to halo fallacy, framing effect, and even time of the day for the evaluator (it has been proven juges are more lenient after lunch!), but they still are only helpers, they do not need to be decision-blocking.

Well, legally consistent application is very important. If getting an 80% if the cutoff for candidate A, and getting a 65% is acceptable for candidate B, then you're now setting different standards for different candidates. What if those different standards align with something like gender, or religion? It may not happen on purpose, but it's a problem.

Statistically, you've created a model for consistent application, and if you don't consistently apply then the anticipated value of the tools you're using is now in question as the model has a large source or error involved now.

I don't mean to say subject evaluations have no place in the process. Think of each part of the selection process as an independent stage. The candidates can pass the objective tests, perhaps with a minimum cutoff score, then pass the subjective judgment test. Or vice versa (though that may limit utility further).

I'd like to apologize for my poor grammar in the above comment. I typed it while on a conference call, and am a bit embarrassed by it.

> Anyway, there is a reason companies adopt "Big Corp" characteristics as the scale. The primary reason is for legal compliance through standardization of process, and the other is that data is supportive of the validity of objective predictors of job success relative to subjective judgments.

I can't speak to your second point, but as to your first point, I should note that law firms themselves definitely do not use such HR-driven hiring processes.

If they discard the second point, the first point may become less relevant. Companies that choose not to follow evidenced-based hiring practices, instead focusing more on pedigree or a few interviews, may do just fine as long as everyone is treated consistently and their processes don't show observable bias. They do so at their own detriment, but legally they can be OK.

Also worth noting: sometimes less rigorous way is the better way. Developing validated tests doesn't work as well with smaller numbers, and can be expensive. There are also considerations to be made for the selection ratio (candidates selected over candidates applied). The utility isn't always worth it, and I shouldn't make it out to seem so.

Huh. Hewlett-Packard is as BigCorp as BigCorps come, and we don't use psychometric tests -- at least not here in the software division, and not anywhere else that I've ever heard of.

Here's a very oversimplified model of people that would allow a test to strongly correlate with job performance, but still be wrong.

Let's assume for a moment that when a person is told to do something, and they disagree, 90% of all employees are typically wrong when they disagree and 10% of all employees are typically right when they disagree.

We are considering now just engineering type jobs (since that's what the article is about).

Now consider anti-authoritarianism: 90% of the people who are anti-authoritarianism will perform terribly worse than the typical population (since they will tend to go with their mistaken belief of what is right, or be obstructionist when poeple want to do it differently, etc). They will be your least valuable employees.

The remaining 10% of those scoring high on anti-authoritarianism are among the most valuable of your employees, as they won't allow their teammates to go down a dead-end.

So anti-authoritarianism is highly correlated with poor performance (even trouble-makers) but rejecting all applicants based on this will keep you from getting some of the most valuable employees.

>>> Properly validated psychometric tests are valid predictors of job performance

Here I have a problem - which job performance? Different jobs are obviously demanding different qualities - highly creative but impatient person may be an asset in job requiring instant creativity but a liability in a job requiring steady repetitive tasks and constant attention. So the test has to be matched to a position. But in the original article not only HR gave the same test to everybody, people who decide on positions don't even seem to have information or input on any correlation between position and test results. Given this, I highly doubt such application of testing can have any meaningful correlation with job performance.

> Here I have a problem - which job performance?

Job performance can be defined many different ways, and the most common in field studies is what is most common in the workplace: supervisory, and possibly peer, evaluations. It's not the perfect criteria, but the "perfect criteria" for many jobs exists only in the theoretical. When appropriate, "work performance" is also defined as sales numbers, widgets produced, time-to-complete, etc. It just depends on the study.

> So the test has to be matched to a position.

In many cases you're right (e.g., work samples), but not always. g-centric tests have demonstrated high validity across jobs and contexts. Tests for cultural fit (in which the desired outcome is typically workplace satisfaction and tenure) are typically validated across a wide range of jobs, and so they are applied across those jobs. Things like integrity tests and personality tests can have meaningful validity across jobs, even without seemingly job-relevant content.

In regards to the role of HR in hiring a candidate, I think it is a bit more complicated then you make it out to be. The problem is that a candidate won't just exist in isolation on the team he/she was hired to. There needs to be some representative of the rest of the company, outside of his/her project team and managers, to vouch for him/her. After all, this is a person that may be given building access, that will interact with other employees at company events, the cafeteria and the hallways.

I don't know anything about the details of the test in the article, but I can imagine someone doing well in their technical interviews, but failing miserably on company fit. Maybe he (settling on a 'he' in this case) is a brilliant programmer but showed serious misogynistic tendencies when interviewing with a female HR person. Maybe something came out of his HR interview that revealed him to be a borderline psycho who could code well but was a troublemaker. Considering that it is HR that will have to deal with this person in the future if there are complaints against him, I think it is only fair that they set some baseline level of acceptability for candidates.

I used to work for a company that writes and administers these tests. This company broke the cardinal rule.

#1 - Only give personality tests in their native language.

This is unacceptable, a personality test is NOT a language aptitude test.

Personality tests will have questions like this:

        True or False I am happy when others are taking advantage of me.  
Non-native speakers may not appreciate that "taking advantage" is a negative term and might read it as "I am happy when others are taking advantage of my abilities". Hell I WORKED for the company and had to double-triple take some of the questions.

Some of these personality tests are even written for English / UK-English because of the nuances involved.

The correct answer, in any case is "True". Employees who object to their bosses taking advantage of them are a liability risk and are automatic no-hires.

(Assuming this is not sarcastic, though I suspect it is)

I have no idea what sort of company hires only people who answer, "I would be perfectly happy if my boss took advantage of me, but it sounds like an extremely insipid place full of yes-men that I would not want to work at.

For the sake of argument though, if the point of the test (in OP's case anyways) is to determine culture fit, should it matter what the "right" answer is if the rest of the team got it "wrong"?


This comment conveys the all-too-common reality that "cultural fit" is code for "everyone should be like us." To the extent that cultural fit is a defensible hiring criterion, or even a good one, it doesn't mean pure homogeneity.

There are a lot of ways where it's obvious that you don't want homogeneity. Take the question above. It may be good for the company if all of the individual contributors like being taken advantage of, as they'll work long hours for bad pay or whatever. But if your upper management or sales team likes being taken advantage of, they're going to let the company be taken advantage of, and now it's not so good.

In a lot of things, it's way healthier to have a mix. You want people who like and excel at starting projects and laying good groundwork, and you want others who like refining and maintaining systems that are already defined, because any company that's still building new systems will need people to do both. In most development teams, having all of either will be bad news.

And the same goes for personality issues. It may seem great to build a culture around people coming in at the same abnormal time as you and liking the same kind of fun as you. We're all together all day! We can bond through that fun! But there are a lot of problems that crop up as you grow. Once your culture is defined by, say, being a bunch of 23-year-old men who come in at noon and love video games and drinking, people who don't fit some or all of those characteristics might not feel especially welcome. Hiring people for areas other than engineering gets hard. Hiring senior engineers who are more likely to need to be home by 6 gets hard. Hiring women gets hard. You've just boxed yourself into a pretty small corner of your potential talent pool.

I've seen great companies built out of beautiful mixes of people. A married foodie who lives in SF working alongside a through-and-through Southerner who thinks In-N-Out is exotic. Fresh out of college video game players alongside parents with two decades of experience who like hiking. People still got along great and had a lot of fun together. There were certainly some commonalities, but I'm sure people would answer personality questions in drastically different ways. That doesn't mean they don't "fit" together.

There certainly are some cases where rejecting someone on "fit" reasons makes sense. Say you interview someone who is technically great, seems to be able to generally work well with others, but is terrible at pair programming. Will never cede the keyboard or listen much to their partner, and doesn't seem to be trying to fix it. If your company does a lot of pair programming, don't hire them. If you're a company that doesn't really do pairing, this might be a bit of a red flag, but it's not a deal breaker. There might be some analogs in the personality space.

But culture fit definitely should not mean "we have identical personalities."

This stuff matters. I'm the kind of person who would pass a lot of "culture fit" homogeneity tests (young, white, male, pretty nerdy, elite university), but I hate the homogenous cultures that often crop up at Valley companies and actively avoid them. A major factor in choosing to intern at Matasano this summer instead of some companies that are filled with very happy 22-year-old men is the much more reasonable culture, and all 'tptacek has written on HN about how "culture fit" is often BS.

So if you build a culture where "fit" means "be like us," you won't just cut out a lot of people who aren't like you, you'll cut out people who are like you but prefer communities of diverse people.

I had a dream once that I got a job with a San Francisco startup. All of the people there resembled the sort of characters a dimestore novelist would come up with to fit a "hacker" archetype. There was an Asian guy with blue hair and earrings, a girl who was fond of tight-fitting "punky" clothing, etc.

In the dream I left the job because I felt I didn't fit in with them. Thankfully I've managed to get in with more diverse communities of coworkers in real life.

You're only thinking about the smallest cogs. Do you want a middle manager to be taken advantage of by those under him? Do you want someone in Sales to be taken advantage of by customers?

No, but only because that stops them being taken advantage of fully by their boss/shareholders [categorically not my point of view].

LOL, I have always answered no to this. I guess it's more than coincidence that led me to applying to places that don't administer these tests.

If you don't mind me asking, where would one begin searching for employment at a company such as the one you used to work at?

Would you care to send me an email? I'd love to ask someone who worked at one of these companies a few questions.



Oh god, I am shocked and horrified to hear that these sorts of tests may now be making their way into the tech industry.

I've never encountered one of these personally, but my then-girlfriend who was a recent nursing school graduate looking for her first job ran into them and failed the first few of them. After reading about them online I'm convinced the only way for you to "pass" these tests is to be slightly psychopathic or to simply know the very flawed theory behind the tests and train yourself to take them in which case they of course test nothing but how good you are at adapting to flawed tests.

The specific test she kept running into was the "Unicru" one:


I highly recommend anyone running into this problem with HR in their tech companies do what they can to FIRE HR. This kind of bullshit needs to be nipped in the bud if it threatens to take hold in our industry.

I know that it's hard when you want a job, but personality tests should be declined the same way polygraphs should be (if they were legal to administer). Developers have an advantage right now in the supply and demand department, and this is exactly the way that power should be used.

Talented developers are in short supply in the core tech industry. Outside that, the world is filled with "programmers" and "analysts" struggling to find jobs in enterprise IT and niche-market product development. Post a job to craigslist and you'll be drowned in resumes.

My suspicion (never having seen one of these tests) is that it's being used in these situations. I doubt Apple or Google are going to start using them any time soon. My guess is your advice is pretty bad for the people facing a personality test.

>> ... now be making their way into the tech industry.

I remember to fail one such test somewhere around 2001, the reason being: "... lack of a status-driven momentum ..." and " ... lack of aggressivity in pursuing career goals ... " or something to that effect.

Not that I walked out smiling, but they explained me in two sentences why I would not have liked to work there. So, addressing your quote above, I'm astonished that these tests are still around. Basically this company (and others) are putting their culture into the hands of an external service (Mercury Urval if I remember correctly in this case) and they can lose big by handing off influence on the choice.

Wow. That test looks like an excellent way to select for a combination of mindless corporate drones and skilled liars.

I'm confident I would ace this test. All I'd have to do is pick the exact opposite of what my honest answer would be.

Dude, your girlfriend may have been too immature at that point to realize what the right answers to Unicru were, but it's really obvious what the interviewer wants to hear after getting some life experience with assholes: bend over, don't complain, smile, etc...

I never got such a test, but if I did, I would try really hard to score 0% just because fuck you. Funny thing is that the capable guy being exemplified in this article probably did just that, after all, if you answer randomly the score will be higher than 1%.

I think if you haven't worked in a 'real' professional job for several years (your first job) then it can be harder to understand the psychology behind the test implicitly. Or if you just worked in small businesses with very low amounts of politics.

I would think an engineers personality should be different from a sales person's personality.

Ironically, if you did that then the score would probably be accurate.

Well yes, looking at the link above, I'm actually agreeing with many points from the "strong disagreement" list.

lolo I like:

"It is maddening when the court lets guilty criminals go free >> SA"

Yeah, what is the point of having a court of law anyway, because the test taker knows all.

There are much worse ones. I seriously hope that the key is fake. You are supposed to Strongly Disagree with:

  "When you are annoyed with something, you say so"
  "When people make mistakes, you correct them"
  "You are not afraid to tell someone off"
... and Strongly Agree with:

  "Any trouble you have is your own fault"
  "You avoid arguments as much as possible"
  "You finish your work no matter what"
This is what the wicked stepmother would ask the candidate for a Cinderella, with the added benefit of being too insecure to leave her for Prince Charming.

The key is correct. Remember you are a mindless drone, as such you are not expected to take charge. Them above, they know best.

Anyone remember that case when a prank caller called a McDonalds, telling them that they were management and that they should strip-search a female employee? McDonalds has an employee handbook with all the procedures for the robot, and if you can make it appear that what you ask is in the handbook you have hacked the robot. This is the background to that story. Excellent robots they have at McDonalds.

The reason for this procedure is that they want to pick up people from the streets and train them in a week. This is how you do it.

I think the caller pretended to be a cop. Pretty sure they made a movie about it recently...

One would think they changed the line in the manual about cooperating with law enforcement to something more detailed.

Note: I'm saying "something more detailed", not "something more appropiate to situation". The robot must not be required to think ever.

Not sure about a movie, but it was the lede case in a Law & Order SVU episode: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1015439/

This is disturbing on many levels to me. Someone who is "maddened" when a guilty criminal goes free demonstrates clear ignorance of the justice system as well as a tendency to be instigated by demagogues.

On the other hand, this test as a whole seems to be selecting for someone who is pliant and believes whatever he is told to believe, the sort of person who actually believes the HR indoctrination and the like. In this regard, I think the question is very revealing - someone who would answer "Disagree" to this question reveals that he understands that our judicial system is not perfect and reacts with skepticism whenever he is told by the media not to value human rights. Such a person would be more likely to stand up for himself in the workplace when his rights or the rights of others are violated.

It's actually rather clever if you're looking at it through the eyes of an asshole.

By the way, your username cracks me up.

Or they could be modestly conversant with the basics of criminal law.

The courts are designed to let some portion of the guilty go free: E.g.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstone%27s_formulation

For example, in any case where the evidence was obtained illegally, a person who is provably guilty may not be convicted: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_of_the_poisonous_tree

> in any case where the evidence was obtained illegally

It does make sense. Who's to say that the evidence in question wasn't planted?

I feel like this validates my comment? The two notions regarding criminal law you post are not maddening, but thoroughly reassuring.

They are reassuring from a systemic design perspective, or from the perspective of someone who is accused but innocent.

But in the individual case of an obviously guilty person going free, it is legitimately maddening.

I think with more perspective, there is nothing maddening about it.

It's like a pool filter. Any one particle of feces can float around the pool forever, but in aggregate the feces level is reduced.

I think that's a valid perspective, but that's not the only one.

If you have been a victim of a crime and the perp walks, it's reasonable to say something besides, "Thanks goodness our system works to protect the innocent!"

I also think prosecutors should always be a little maddened by it. It's they're job to keep the guilty-but-free error as low as possible.

Or to put it differently, aggregate feces reduction is great, but you are unlikely to say that if you discover a bit of somebody's poop in your mouth. And you never want the person in charge of cleaning the pool to say, "Fuck it, a little poop never killed anybody."

Yes, that one surprised me. I would think the personality type they want is never maddened.

I worked IT at a bank and they administered a test like this (Meyers-Briggs). Not during the hiring process, it was intended to be used by managers to build teams based on personality quadrant. I'm pretty sure the results were ignored though.

Myers-Briggs test isn't recognised as being scientifically valid so is largely ignored by the field of psychology

just saying ...


I don't think they're "making their way", I think they're already here in some tech segments. I've only been subjected to a test such as this once, administered by a certain mega-grocery-wholesaler in southern New Hampshire, and I thought it was hilarious. My answers reflected my "take charge, get sh*t done, &etc" startup mentality. They clearly wanted corporate drones who would quietly go about their assigned duties and submit to whatever authoritarianism was in the air at that location. I hope I bent the needle on their personality-o-meter as I sure tried to.

Thought experiment: For those running companies and hiring people. Would you take the time to occasionally run your interview processes over your existing employees? I'm not talking about involving them, I mean actually putting them through it.

It would be one way to sanity-check that the process is selecting for the things you want from those coming from outside. As a company grows, the non-technical systems and policies also need to adapt but without feedback things might get weird (like the OP's example). If an existing high-performer does badly with your interviews/tests at some point then you really, really need to fix something.

How many people trust their employer to take a negative result on such a test as a sign of a poorly functioning test rather than a poorly functioning worker.

But if you work at the company for some time your employer has much better metrics to grade you than hiring process.

Sure, as long as the people that know you run the interview and don't share the results with anyone that doesn't it's fine...

Here here, I'll second-that. Most management types are disconnected from the processes that their staff are instructed to follow. I've ran through application demos and walkthroughs with senior managers before where at the end they ask "Why do we do that?"

Most technical types are disconnected from the realities of sales, marketing, finance, law, etc, etc

So are most HR types.


By your logic, no position in a business know about business apart from oh so clever programmers? Oh please. Look across HN at the threads about the psychology, depression, and so on. Programmers and some of the most insular people out there. No problem as such, but don't tell me they have some special ability to cover all bases in a business. That has to be a joke.

If you think about it, HR are one of the few departments that are more likely to know about other departments. They have to, its their job. Do you think marketing has more interest in various departments as HR? Developers? Try talking to sales people, they think the idiot developers know nothing about that people want. Try talking to accountants, they think marketing just blows money. And so on. Oh yes, my department is best and every one else is a monkey. Yeah, heard the inter department politics over and over again. Its tired, boring and gets in the way of business. If idiots just grew up, and respected each others job functions productivity would benefit. But, hey.....

A lot of the problem with HR is arrogant people in other departments who don't do the hiring job properly, then spit the dummy because they find out their funky programmer got fired for fraud from their previous job, or something, because arrogant programmer didn't want HR to do the back ground checks, because arrogant programmer thought new programmer would be one of the boys.

Please, stop this nonsense.

can you make a company full of HR succeed? Can you make the same with only programmers?

The author addresses this:

She also told me that if I was re-interviewing at the company then I likely wouldn't get the job based on my psychometric profile, which was actually ironic since I was highly respected in my role and was one of only a handful of people that could convincingly debate technical alternatives with Senior Management.

I think I was in a really fortunate position when I was able to negotiate this at my second company. Interestingly, at my first company, asking an existing employee to take the written tests in the specified time-frame was a standard practice. They were also encouraged to provide subjective evaluation.

On a very positive note, our HR director was someone who had removed psychometric tests at a number of organizations before he came to us.

Why start with the interview? Try to find the job listing and submit a resume. Then ask yourself if that was a good use of your time. This part of the process is horribly broken for a lot of employers and they don't even know it.

> The problem here is that we didn't have the final say.

Yup ...

There is going to be a real big shift in the next twenty years. We look at things like Developer Anarchy and say "what let the programmers run the company?" - but that's the wrong idea. It's let those with software literacy run the company - just as 500 years ago those who were literate took over running companies

For a while we shall see parallel organisations within one company - the illiterate traditional management model, and a more productive, clearly vital org that consists of all those who "get it" - whatever their job title

I wasted too many years trying to join the well renumerated traditional side - and regret the half attention I found I could pay to programming. But I have seen the light

Stop working for companies that are not dedicated to software literacy. Schumpter will be round soon enough to have a word with them.

I recently spent a year working for an "elite" Silicon Valley startup company. The VP engineering had read enough Joel Spolsky to get through the door.. but he didn't practice software literacy.

I would love to work for a shop, even in an underling capacity, that really gets software dev right. It would be worth delaying my startup dreams just so I can do it right at scale.

Count the number of people in senior mgmt and in all positions who can do fizzbuzz. Greater than 50% in all cases - great. Greater than 50 % for all but less than 20% in senior positions - get out. Anything less - run for the hills.

It's not saying its important - everyone in Hollywood says the story is the thing - but only Pixar seems to live by it. See any talk by Ed Catmull

VP Engineering is a parking title.

The role or the person performing it in most cases generally does nothing even remotely close to engineering. If you sit down and seriously grill the guy, he will have no clue what he is doing, why he is doing it or if he is even necessary.

There are a few good people who become VP's but such people are exceedingly rare. Most of the times, VP's are made and hired through politics, strong friend network, god fathers or sometimes sheer luck.

A person I know who has done a few successful start ups once told me, he purposefully avoids hiring anyone with 'director' or 'VP' titles from big companies. Often, they are the ones which take the highest compensation, while actually being the most useless people on the team.

Why do people say "doing fizzbuzz" rather than just programming? Fizzbuzz is just a trick question to see if new programmers know how to use the modulo operator or not.

I have been to student recruitment events at universities hiring software engineers for quite advanced level jobs. We give out a programming quiz (with a nice prize) at these events and we include the fizzbuzz puzzle. We allow solutions in any language and give out style points for nice solutions.

Our experience is that the answers to fizzbuzz are a good classification criteria in vetting who has got programming abilities and who has not. Most people who actually try can solve it, but the ones who are talented give out either a perfect and simple solution or do something elegant and go for the style points. The ones who don't give out a fumbling solution that is too long or shows signs of not being comfortable with the task at hand, even if they manage to write a computer program that produces the correct results.

As silly as it may sound, the fizzbuzz test is a good classifier for programmers. I didn't believe it until I saw the evidence from the quality of candidates we got.

Knowing how to fizzbuzz doesn't make you a good programmer.

But not being able to do it is a very strong signal that someone can't program in any professional setting, no matter what they pretend. It's a very simple and effective test to rule out people who think/pretend they can program, but really can't.

So... it's basically a bloom filter for developer aptitude? :)

Yes, yes it is.

You can solve fizbuzz without modulo operator:

    bool divisible_by(int a, int b) {
      return a==((a/b)*b);
It doesn't require anything more than knowledge about what division means, and I think it's fair play to require such knowledge from programmers.

Maybe this is a stupid question, but wouldn't that always return true? (a/b)*b just cancels out the b right? Unless there is weird floating point stuff going on.

There's not floating point stuff going on, that's why it works. :)

a and b are ints, so a/b is truncated (rounded down) before applying *b.

It's integer maths. For example: a = 10, b = 3 10/3 = 3 3 * 3 = 9 9 != 10

Or even if you don't know anything about integer math, you can use repeated subtraction. Or ask for help on finding a multiple and do the rest of the structure yourself. Or keep a counter to 3 and a counter to 5 and reset them when they fill up.

Definitely not a gimmick question about whether you know about modulus.

Fizzbuzz isn't just modulo, as evidenced by the amusing number of incorrect solutions under the original article.

Fizzbuzz is a test for programming-ability. It's easy to explain, easy to grade, easy to run. If you wanna check if someone can programme, then someone else has already come up with a good test (fizzbuzz) to give them.

fizzbuzz I find is also used as slang for "Groks simple programming". I would say any fizzbuzz equivalent would be fine too.

"Stop working for companies that are not dedicated to software literacy. Schumpter will be round soon enough to have a word with them."

You wish. Once a company is a certain size, it can ignore market pressure by colluding with government (the company I work for should have been obliterated long ago, but there are artificial barriers to entry).

This isn't just about developers and hiring practices. This is about systemisation and bullshit metrics being used to make opaque and life-changing decisions.

This is about the same kind of shitty thinking that results in surveillance states.

"We can't employ/feed you/let you travel/let you have a mortgage/let you open a bank account, you are Invalid."

"Invalid, what do you mean?"

"We are not allowed to tell invalids why they are invalid. Report for reprocessing."

Edit: Oh, and psych tests are bull. It's pretty obvious what the "right" answers are - so all you actually succeed in doing is filtering the psychopaths in.

Which by the way is the same process you go through for college admissions. "We're sorry, we can't admit you" "Why?" "This email was sent by an automated system. For questions, please send an email to admissions@uni.edu" OR "Congratulations, you've been admitted" "Nice, but I'd like to know for what" "Well, we decided that way. You're in, why do you care?"

I very much dislike the idea that you can't give special treatment to individual candidates. The job of a recruiter is to find the best candidate for the job, not to treat all candidates equally. Now obviously we can't go around discriminating against candidates based on attributes not relevant to their ability to perform (ie gender, race, religion etc), but that doesn't mean we can't make use of any extra information we might be able to garner about a person.

If a particular candidate, who happens to fail part of the interview, still seems like a good choice, by all means look for additional means of evaluation.

I once had an interview, where I spoke with a few people very positively for about 3 hours, it was going great. There was no sign of a technical test, so I had assumed by this point that they either didn't do them, or they'd be in a second round of interviews. Then they realised they'd forgotten to give me the technical test, which they then gave me and I screwed up for whatever reasons. Upon learning that I'd aced every part of the interview except the programming test, I mentioned they had an employee who'd worked with me on previous projects and could vouch for my coding ability. But they said they couldn't use that information because it would be unfair to other candidates.

This was a long time ago, and I didn't really lose much by not getting the job, but it always felt like the approach they took was wrong.

> The job of a recruiter is to find the best candidate for the job, not to treat all candidates equally.

I won't disagree, but I would like to restate that a little more carefully:

"The job of a recruiter is to measure which candidate is best for this job, fairly and without bias."

As you point out, there are quite a few reasons that people try to weedle out of actually hiring the best person, some of them not so savory (subconscious preference for white, male people - but it depends on the company, and the culture). It should be hard, but not impossible, to override the default procedure - and for exceptional cases only.

Certainly, in the Article, the flawed psychometric test should not have been grounds to reject the best-performing candidate in the room. But similarly, personality (or appearance) should also not be a reason to promote someone over their ability to do the job.

It's probably true that in my example, I was good but not exceptional enough to justify overriding procedure. Thanks for giving me that perspective!

The problem here is that it's very hard for people to not discriminate at all based on attributes not relative to ability such as gender, race, religion, etc.

For example, many people have racist tendencies but rationalize them as something else.

"There is a big group of male magentas dressed the same over there, I should avoid them because they are almost certainly a gang"

is rationalized as:

"I don't avoid the group of male magentas dressed the same because I'm racist and assume that most magentas are in a gang, but because I've been taught common sense. Common sense dictates people that look like that must be gangsters."

Perhaps if we interviewed people without being able to see them, their name, or anything about them and using voice obfuscation we could eliminate a lot of bias?

It's indeed very hard to avoid discrimination. I'm not proud to admit that I have racist, and even sexist tendencies. I have just enough self-awareness to recognise that I've done it after the fact, but it's much harder to stop myself in the process of discrimination and behave differently.

I imagine a significant number of people are similar to myself in this regard, I would love to see more discussion about it. Because I feel it's the subtle prejudices we all have that create the real problems, rather than the smaller (but louder) groups of overtly prejudiced people.

That was very possibly a white lie. In this egalitarian, self-esteem is paramount era, many will be more comfortable saying "it wouldn't be fair" as opposed to "you FAILED."

Another employee vouching for you isn't quite the same thing.

Wow. The articles about completely idiotic hiring procedures never cease--because the reality of companies using idiotic hiring procedures never ceases--and each new submission is actively discussed here on Hacker News. How to hire good workers is already a solved problem, but most hiring managers don't do even minimal research to find out what best practice is.

I'm told that this Hacker News community disfavors repeated posting of FAQ posts as comments, but this is a Frequently Asked Question (what's really the best way to hire good workers) and over the last year or two here on Hacker News I've put together a post with a lot of references to the best research. A recent posting of that here on HN


could help companies cure their idiotic hiring procedures. Read the FAQ if you haven't read it before. (Please let me know what you think of it, as I have been doing more research so that I can refine the FAQ and post it on my personal website.) There is no good reason for companies to do anything less than the best when setting up hiring procedures. Protect yourself by knowing what effective hiring procedures look like and how to find companies that use them.

Surprising and disappointing that the best methods were only barely over 50% correlation with performance on the job.

What does the algorithmic whiteboard coding tech interview count as? Does it qualify as work sample and brain teaser combined with interview? I suspect it's too far removed from what software engineering is actually like to be a good work sample, and the prior knowledge required to solve algorithm problems doesn't make it a great brain teaser either.

Surprising and disappointing that the best methods were only barely over 50% correlation with performance on the job.

That's probably about the best we could expect, as job-seeking behavior when a candidate desires a job is different from job-doing behavior over the long term after someone is hired and knows more about the company. The appalling thing is that companies still use procedures (personal unstructured interviews, "personality" tests, and in Europe even handwriting analysis) that are demonstrably much worse than that, rather than the work-sample tests and general cognitive ability tests that at least give companies their best chance to hire workers who will do well on the job.

Isn't 50% just like flipping a coin?

Is a correlation of 0.5 like flipping a coin? No, it isn't. A coin flip would have a correlation of 0. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_and_dependence

> How to hire good workers is already a solved problem

Oh? I hadn't heard about that.

Read the FAQ


linked in the parent comment to yours, and you can learn about the best trade-off among time, expense, effectiveness, and legal exposure among all hiring procedures used by companies. It's low-hanging fruit to improve competitive position for a company to follow the minority of companies that use effective hiring procedures rather than the majority of companies that use haphazard or demonstrably ineffective hiring procedures.

"The psychometric test was supposed to produce a "true" reflection of how someone saw themselves, and I was told it couldn't change over time - i.e. whatever it determined was fixed, immutable and infallable."

20 years ago I took the Meyers-Briggs test multiple times (well, once a year for 3 years). My numbers changed a little bit each time - I was fairly strong I and N, but very weak 'T' and 'J', to the point where sometimes they were 'F' and/or 'P'. I took a similar test again a few weeks ago and 'I' and 'N' were strong, the others were still weak.

I had a couple people tell me though that "it never changes". Which is ridiculous because it's obviously not true, and depends totally on how you interpret the questions, and that's based on how you're feeling when you take it. I don't think people administering tests or interpreting the results always understand what they're actually looking at (which probably makes me a stronger J).

remember that MBTIs have no evidence base - they can be helpful in allowing someone to "see" jobs they might be happier in, as they did for me, but they don't necessarily measure anything statistically significant about a personality.

It's obviously pseudo bullcrap; what's astonishing is that the hiring manager in the article is dogmatically following it and ignoring the advice of the senior technical people involved in the hiring process

That's arguably backward. The MBTI was developed to help people place into jobs, but it has not proven itself to be a useful indicator of that. Conversely, all it is is a personality measurement. When you analyze the type system, it's actually a fairly decent one. (Probably the best we have today, but that doesn't mean much if you think they're all bad.)

Well, really, how different is it from the Chinese Ground/Fire/Water/Wind personality traits system? You can explain anything with it: Roger is Water with some wind, and B-Con is mostly Fire with some ground mixed in. We need more "ground" people for our team!

What does that tell you that "hey, this team is pretty pie in the sky and chasing ideas that aren't likely to be monitized. Let's get a product manager in here to give some direction!" The latter, I argue is far superior cognitive model, and has the decided advantage of being based on empirical observations. (I know you weren't arguing for MBTI, I just used your post as a launching off point since you mentioned the existence of different systems).

Sure - they're not the be-all answer to everything, but I've found them helpful in (re)assessing myself lately.

I found much more static-ness in my IQ over the last 30+ years. I was actually surprised at how consistent it was over decades and various tests (and, dare I say, slightly disappointed).

I agree about MBTI - until I understood that I was allowed to have a personality preference for perceiving over judging (preferring to live in the moment than plan ahead in detail) I was stressing myself worrying about why I was so rubbish at planning, rather than trying to find a career where it was less important! (the only careers I've come up with so far are stock exchange trading and politics - if anyone has any others I'd be interested to hear. I like coding, especially in sprints, but I am absolutely terrible at estimating how long it will take me to write things.)

I find that every time I take an IQ test I get a higher score - I presumed because I'm learning what sort of questions IQ tests ask and how to answer them faster - so when required I just quote the first ever test I took as my IQ (which was a very unscientific one, unfortunately, by answering questions along with a TV program. I also had a score bump for age, because I was only 16.) I was, at the time, delighted that I got higher than my maths teacher! remember too, though, that IQ is heavily biased towards people with a "western" education.

IQ isn't very important though, once you get above 130 - the differences don't correlate to greater performance in any real test cases. The difference in performance at those levels is to do with attitude, experience, vocabulary (outside of technical fields I've studied/worked in, mine is awful), and all sorts of soft factors.

(apologies if I'm wrong, but I assume that anyone with karma on hacker news is IQ >= 130 or so.)

IQ numbers vary based on tests, to some degree, so "130" doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot. What I'd found is that I was in the same percentile on all tests (took 3 a few years ago) compared to tests from 30 and 20 years ago.

The raw score numbers might have changed up or down slightly, but same percentile in my case.

... IQ is supposed to be a normal distribution, ">= 130" === "3 sigma above the mean," i.e. top 0.1%.

(bearing in mind that the test is inescapably biased towards people with our background - US/UK/etc, certainly English speaking, probably university educated.)

To be fair, I wasn't university educated at 9, when I took my first tests, although I was born in the US and spoke English.

fair point indeed - the tests are highly weighted (and thus rather unsatisfactory - the skewing reduces the resolution of the test, if you like) for young people.

I suspect the tests I had at 9 were age-specific, but I've still kept in the same percentile.

What was interesting to me was tests a couple years ago - the questions were sometimes things like

"I'll say a number, you repeat it back to me with the digits reversed".

They kept going until you couldn't do it anymore. I think I conked out around 9 or 10 digits.

"Give me as many names as you can in 10 seconds" (something like that).

"Spot the differences between these two pictures".

I'm wondering in what ways questions like these can be (or are) culturally biased? I can think of ways myself, but curious as to what others think.

Oh, if we are talking about the specifics of IQ testing here, I can link to one of the rare Wikipedia articles


that has actually recently been updated with reliable sources. Some of the comments below this comment of yours make guesses about IQ tests that can be checked against the sources by referring to that article.

I've taken the Meyers-Briggs several times and tried to answer in a way to get different outcomes. I've answered realistically, speculatively, and hopefully. Each time I got the same result.

Interesting. How strong are those results each time?

Each of my 4 scores have had a % strength with them - my I and N have been fairly high (30-60% over time), and the T/J were always < 10%, slipping in to F/P on occasion.

I don't remember. The test I took were online versions. I took several at different websites. I really don't know the validity or reliability of them.

There's no way this is possible unless you are selecting different shades of the same category of answer. The overall framework of MBTI is largely binary. To produce different results, all you have to do is choose the complete opposite of answers you chose last time.

"I make lists frequently" is the opposite of "I don't maintain lists at all"

What wouldn't work is substituting "Crowded environments make me tired" with "I like to hang out sometimes, other times alone". The delta isn't wide enough.

When I said I was trying to get different results I didn't mean artificial results. There were times when I answered the questions how I thought I would actually act in a situation. And I've answered the questions in how I would want to act in a situation. I wanted to see if there is a difference between who I am and who I want to be. What is the difference between actual self and idealized self.

If I wanted a different answer then all I could have done was answer the opposite of what I did before.

> I had a couple people tell me though that "it never changes". Which is ridiculous because it's obviously not true, and depends totally on how you interpret the questions, and that's based on how you're feeling when you take it.

The official MB position is that your type itself doesn't change, even if your answers do. Your perception of yourself and of the questions can change, but your type itself does not.

Frankly, I don't buy that, I don't see any strong evidence, from theory or practice, to suggest that it must be that way. However, IMO, it's a pointless subject. Whether you change or not really has no impact on anything. Just use the typing system and take the most accurate results you get. If your score changes, whatever.

Note: I'm a very strong MB enthusiast and I think it's a fantastic personality typing system. Oddly, I've never taking the actual MBTI (that is, the actual test), though.

The worst part about companies using Meyers-Briggs (other than the pseudoscience beliefs around it) is that it's easy to manipulate. If you study the test and know what the company is looking for you can easily answer the questions to the the result you want.

Improving a company 101:

* Get rid of HR people.

* Profit.

I respectfully disagree. Get some decent HR people and don't give them the last call on hiring decisions. Make it clear that HR is supporting the process, but not leading the process and that the last call is with the department/team that is looking for a hire. Let HR take all the tedious tasks of hiring from the developers, such as all the legalese, handling employee benefits, sick reports and all associated paperwork, but do not let them define the flow of a hiring process. Developer time is far to valuable to be wasted on mainly administrative side-tasks.

I don't think there is a need to "respectfully disagree" to a disrespectful comment. Just like there are terrible dev teams there are terrible HR departments, and this sounds like one of them.

But as you mention, if developers were to handle everything related to hiring, firing, sick reports, vacation, benefits, contracts, compliance etc. that HR does, I doubt there would be any profit.

The problem with HR is that they do tasks they are not qualified to as a mission. It's the role that's broken, note the teams.

It's not even really their fault. The HR person wouldn't know about databases and the deep knowledge and great insight a candidate might possess.

What the HR person would know is how the person appears socially and how he manages to present himself.

The company should make sure the HR person isn't the only one deciding if somebody gets hired or not, because the HR person simply does not possess the tools needed to get the best man for the job by himself.

I could see a possible role for HR. I don't think it remotely resembles what they are usually there to do.

True story: I got an ad for a consulting position for "Postgre"

The description had as a listed skill:


That's a bad sign there.

Or a recent job posting I saw for a Java tech lead:



Open source technologies

Microsoft Visual Studio

This reminds me of a job posting I found around 2004, which had as requirement "at least 5 years of experience with C#"

Or job postings in 2009 which required at least 3 years of experience with iOS development.

Not that impossible. Maybe they were trying to poach Apple employees. :)

As with all departments in a company, HR does the tasks that they're assigned to do. It's a task, not a mission. There's scope creep and mission creep as with every task we're used to. If they do stuff that they're not supposed to do and make decisions that they're not supposed to make, it's the team and the person handling the team that's broken and time to reevaluate and adjust what value the team is supposed to bring to the company. That however is not unique to HR but applies to all roles and teams in a company. I worked with great HR people and less than stellar. But I also had to constantly battle system administration that made technical decisions for developers (no, we can't deploy this because ..., you must code your projects in ...) and stellar OPS teams that worked with the dev teams to provide an insane amount of knowledge, experience, insight and help.

It's easy to bash HR people just as "regular" employees often bash IT ("They won't provide that simple feature that I've been asking for ever since, just because they hate me."). But calling the role "broken" does not magically make it disappear. Someone needs to handle the employer/employee relationship and all attached nuisances - any organisation with employees that does not handle this role is more broken than any HR department I've ever seen.

I'd really hope that we'd be over this and appreciate that other people in our organisation provide value and experience that we maybe can't see at fist glance. Instead we close our eyes and call their role "broken".

What, specifically is that task?

The task for an HR person? The scope really depends on your organisations needs and on the quality and qualifications of your HR person. In general: Handle or at least support all tasks that are associated with employees and other people in your company.

The scope can be as narrow as "do background checks on hires, do the math on their desired pay and tell me how much each one would cost and if there's any red flags" or as broad as "do a first phone call and check out if you think that person is a good fit culturally." Handle all associated paperwork, set up interview dates, handle travel and accommodation arrangements for the prospective hire, ... Handle all paperwork associated with employees, sick leave, keep track of holidays, ... Follow changes in applicable law. Organise team building events. I know of an HR department that organises monthly lunches where people of the company get randomly assigned to groups so that they get to know other people working in the same company, not only their team peers. There's a lot of things you can do as HR person. Not everybody needs everything and not every HR person may have the required qualifications for each task, so you probably just have to figure out what exact set of responsibilities right for your place.

Given your previous comments about mission creep, would you agree with me that the narrower the role the better?

Out of curiosity, could you imagine an organization functioning where HR work was done by administrative assistants to team managers?

> Given your previous comments about mission creep, would you agree with me that the narrower the role the better?

No. Mission creep happens on broad and narrow roles the same. The better defined the role, the better. Constant reevaluation and adaption to changed realities is a must.

> Out of curiosity, could you imagine an organization functioning where HR work was done by administrative assistants to team managers?

Up to a certain degree yes, but there's the question how and where to allocate common functions if you have any. Depends on your organisation. That doesn't make the "HR department" disappear though, it just changes its name to "administrative assistants". It certainly makes things harder when people try to reach the HR department because that's what they're used to.

All in all: If that fits your organisation, sure. Just make sure that the role is defined and someone is responsible and actually takes up the work.

edit: see also https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6289282 for a point where a more centralised HR made a positive impact. An assistant to the team manager might easily have missed the broad picture because of a more narrow view, focused on the teams turnover rate.

Our recruiters learn about the field they are recruiting in and search and evaluate potential candidates. Our HR admins manage and monitor sickness days, vacation days, contract renewals, contract terminations and so on. The HR managers, well, manage the rest of the HR.

Personal anecdote: One of the first companies I worked to as CTO lost me because they didn't have an HR person. The person in charge let the contract renewal negotiations slip from scheduled meeting to scheduled meeting for more than 6 month and by the time the actual meeting took place all I could say was "Sorry, I just signed somewhere else." That was the shortest contract negotiation I ever had.

I'm not sure what you're arrangement was, but when I was contracting through an agency, HR was not involved. And contract expirations were a constant worry. It can take months to get the ball rolling for a contract renewal.

Question: Did you not bring this up yourself, to the person in charge? ... or were you possibly not so interested in continuing to work there, or maybe feeling that bringing it up was the sole responsibility of the person in charge?

I initially brought the issue up. I was unhappy with the way some things were organised and (not) part of my sphere of influence plus a set of other open issues. The initial thrust was to renegotiate, to set responsibilities and expectations straight.

We had an initial round of meetings and then the issue slipped with meetings getting pushed out further and further from the other side. So yes, I think that in this position the other person was in charge. In any case, even if I'd be responsible to push the agenda, a good HR department should not let an open (and known) issue slip. Quite, to the contrary, good HR should recognise situations like this before the employee ever feels the need to push for a contract renegotiation.

Their job is to protect the company from the risk that employees represent.

If you get a moment, read "Corporate Confidential" by Cynthia Shapiro. Only 200 or so pages, and it's a quick read. But very enlightening.

Great book, but it will make you a bit paranoid about what you say/do at work. It did help me understand what HR is really doing.

I hope I never end up working at a firm where those situations are the norm. As they say, knowing is half the battle.

I think it depends on the organization. I have never worked anywhere where the HR team had such a large role in hiring - that was not part of their mission. They freely acknowledge they were not qualified to do that. In all of my experience - at mid - large- size companies, the HR people did very high-level phone and resume screenings, if that. After that, it was up to the hiring manager and team. I've also heard of those "personality" tests being used as tie-breakers. But never to reject an otherwise highly qualifed - and preferred - candidate.

Ah, so who hired the bad HR staff then? The founders? The programmers? The investors? Who put them there, apparently unqualified and unspecified?

> The problem with HR is that they do tasks they are not qualified to as a mission.

That's only true if the people defining the mission of various departments -- i.e., executive management -- is not competent at their job.

Reforming or eliminating HR will not fix that problem.

Are there good HR departments? I haven't had the honor of seeing any so by my book they're classified in the same section as unicorns and fairies.

I've worked in companies with both good and bad HR departments. Currently, our HR department, has intervened in our department hiring processes because they saw incredibly high - and quick - turnover in some groups. In those groups, they have improved the interview process significantly. Not by taking over, but by forcing the managers to be more honest when posting and discussing the positions, by forcing the managers to actually learn "better" interview skills and techniques, by forcing the managers to be more realistic about job requirements (do you really need someone with a Master's degree to staff your standard Tier 1 or 2 helpdesk????? OMG, NO!!!)

> Are there good HR departments?

That depends. Are they staffed by psychologists? If yes, then no. Psychology and psychological testing are losing credibility very rapidly right now:


There are some psychologists that actually try to be scientific (my GF is doing a postgraduate degree in neuropsychology).

Unfortunately, they're overwhelmed by the majority, which are full of pseudoscience.

Maybe the more rigorous ones should change their titles, not to be associated with standard "psychologists" anymore?

> Maybe the more rigorous ones should change their titles, not to be associated with standard "psychologists" anymore?

I have been recommending that serious students, those who want to avoid the stigma of psychology, enter the field of neuroscience instead. Neuroscience will eventually replace psychiatry and psychology as the preferred approach to treating what we now call "mental illnesses", most of which are actually biological illnesses with mental symptoms. Reference:


But psychiatry and psychology do not have much in common.

Psychiatrists are medicals doctors treating the organ "brain". It's pretty much interchangeable with neuroscience. And before once changes, one should reason very carefully, because they are completely different, and medical school is very hard, while one says that psychology tends to be easy. Also there is not much new about this approach. It's probably as old as psychology. Maybe one could say psychology developed from the former. Pawlov for example was a physiologist.

/e Well, no they are not interchangeable. A psychiatrists does not research about bionic eyes. But the way they see human psyche is pretty much.

> But psychiatry and psychology do not have much in common.

Psychiatry and psychology are branches of human psychology -- both rely on the study of human psychology for validation. And if human psychology were a rigorous, empirical science, people wouldn't be able to say, as you just have, the psychiatry and psychology do not have much in common.

Would you say the same thing about cosmology and particle physics? They're very different -- one studies events at the smallest possible scale, the other at the largest possible scale. But no one suggests that they're unrelated to either each other or to their parent field of physics. The reason is they're sciences.

> Psychiatrists are medicals doctors treating the organ "brain".

No, that's false -- you just described the field of neuroscience (except that neuroscience is more a research than a medical field at the moment). Psychiatrists are psychologists with a medical degree, they are not neuroscientists, and they treat the mind, not the brain.

> It's pretty much interchangeable with neuroscience.

Not remotely. Neuroscience studies the brain and nervous system, psychiatry is a branch of psychology that studies the mind.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychiatry

Quote: "Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders."

Note the phrase "mental disorders," i.e. disorders of the mind. Not "brain disorders".

They could call themselves, cognitive scientists, or behavioural economists, or something!


> They could call themselves, cognitive scientists, or behavioural economists, or something!

Yep. I'm hearing "cognitive neuroscientist" more often, even though those so named haven't changed their practice and are still psychologists.

Not all psychologists see eye-to-eye on the tests issue.

In the case mentioned in the article, even a professional that truly trusts the tests should have taken into consideration:

1) make his own assesment and check against the test score,

2) realize that the test is supposedly validated against a sample, and if the candidate falls out of that sample (non-native english speaker), the test should probably be disregarded.

Carefull when disregarding a whole field based on preconceptions. All fields have different branches and disagreements. True some fields like psychology have a harder time producing great professionals, in my assesment. I think it's because of it being a young field and it's hard to agree on what the standards are to measure good/bad practice.

What are you talking about psychology is awesome i am quite interested in the field however HR's use of psychology by just ticking boxes is not correct. They don't understand it so they are unable to apply it without ticking boxes. That form is completely useless in London for example where about 50% of the population is a non native English speaker.

> What are you talking about psychology is awesome i am quite interested in the field however HR's use of psychology by just ticking boxes is not correct.

I think you should ask yourself some hard questions about psychology. It's true that psychology's current practices are rather unreliable, but it's not obvious how to solve that problem, given the field's subject, the human mind. If the target were the brain, that would be different, but the mind is not the brain.

If you're trying to say psychology is not an exact science I agree. You can't use psychology to make exact predictions of how people will behave however the more you learn about psychology the better you get at figuring out people and make a educated guess what motivates them.

For instance i find myself using MBTI ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator ) a lot when meeting new people and tailoring my approach in a way that is meaningful to them.

The solution is simple teach HR psychology but don't make it the be all end all solution in hiring people it should however be a tool in their tool box and they should use their best judgement. Or thrust the IT staffs judgement at least.

> If you're trying to say psychology is not an exact science I agree.

It's not a science at all. Sciences make observations, then craft generalizing theories to explain the observations, then test the theories in unrelated contexts, then discard those theories that fail. This is certainly not how psychology works. In psychology, it's commonplace to see a therapy for a disease whose existence hasn't yet been established, or that was brought into being by a secret vote rather than a microscope (as was true during the DSM-5 editorial process).

Am I exaggerating the requirements for real science? Let's perform a thought experiment to see. Let's say we can have science without theories, only with observations, as in modern psychology. Here goes ...

Let's say I'm a doctor and I've created a revolutionary cure for the common cold. My cure is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until he gets better. The cure might take a week, but it always works. My method is repeatable and perfectly reliable, and I've published my cure in a refereed scientific journal (there are now any number of phony refereed scientific journals). And, because (in this thought experiment) science can get along without defining theories, I'm under no obligation to try to explain my cure, or consider alternative explanations for my breakthrough — I only have to describe it, just like a psychologist.

Because I've cured the common cold, and because I've met all the requirements that psychology recognizes for science, I deserve a Nobel Prize. Yes or no?

Ask yourself what's wrong with this picture, and notice that the same thing is wrong with psychology — all description, no explanation, no established principles on which different psychologists agree, no effort to build consensus, and no unifying theories.

> You can't use psychology to make exact predictions of how people will behave however the more you learn about psychology the better you get at figuring out people and make a educated guess what motivates them.

Only if you're suffering from a bad case of confirmation bias. You need to understand that psychology is undergoing a major upheaval eight now, mostly because of improvements in neuroscience that suggest neuroscience will eventually replace psychology, in the same way that astronomy replaced astrology in the 17th century.

You appear to be suffering from a misapprehension.

Psychology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology

Psychiatry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychiatry

Note the not to be confused with introduction on Wikipedia.

They are quite different, and while I agree that DSM-5 was a disgrace, that was somewhat inevitable given the commercial pressures involved.

Its worth noting that I agree with your major point, but it applies to psychiatry (more specifically, the DSM) rather than to psychology.

> You appear to be suffering from a misapprehension.

Both are studies of the mind. Psychiatrists are psychologists with an M.D. degree.

Psychology: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology

Quote: "an academic and applied discipline that involves the scientific study of mental functions and behaviors"

Psychiatry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychiatry

Quote: "the medical specialty devoted to the study, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders."

See the word "mental" in both definitions? Neither studies the brain, neither is scientific, and the distinction between them is more a matter of history than topic.

I ask that you think about what you're saying. If human psychology were a science, then its two major subfields, psychiatry and psychology (there are actually 54, but never mind), would be looked on as intimately related to human psychology and to each other.

Would you argue that cosmology and particle physics aren't related to each other because they study different things, i.e. one studies the universe at the largest possible scale and the other at the smallest? Most scientists would disagree because these two fields rely on physics and physical theory for their scientific standing.

> but it applies to psychiatry (more specifically, the DSM) rather than to psychology.

False. Both psychiatry and psychology rely on the DSM as a diagnostic guide.

Link: http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/dsm

Title: "DSM"

Quote: "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States ... It can be used by a wide range of health and mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and other physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurses, occupational and rehabilitation therapists, and counselors. "

> I agree with your major point, but it applies to psychiatry (more specifically, the DSM) rather than to psychology.

On the contrary, it applies to both, because both psychiatry and psychology depend on the DSM's imagined authority for diagnosis and treatment guidance.

If the DSM were to suddenly disappear, psychologists would have no therapeutic guidebook. That wouldn't stop them, of course, but it would be disrupting and embarrassing.

If human psychology were a science, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because psychiatry and psychology would be looked on as branches of a science with more similarities than differences, just as with cosmology and particle physics.

I would urge you to realise that psychology!=psychotherapy.

I hate with the blinding passion of a thousand fiery suns psychotherapy, but I find much (experimental) psychology rather interesting.

Seriously, one of the very first things they tell you in a psychology degree (at least in Europe) is that its not about therapy, and in fact that most therapists are not psychologists. The study of the human mind and what is essentially a form of confession are very, very different.

But hey, you'll believe what you want to on this one, it doesn't look like I can convince you.

Have you read any of the work of Daniel Kahneman? Thats what I would consider as psychology (even if his System One and Two stuff is a dirty hack that provides little useful insight to the field).

> I would urge you to realise that psychology!=psychotherapy.

You don't need to clarify that, and it lacks any connection with the present topic.

> I find much (experimental) psychology rather interesting.

I would find it much more interesting if it were scientific, if its practitioners crafted and then tested falsifiable theories. But it isn't and they don't.

> But hey, you'll believe what you want to on this one, it doesn't look like I can convince you.

My position isn't based on belief, it is based on evidence. Consider this summary of an investigation into recent egregious and fraudulent psychological research:


Quote: "In their exhaustive final report about the fraud affair that rocked social psychology last year, three investigative panels today collectively find fault with the field itself. They paint an image of a "sloppy" research culture in which some scientists don't understand the essentials of statistics, journal-selected article reviewers encourage researchers to leave unwelcome data out of their papers, and even the most prestigious journals print results that are obviously too good to be true."

Too bad about these academic experts and their "beliefs" about psychological research.

Incidents like the above explains why the director of the NIMH has recently decided to abandon the DSM, psychiatry and psychology's central authority, as unscientific and of no research value:


Quote: "While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity."

Too bad about the NIMH director's "beliefs".

> Have you read any of the work of Daniel Kahneman? Thats what I would consider as psychology (even if his System One and Two stuff is a dirty hack that provides little useful insight to the field).

Hmm -- it seems you are now making my argument for me.

Why do I care? Why am I critical of psychology but give sociology a pass? Sociologists don't have clinics in which they tell you how sick you are, using disease definitions they voted into existence.

There is no such thing as an inexact science. If it is science, it is exact; if it is inexact, it is simply confirmation bias fodder.

I call it inexact because you can't use the classical way of proving theories right or wrong. There's no mathematical calculations you can do to figure out all the implications of that theory. The theories are based on observations of human behavior and they most likely do not cover all edge cases they are however the best we got at the moment in describing human behavior and motivations.

If this were to happen in physics we'd call it it a failed or incomplete theory.

> I call it inexact because you can't use the classical way of proving theories right or wrong.

If you cannot clearly and empirically prove a theory wrong (in principle), it is not science. Falsifiability is required for science and scientific theories. This doesn't mean all scientific theories are false, it means all scientific theories must not fail a comparison with reality.


Quote: "The strength of a scientific theory is related to the diversity of phenomena it can explain, which is measured by its ability to make falsifiable predictions with respect to those phenomena."

On that basis, psychology is not a science.

> If this were to happen in physics we'd call it it a failed or incomplete theory.

If this were to happen in physics, people would abandon it, as they abandoned astrology and alchemy.

> Not all psychologists see eye-to-eye on the tests issue.

But psychologists don't see eye to eye on anything -- that's one of the obstacles to turning psychology into a science.

> In the case mentioned in the article, even a professional that truly trusts the tests should have taken into consideration:

> 1) make his own assesment and check against the test score,

On the contrary, if psychology were a science, a clinical psychologist administering a standardized test should produce the same high correlation with reality as a clinical doctor administering a standardized test. But this is certainly not the case, and one of the reasons for this discussion is that psychologists are often married to the outcome of a test that isn't a reliable measure of its subject. A psychologist's confidence in a test's unreliable results is an obvious theme in the linked article.

> Carefull when disregarding a whole field based on preconceptions.

Tell that to Thomas Insel, director of the NIMH, who recently and reluctantly decided to abandon the DSM, psychiatry and psychology's standard diagnostic manual, on the ground that it's becoming less scientific with each new edition:


My point is that, when a field's opinion leaders disregard a whole field, it's no longer a preconception.

> All fields have different branches and disagreements.

When a medical doctor says you have cancer, it's 99% certain you have cancer. When a psychologist says you have Asperger Syndrome, the reliability of the diagnosis is so unreliable and divorced from reality that the diagnosis has been reluctantly abandoned after an epidemic of phony diagnoses.

The same pattern applies to most other psychological diagnoses and decisions -- they are very subjective. Tom Widiger, who served as head of research for DSM-IV, says "There are lots of studies which show that clinicians diagnose most of their patients with one particular disorder and really don't systematically assess for other disorders. They have a bias in reference to the disorder that they are especially interested in treating and believe that most of their patients have."

> I think it's because of it being a young field ...

Psychology and psychologists have been around making pronouncements since before the U.S. Civil War. That makes psychology one of the oldest fields that has scientific pretensions.

> it's hard to agree on what the standards are to measure good/bad practice.

Yes, true, which is why psychology is now being replaced by neuroscience -- the latter can produce more objective results.

The article you linked to talks about psychiatry (the DSM is tightly bound to psychiatry, not psychology).

I don't know if you meant by including that link that psychologists criticising psychiatrists undermines their credibility, but if that's the case I disagree strongly.

> The article you linked to talks about psychiatry (the DSM is tightly bound to psychiatry, not psychology).

Not so. The DSM is the central authority and diagnostic manual for both psychiatry and clinical psychology. Reference:


> I don't know if you meant by including that link that psychologists criticising psychiatrists undermines their credibility ...

I included the link only to show that the DSM is being abandoned by mental health professionals, not to suggest a schism between psychiatry and psychology. The latter has been true for decades and goes without saying.

It might be better to not respond to a disrespectful comment, but when responding, there is a need to respectfully disagree. When someone lowers the quality of the discussion, it is important for everyone else to make up for it. This also communicates the desired standard of conversation to the writer of the disrespectful post.

Be careful, if HR screens resumes then they effectivly have a last call on highering decisions by rejecting people before anyone else sees them.

From what I have seen the only useful function for HR in the highering process is a background verification check. Aka did John Smith work at your company from 2000-2004. Anything else is risky.

I agree that HR can screen out some otherwise qualified people. I've seen that from both sides. But I think that if the criteria you provide to HR are sufficiently broad and high-level, they can be helpful. If the candidate clearly has no relevant (as defined by the hiring team/manager) education or experience, HR doesn't need to send that one down.

I think the worry would be that HR will miss a lot of people with relevant experience. "Oh, John Smith only has experience in C#, but we need someone with experience in .Net".

A partial solution to that is a better briefing and education for the HR team. Another partial solution is to make the selection criteria broader. Make clear that they should include the candidate when in doubt. But if for example you're looking for a team lead for an important project, you can certainly specify requirements that the HR team can handle, such as "must have 5 years of work experience. Must have team lead experience." etc.

The key is to distinguish between organisations that provide a service and organisations that enforce a standard.

HR is ideally the former and not the latter.

Only once have I had a job where I was interviewed by a HR person. The whole interview made me feel uneasy, but I took the job anyway. I should have trusted my instincts and rejected the job, on the grounds that they put HR people to interview engineers with silly questions.

The job, and the working environment in particular, was horrible and I didn't stay after my probation period.

On the other hand, I was put on a dead end project and the company, despite being a rather small one, was like a big corporation where you can hide without doing anything and still get paid.

I actually read a few thousand pages of Intel programming manuals and wrote not one but two toy operating system projects and got paid for it!

There was an article posted about someone that worked for a large corporation and they forgot about him but continued to pay him for years.

At the time I thought it was a hoax, after your story I'm not so sure.



It was a hoax, but there are plenty of true stories in the same vein. What sets the parent's true story apart is that the protagonist did something productive with the time he had been given, whereas in the story you linked, the guy spends his days wasting away.

Here's another fun one, which was also posted here: http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/The-Firing-Offense.aspx

I once had a job at a software company where an HR manager was hired to introduce a new "Performance Management" system, where people were scored on their "behavioural competencies" and "technical competencies". I learned from my line manager (before he quit) that the HR manager regarded behavioural competencies as more important than technical competencies, because anything technical could be picked up on a week's training course. (She also didn't understand the difference between a qualification and a certificate that you get for having attended a training course.)

Now, I'm just a software engineer, but I can't really get my head around the idea a software company hiring lots of supposedly smart people, subjecting them to this sort of nonsense, and then make it obligatory to take it seriously. To me, that sounds like a recipe for trouble.

> To me, that sounds like a recipe for trouble.

You are correct. It is demonstrably going to lead to bad outcomes:


I disagree very much. There are many bad HR people, and many HR people who are given bad direction. It's very hard to imagine a company of over 30 or 40 people surviving without one.

Is the CEO supposed to be up on all the HR rules? Is the CEO out in the market calibrating salaries every day? Does the CEO have time to analyze optimal organization designs? Should the CEO do all the initial fit screens? Chase down background checks?

If HR is an issue, it's because they're being asked to do the wrong thing, or the individual is incompetent. Saying "We don't need HR because they are poor technical interviewers" is like saying "We don't need accountants because I don't like the expense report form." You still need accountants, and you still need HR.

I agree that HR serves a role in the company and that they cannot simply be fired, but there are a few points I heavily disagree with:

> "Is the CEO out in the market calibrating salaries every day?"

No, but neither should this be a HR responsibility. HR has no fucking idea how well someone is doing, nor can they be reasonably expected to since they neither work with these employees daily, nor do they have domain knowledge of what they do. Raises and promotions need to be handled by someone with the correct background - CTO for small companies, VPs for larger ones.

HR should not be handling raises.

> "Does the CEO have time to analyze optimal organization designs?"

YES. Emphatically yes. He/she's the Chief Executive Officer, the structure of the company is entirely their business. HR has no substantial insight into the specific needs of the business structure, if they did, shit, fire the CEO and make HR the boss.

The CEO is a manager first and foremost, and organizational design is one of the most fundamentally important parts of the position. Letting HR do this is abdicating a primary responsibility of the role.

> "Should the CEO do all the initial fit screens?"

Yes, for small companies. No, for larger companies, but neither should it be HR. Again, HR has no idea how the team dynamics in your company works. Who do you think is a better judge of culture fit - the CTO/VP who's interacting with the team daily, or the HR person who rarely speaks to any of the engineers? Once again this is very much a CTO/VP role.

> " Chase down background checks?"

This is pretty much the only thing in your list that I'd say firmly belongs to HR. HR administrates benefits, HR mediates disputes, HR performs the clerical duties in hiring - including background checks. HR is not a decision maker any more than you'd let your accountant make strategy decisions for your company.

Let's agree to disagree. My view on the small company CEO is that most of their time should be spent on products, customers, fundraising and hiring. Within hiring it's mostly analysis of candidates and selling people on joining the firm. Anything they do that's not one of these things is a distraction.

If they're spending their time on Glassdoor figuring out what DBAs get paid when they could be at a customer the customer suffers. Much more efficient for HR to do it. Much better to let a specialist propose an organization design to get the firm from 10 people to 100. Let the HR person do the research, let the CEO decide. If the CEO is reading all the books on org design instead of being in front of VCs, there won't be funding.

It depends on how big your company is, but for anything under say 5,000 people:

> Is the CEO out in the market calibrating salaries every day?

HR should not be setting compensation. That's a business question and something the business people need to understand and deal with.

> Does the CEO have time to analyze optimal organization designs?

Organizational structure is also a business question. It goes directly to what sorts of team structures, etc, are most effective in delivering the company's product.

> Should the CEO do all the initial fit screens?

Not necessarily the CEO, but some technical person should do the initial fit screens.

> Chase down background checks?

This is the sort of thing HR should do.

> HR should not be setting compensation. That's a business question and something the business people need to understand and deal with.

I read "out in the market calibrating salaries" as gathering market information which serve as an input for management in making compensation decisions.

Exactly what I was trying to get across. It's HR's job to come up with general salary trends by seniority, geography and anything else that management wants.

It's management's (really the CEO's) job to apply it. Is it a company that want to pay median salaries with lots of benefits? Low base relative to the industry, but lots of bonus and equity? Lots of cash? All these are the CEO's decision, but they shouldn't be the ones gathering the data.

This is really not HR's job. HR people are hired for experience with benefits management and bookkeeping; when they try to trend salaries, they inevitably wind up just sourcing extremely dubious data from extremely dubious sites. Most companies would be better off not pretending that HR has any other function than trying to minimize the cost of health insurance to the company.

Perhaps I'm biased because I've been in a few places where HR did the mainline jobs in the firm prior to becoming HR. Those scenarios turned out extremely well, though perhaps we didn't get the best deals in health insurance.

I've also seen (unhealthy) environments where HR's primary job was to protect the company from lawsuits. That's not great either.

In general I've counseled people not to put their career in HR's hands, but that's still a long way from calling it a near-useless function. It frequently turns out that way, but it has the potential to be much more.

> Does the CEO have time to analyze optimal organization designs?

Optimal for what? I do think the CEO or someone similar needs to figure out what you want from the organization and design it. HR may have input but it is just input.

HR can do the market calibration research. That's a good role for them. Initial fit? That should be the team or team manager. Background checks? Either HR or an administrative assistant somewhere.

Without HR, that work should fall upon the team manager and maybe some assistance somewhere. It can be done though.

Bottom line, yes, there is a role for HR, I think. No, I don't think it is a big role.

Short question: Do you have employees? We do have a handful and the amount of work associated with them [1] is astounding. On average it used to cost me 20% of my time until we hired someone for administrative and HR work. Now, we're a small company and have no need for a full HR position, but that role is taken by a person and I can quite well tell that the more employees we hire, the more we'll move to a dedicated HR position. It's not a "big" role, but it's still an important one. I value that work being taken off me.

[1] paperwork, monthly company events, ...

That's a good reason to have an administrative assistant, right? In fact there;s no reason why departmental administrative assistants can't take on HR roles, is there?

Sure, if that fits you. That still doesn't make "HR" disappear - they're just labeled differently and can't specialise. So as long as you can't fill a full HR position that's certainly a measure, but if you can, why not fill it with somebody who can and wants to fill that role as good as possible?

If the team manager is doing background checks - initiating, conducting, following up, etc.- how much time does that allow for him/her to manage the team, do whatever technical work is required at level, interact with the rest of the company as required, take a breath and think strategically, etc.? And how many team mangers WANT conducting background checks as part of their jobs? Even farming that out to a contractor - finding a good one, following up, ensuring quality, making sure deadlines are met, etc. - takes time.

Please re-read what I said. Background checks should be either HR or an administrative assistant tot he team manager. But things like initial fit interviews should be with the team, not just the manager.

The point is that bringing someone onto the team and seeing if that is a good fit, is something that belongs at the team level. Some of the support could be done by a small HR department, or the old fashioned way, by an administrative assistant.

The problem with departments named "Human Resources" is that employees are not resources and they resent the dehumanization of being treated as such. All the HR horror stories have the same thread: they are dehumanizing employees.

In my limted experience this is much more of a problem in big companies than small. In small companies, employees know each other as fellow human beings from the owner to the interns. In big companies, the humans are numbers in a computer to be ranked, graded, and filed yearly.

I worked at a small telco (couple hundred people) long ago where HR saw themselves as providing "Resources for Humans" (as opposed to the physical plant guy who could replace lightbulbs all day but couldn't help figure out your health insurance)

They had their nose pretty deep in payroll operations; we were always paid correctly and on time. Insurance problems? They'd help. They were frankly pretty decent service providers for us.

Unfortunately this is extremely rare in corporate life.

In Verner Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky" there's a [Human] culture with a filled position called "Director of Human Resources". In the context of that book, that title and position has about as happy undertones as if you were to watch 'The Matrix' and then hear Chevron's advertisement blurb: "Human Energy".

There are two things driving policies like this.

First, personal interviews can be poor predictors of future hire performance. People will often hire someone who resonates on a personal level, or who is otherwise charismatic, rather than for the right skillset. Standardized tests, administered correctly, are one way of reducing the variability.

And variability is pain. Your HR and hiring people are likely being judged just the way everyone else is. Hiring, or forcing dev teams to interview, a lot of low-quality candidates without an effective screen is a good way to find yourself being replaced.

The second is that, as people are fond of saying, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. This is the source of a lot of foolish "musts"––candidates must have a certain GPA, or only go to a certain school, or they have to hit a certain percentage on some tests. Having standards is all well and good until you find a case that doesn't fit your profile and you either get flexible or look foolish.

Being flexible means that other hires complain that you're lowering your standards, and no one likes hearing that either.

The test in this case wasn't correctly administered, as columbo pointed out elsewhere, and I agree that hiring managers shouldn't have a veto over technical hires. But this is the sort of human-dynamics problem that can't be solved by firing entire departments. If you don't address the problem head-on it'll just come back next year in a different form.

So, no bad programmers, drivers, receptionists, sales people, accountants........ just HR people.

Dunno what HR does in the US, but here in the UK I know a lot of cases where a decent HR person would have saved companies millions in payouts to now ex-employees who sued them. In several cases, the business was made bankrupt, jobs lost.

Keep HR people

Keep business

Edit: Format.

Keep in mind you see strong selection bias. First, you only hear about extremely good or extremely bad cases. Second, on a site like Hacker News, you're more likely to hear about the bad HR departments.

Most HR people are at least somewhat competent and help the company, and good HR people are worth their weight in silver. When Human Resources actually understands the needs of the employees and is able to enact policies that make them happier, that's extraordinarily useful.

Well, developers can hire other developers, but we can't easily hire the accountants, lawyers and others (including HR, ironically). The big question is: how do we hire people from a field we're not competent in?

But yes, at my last job interview, I succeeded at the technical interview but failed at the 'personality' one. It's a loss for them, not for me.

> we can't easily hire the accountants, lawyers and others

What makes you think HR people are any better than we in hiring those ones? (Hiring other HR personal excluded, they are probably good on that, the same way that we are good on hiring techies.)

I don't have an answer to your question, but I'm quite confident that it isn't "you ask a psychologist".

On the contrary, it's not the personnel department in this case that needed firing, it's the senior management. The personnel department performs a necessary function in dealing with the legal nightmares that come with hiring people. They must not, however, be given authority over who to hire and fire. Senior management, in giving the personnel department such authority, botched their own job.

They must not, however, be given authority over who to hire and fire

It's not obvious to me that this is what actually happened here.

I worked for many years at an organisation that had a similar policy - if I wanted to hire someone that the psych evaluation had flagged as no-hire, then I needed the approval of my boss's boss.

HR didn't invent that policy on their own. They recommended it to the CEO/Management Team because they saw the number of bad hires that were coming up where the hiring manager ignored the psych eval and then all the issues that the eval predicted came true.

I didn't love the rule - particularly when the issue was something like this person you're trying to hire for a relatively boring entry level role doesn't have a lot of ambition or initiative - but it was a specific response to an identified problem. Perhaps the wrong response, perhaps not, I'm still not sure.

But what it wasn't, was an HR dept that set their own rules. Their authority was purely to enforce the CEO's decisions on hiring policy.

Because the author of this article doesn't seem to know much about the origin/nature of the policy in his organisation, it's hard to tell whether he ran into the CEO's rule, or HR's rule.

The decision to give the test in English to someone who wasn't a native English speaker is a mistake, but it might be the candidate's mistake.

My organisation gave candidates the choice of language in which to take the test, and strongly advised them to take it in their native language. Every so often we'd see someone who didn't listen to that (possibly because they didn't want us to think that they weren't confident in their english skills) and it showed.

Based on the information provided in the blog post, I'm still not sure whether the wrong decision was made or not. There were clearly mistakes in the process, but we don't know who made them, and there's no way to know whether the psych eval was accurate or not since the hire never went ahead.

Step 3: Grow, and attract some parasitic employees

Step 4: Lose a trivial discrimination / disability / wrongful termination suit because you didn't keep the right paperwork.

Companies should lose discrimination / disability / wrongful termination lawsuits. HR's purpose is to get businesses off the hook for these crimes. Maybe you're thinking about it as an actual or theoretical startup owner, where you don't want to get in trouble. I can understand that. But people are more important than businesses and any business that abuses people deserves to be shut down.

> Companies should lose

I don't know how you feel about silly software patents being used to extort money from companies, because trolls know it will be cheaper to settle than to fight.

The same thing can and does happen with labor law.

Obviously some claims have merit and deserve to be heard by a court and get some reasonable relief.

At the same time, just as there are "patent trolls", there are "employment law trolls".

I would suggest that the vast majority of employment law disputes are legitimate cases of a human being abused by a business.

In contrast, most software patent disputes are simply businesses extorting other businesses because they can, rather than because they were harmed and deserve to recover damages.

The two are not really the same. Generally speaking, when a company damages a human, it should pay what it owes rather than trying to weasel out of the situation.

I don't have stats on % of frivolous lawsuits for patents vs. employment matters. I'll be generous and stipulate there are fewer bogus employment claims. But it's not 0%.

In the U.S. legal system, you can sue anyone for anything, and it will cost them _something_ to make you go away. It's not hard to come up with _some_ claim that's not obviously absurd enough to get dismissed quickly. There are individuals who realize this --- as well as attorneys who have an economic interest in helping more people realize this.

So again, I grant that many claims have merit. But I don't think you can stipulate that every employee claim is automatically valid, i.e. that every company is automatically guilty of every claim against it. Sometimes companies suck. And sometimes so do employees. It's life.

Trivial? I've seen business go bust as a result of this sort of negligence.

BTW, suing for wrong doing is NOT parasitic. Its often the only recourse avaliable with bad employers

The point I was trying to make was that with a good, professional HR folks, your company will avoid stupid mistakes that can become very expensive when dealing with an employee who knows how to work the system to their advantage.

One of the folks who worked for me several years back had complaints filed against her by an employee whom she had woken up from a dead sleep during the day a few times. (The employee was working from 6-2AM as a night clerk at a hotel) The employee claimed that although the supervisor had 5 employees, she only checked his sleep/wake status, and did so because he was a member of a protected class. (Yes, really)

This nonsense required administrative hearings with the human rights commission/eeoc and untold gobs of paperwork. The HR people saved the day, and were able to use the good processes that they had in place to keep an awful situation from getting worse.

Also to make an unfair point, that's Canada for you.

I believe Spooky meant "trivially avoided" rather than "resulting in trivial damage."

There's no reason HR has to be involved in hiring decisions at all.

I wish my startup could afford to have an HR person to administer health benefits, run payroll, track receipts, and so on.

Profit. . .until you consider the money paid out in lawsuits (discrimination, illegal firings, etc.) that could have been avoided by HR. . .or the money wasted paying for expensive benefits vendors that could have been saved by HR. . .or the turnover that could've been saved by HR though intervention with some particularly bad managers/management teams (who HR had no hand in hiring). Granted, this is only true of decent - or better - HR departments, but I've seen them.

HR performs some useful functions though - administration of healthcare, benefits, and retirement plans are some things that come to mind.

If they needlessly block good hires, that's a bad thing, but I'd rather not be responsible for dealing with administering my own pension or benefits.

There's a lot more to HR than just recruitment.

Heh, I agreed with this, clicked on the karma icon, then read the author's name... ofc.... ciao salvo!

Same here, humbled

same here :D

These psychometric tests are often unscientific and bull sh*tty. If I interviewed with someone who gave me one, I would be highly tempted abort the interview early; this is not a company I would want to work for.

This is in the UK; a found a lot of weirdness goes on there that wouldn't be tolerated anywhere else. Its the anti-authority types who are most likely to think out of the box, and are actually praised for by many American companies (at least vocally, implicitly they might not like them so much, of course).

I don't get it -- was this at an operating company hiring people, or at the author's recruiting company (which seems to be a depressingly common way to hire people in Europe)?

If a recruiting company is so incompetent as to require personality profiling, and worse, enforce it so rigidly, it would explain why Europe lags so far behind the US in tech startups, despite having at least as many (if not substantially more) brilliant developers per capita.

If it's an operating company, then it maybe explains why European companies use recruiting agencies so much. Still seems like a huge tax on companies -- having decent internal HR would go a long way.

It was at a (large/medium sized) company I used to work at, not the company I work for at the moment (recruiter). To be honest my interview for this position was just a really good conversation - my interviewer started out with a bunch of technical questions and eventually I said to him "Don't you have anything harder?". And then after that we just chatted about tech, it ended with him saying "I'll give the good news to your recruiter"

I wonder if recruiters recruiting recruits for recruiting are substantially better at it than when the same recruiters recruit for clients -- the way real estate agents tend to be substantially better when selling their own houses vs. for clients, and how doctors tend to make better medical decisions (less painful, better holistic outcomes, less cost) for themselves or family vs. regular patients.

Maybe part of it is that a recruiter should fully understand the role of a recruiter, but very few really understand the developer/devops/etc. roles they recruit for.

I wonder if recruiters recruiting recruits for recruiting are substantially better at it than when the same recruiters recruit for clients

Here in the UK that's called 'rec to rec' and I promise you, they are generally shockingly bad. If you think tech recruiters are incompetent and greedy then you would be horrified at the standard of rec to rec.

In my experience Agency recruiting (on behalf of another recruiting agency) is indeed usually done because the original recruiting agency couldn't fulfill the entire contract. So they find whoever will give them the highest markup from the smaller agencies and contract it out to them.

Kind of like picking the lowest possible bidder for a construction contract, it doesnt usually go well.

This has not been my experience - this is not intended as a slur against my employer (who are fairly awesome). But when you're in a recruitment company you get to see all the processes and the problems with those processes. I would probably recommend that all companies do their own recruitment.

it would explain why Europe lags so far behind the US in tech startups

The primary reason Europe lags behind is the substantial lack of investors & VC's.

The case highlighted by the author is typical of large corporates but if you look at any decent tech company in London for example, this case would sound ridiculous and extreme.

It's not the lack of invetors and VCs in Europe - it is the lack of ability to invest in RISKY companies - the very definition of "startup".

European investors are just bankers (with a few exceptions).

lol. London does quite a lot of risky financial shit.

Also you might have heard of a little company kicking the shit out of Intel... ARM. Based in Cambridge UK, that is also where most tech investments in Europe are happening (not London or Berlin).

Also, Germany and Switzerland are much more quiet and private about investments. You won't hear about many of them.

These days you can invest in a UK startup, and have the government pick up 100% of the tab if it fails. Not to mention insane tax breaks (100%+) for r&d and for exploiting patents. The UK already has crowd equity.

If you get all your news from YC then you're probably stuck in the silly valley echo chamber.

Don't developers in London get paid crap though? I've heard horror stories about ridiculously low London salaries here on Hackernews. Are the low salaries just because their is a surplus developer talent in the UK?

It really depends on your definition of crap. London dev salaries range from £24k for absolute juniors to £120k+ for the top 2%. Contractors fare substantially better. In my recruiter days I placed a Python developer who had experience with a particular trading system on a contract with a large trading firm. His contract was £1,100 per day for 6 months.

Keep in mind the other notable differences between here and the US such as free health care, a larger number of paid holidays etc.

Yeah, that's definitely a possible rate. A high end one though. I think contract rates for Python devs average around 500/day ($772 USD). Base salary seems to average at 45-50k.

Also bonuses. Bonuses in London can be 100% of salary or more.

National health insurance is not really free in the UK... but UK contractors pay less tax than US ones generally. German freelancers get paid more, but pay more tax (and get more holidays).

Developers outside of London can earn less, but many prefer it.

And a much higher cost of living...in London its insane.

How much you pay in London really depends on how/where you want to live. It's far cheaper if you're happy to spend an hour or more commuting each way.

I need to earn £50k to cover just childcare costs and the mortgage (looking forward to both of those going down soon). I could sell up and buy a similar property 5 miles away and those costs would both halve. I could sell up and buy a similar property 10 miles away and have no mortgage at all. Neither of those would make us happier as a family (no matter how much I'd love to have no mortgage); we want to live where we're living now, so I just get on with it.

100+k only really applies for people who work in finance... it's pretty hard to crack 60-70k as a salaried employee.

I disagree. We have a handful of senior devs being paid in excess of £70k. There are plenty of non-finance companies paying similar salaries. £80k-£90k is relatively common for a senior developer in London.

Another way to see things is that the US, and especially Silicon Valley, have ridiculously high salaries. I'd say that compared to the rest of Europe, developer salaries in London are probably on the high side.

The service prices (health, education, banking, communications, etc) are generally much lower than in the US, though, so it's hard to get an accurate comparison of cost-of-life.

UK Developers seem to have no idea what they are worth, and work for peanuts. IMHO.

The varied answers you get about London salaries is because the financial industry pays pretty well, competitive with SV or NY money. Everyone else gets paid peanuts. Or goes contracting like me.

I was speaking to a Welsh comp-sci grad who was moving to London to be a programmer, for £19,000 p.a.

There's something mysterious about the low wages for programmers.

Please tell me more about "have the government pick up 100% of the tab if it fails". I'm aware of some incubators here and there (which are mostly a way to create artificial markets for well-connected "advisors" and Euro-funded "trainers"), and I know about the new R&D legislation (which is mainly benefiting BigCo, like anything else patent-related), but I don't see how you could drop the whole bill of your private enterprise on the Chancellor.

If you invest under a certain threshold you can actually deduct the full amount from taxes in case of failure. Don't recall the details, but it makes for a pretty sweet deal for angel investors.

If it's fully tax deductible, then you simply don't pay tax on that amount (not reduce your payable tax by that). It saves you about a third of the money, but doesn't make it risk-free.

I was thinking about the EIS scheme. There's some explanation here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterprise_Investment_Scheme

I believe the most important part is this:

If EIS shares are disposed of at any time at a loss, such loss can be set against the investor's capital gains or his income in the year of disposal.

So basically, if you take a loss, you can deduct it against any other gains you have.

Exactly, so what it says is if you have 10.000 loss on share-A, and 10.000 capital gain on share-B, then you can set the loss against your gain and not pay tax on that 10k of income. I.e., purely for the share-A you still lose the 10.000 but gain a "tax credit" worth some % [whatever your rate is] of that. A common misunderstanding is that you'd get "tax credit" of 10.000, which you don't.

Yeah, I didn't mean to say it was the sole reason or even a primary reason, but it's a contributing factor. The risk-averse culture (investment and employees), and lack of exemplars of successful entrepreneurs (vs. going into banking, government, etc.) is probably the biggest problem.

I get the general perception top tier Sand Hill VCs are now willing to invest in Series B or later (and some Series A) in Europe. Costs have dropped, even in Europe, so you can get pretty far on $50-100k in savings for a seed round. So the big problem in the long term is probably risk-aversion in hiring, vs. raising money.

Agree with the first bit.

Doubtful about the second bit - beaurocracy seems to become magnified in London.

Magnified in large London corporates yes but there are only a tiny percentage of 'decent tech companies' that fit that criteria.

I was referring to the likes of Facebook UK, Google, Badoo, Songkick, etc.

I was interested in applying for a job here in Norway, but it turned out the company had 2-3+ interviews (which would mean spending the day at their offices) over several months, as well as some sort of IQ test and other things.

That was in the spring and they expected to have picked out some people by the end of summer.

I didn't apply, mostly because I am happy where I am, but also because a 3-5 month interview process is completely ridiculous.

The entire process just put me off from applying. If they can't talk to me once or twice and look at my resume/past projects then I do not know if I want to work there. I understand the need to find the right people, but there are limits to how many hoops I care to jump through to get the honour of working in their company.

Is this a common practice?

I can understand if you have another job and end up interviewing somewhere else while working, but if I was without a job I probably wouldn't be able to wait 5 months for someone to decide I've passed their tests.

My friend ended up applying and he was also one of the few that got hired, which is why I've heard a bit more about their process than I think I normally would.

I think using a recruiting company is more common around here. Where I work now, quite a few of us have started out working part time (as I am now) through a recruiting process, and occasionally those who work full time get picked up by our company to work directly.

My boss worked the same position I work in now, back when he was in university.

> Is this a common practice?

Yes. Looks like 3 Interviews, 3-5 months of interview process is pretty normal in Europe. I have applied for a job in Norway as well once.

> I can understand if you have another job and end up interviewing somewhere else while working, but if I was without a job I probably wouldn't be able to wait 5 months for someone to decide I've passed their tests.

Well there is another common practice that if you are unemployed without a serious reason (freelancing, relocation, family matters etc.) you are turned down immediately by a logic "If he couldn't get a job, something must be wrong with him". That's even worse if you were unemployed for a prolonged period of time.

> you are turned down immediately by a logic "If he couldn't get a job, something must be wrong with him"

It's even worse, even if you freelance most people will assume there is something very wrong with you to the point that they are not turned down, but not even considered for the job.

> Is this a common practice?

I've gone through two interview processes in Norway – none of them took longer than ten days and I can't say I have heard about anyone else that has been through months-long processes either. (I'm a software engineer.)

>Is this a common practice?

No, a 3-5 month interview process is not common.

I interviewed for Sybase here in Portugal, and the process took about 3-4 months as well, after which I dropped out of it before getting an answer. The interviews didn't take a full day, though, just a couple of hours each.

The main reason we lag so far behind is that most of us don't have a "Let's do something prone to failure and find out if it will actually work!" mentality. In general we pay too much attention to thoughts and too little to feelings when it comes to business ventures. Add to that a dash of extreme risk avoidance and you've got the perfect recept for a very weak startup culture. Of course, the ones who are the opposite of that get struck down relentlessly by the collective mentality.

These wacko interviewing processes are just another symptom of this. Don't think any comptetent business leader actually believe these scores matter at all. In the end it's just another safeguard against (gasp!) taking a risk.

The outcome might feel wrong, but I think it might be actually better for the guy.

If he got hired, but would have his pay stuck because HR and higher management would not understand his value(e.g. not boasting his accomplishments everywhere, prioritizing business relevant issues over internal political issues etc), he would end up rage quitting and "wasting" years he could have spent at some more open company.

You're right, smarter people who were hired before the introduction of the psychometric test became frustrated and weren't recognised for their abilities. I knew one very anti-social but exceptionally skilled developer that rage-quitted in a spectacular "hissy-fit"

Not to be nitpicky, but rather to help: You are using 'me' and 'I' backwards. It's really distracting and made it difficult to get through the beginning of the post to the actual story.

The rules are simple: Take Carl out of the sentence. Would you say "Me made myself available"? No. Then why "Carl and me made ourselves available"?

Would you say "score extra points with I"? No. Then why "score extra points with Carl and I"?

If you are in the subject of the sentence, then use I: "Carl and I went to the movies."

If you are in the predicate, or are the object of an action, use me: "The students handed their completed tests to Carl and me."

Amusingly, exactly this characteristic -- being "really distracted" by things like grammar errors, or in general annoyed by other people for minor/nonessential reasons -- would get you dinged like crazy on the test being discussed. It marks you as a non-conformist and "hard to work with".

Hah! Well, usually I can get past things like a lack of apostrophe or incorrect use of there/their/they're, I wouldn't consider myself a "Grammar Nazi". But for some reason this one causes me to lose my place when reading. I kept having to go back and find where I was in the paragraph and re-read the sentence to be sure of who is involved and what they were doing.

Thank you! I was hoping that I wasn't the only one bothered by this.

It's really not my attention to offend/troll, but I found it amusing that whilst reading the blog post I found myself thinking "The grammar of this article is so bad, I wonder if the author's first language is English"... just as I hit the same question in the text. :)

To add something constructive to the discussion:

I've hired tens of developers over the years. Recruiting is by far the most black art I've ever suffered in the IT industry. I've terminated interviews with the most technically-adept people because their attitude was so risible there was no way they could be part of the company; I've begged interviewees who would barely speak to open up because I had a hunch they were brilliant (I was right); and I've hired promising and smart junior staff over proven yet jaded senior staff.

Trying to encompass the delightful diversity which is presented to an interviewer in a few rules is usually folly to appease the suits. You will miss great hires that way.

Does that matter? Well, it depends. I spoke to or interviewed one person for every 20 resumes, and hired one in every 20 interviewees. So, miss one through a bunch of dumb rules and think about the 400 resumes you will have to wade through......

The bottom line is that people are diverse and weird- especially engineers!- and a good interviewer with a developed spidey sense will do better for the company by ignoring daft rules regarding recruitment.


Recruiting is really hard and difficult to define. You will lose good hires by implementing made-up rules.

I'm a little offended - I wrote, the community upvoted - is grammar more important than the story?

Additionally, it's hypocritical to comment on ones grammar and then use bad grammar yourself.

The story is certainly more important, which is presumably why the majority of redpola's comments are about it. But to be fair, I actually asked myself exactly the same question and went to your "About Me" page to check.

Try not to be offended. He's likely just pointing out what many who read the story may think, but not say. Just take it on-board as constructive feedback for future articles.

It's an interesting story. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.

So the company you work for is filled with engineers and the best hiring practice they could come up with is to give the final call on staff hiring to a humanities \ social "sciences" graduates...

Maybe you should consider Google's old screening logic test. While being completely ridiculous and ineffectual in finding intelligent engineers, they still do a decent job at deterring the anti=authoritarians quite effectively while saving you money and time on HR.

Personally, I like the old maniac hiring. You take a complete loon and put him in-charge of the process. Have him do tarot card readings, crystal energy vibes tests, skull measurements... But instruct him to pass any person who keeps his mouth shut during all of this.

100% team player guaranteed!

"Personally, I like the old maniac hiring. You take a complete loon and put him in-charge of the process. Have him do tarot card readings, crystal energy vibes tests, skull measurements... But instruct him to pass any person who keeps his mouth shut during all of this."

Um, thats exactly what the original post is doing... well slightly different technique and different carnival barker vocabulary, but...

I can see how the candidate conversation with his family was, afterwards.

- Did they hire you? - No, mom, I bombed the psycho exam. - But the developers, the liked you? - Oh, yeah, the technical team was ecstatic with me. They even told me that I was their favorite candidate. -So what happened? Did they change their mind? - Oh no, mom. The HR person disagreed with them, so they accepted the judgment of the HR person and dropped me. - And the developers, your supposed team, stayed silent through all this? - Well, they asked HR if I could do the psycho exam once more. And that was that. - Son, you don’t want to work in a place where they keep quiet and silent on things that matter to them. You are better off anywhere else.

I was hired as a senior manager into a well known company that used psychometric testing to filter job candidates. To start off with I was happy to go along with it when hiring into my own team - after all the filter had resulted in them recruiting me and I was pretty sure I was a "good hire" - a post testing bias you might think.

You would be right. It took me a while but I began to notice that a high percentage of key hires in other areas of the business were notably failing to make the sort of contributions expected of them. They must all have done "well" on the psychometric test of course but was it possible that this was over influencing the selection process and eliminating better candidates - of course we could just have been attracting the wrong applicants.

My recruiting was able to balance any psychometric testing bias by only short listing people we thought were likely up to the job technically and who would fit in with the team. Other areas probably did not have the luxury of having the capacity to "test" that someone could probably do the job as well as pass the more dubious psychometric test.

After I left that company I was pretty sure that I would avoid businesses that used psychometric testing - in the same way as I would refuse to interview for any business that used something like graphology - more obviously bogus science?

I worked with a UK company which decided to 'professionalise' their HR function which, of course, meant adding psychometric testing.

I was doing fleet management software at the time which meant I was also bundled with actually handing cars out to new hires when they arrived. What can I say, they were cheap-asses and I was young enough to enjoy goofing around in cars.

Anyway, almost immediately one of the hires was sent to me and I had instructions to give him a car. He had no idea why he was to come to me so introduced himself and the usual stuff before I told him he could choose from a couple of cars I had available. The blood drained from his face and it was obvious there was something wrong.

After a few awkward seconds he looked around to make sure no-one else was around and explained he was banned from driving due to multiple drink drive (DUI/DWI in North American) convictions. A car was out the question and I now had a problem I had to go back to HR with.

When I spoke to HR, they were indignant and stressed their psychometric tests had guaranteed he was excellent for an on-the-road salesman and there was no problem giving him a car. I then had to point out it would be a criminal offence for me to give him a car so that was not going to happen. I left them still saying, 'but the test is very clear, he is an ideal candidate'.

I've never believed in them after that and anytime I see them I know the sort of brain dead thinking which goes along with them is a red flag not to join any organization using them.

Sure, the test says give the DUI guy a car - what could possibly go wrong ?

You may have lost out, but he won big time - any company that lets it's decisions be made in that way is probably a bad company to work for.

Metric obsession when applied to people is not good, because unlike your conversion rate, people can't be defined by metrics.

On the topic of technical tests, the company I work for has a good approach. They'll set the technical test for you to do at home (the same one for everyone), then you submit it and they review it. Based on that, you have a phone interview in which you have to talk through what you did and why you did it, being asked questions about certain bits and your choices. They also talk through some other bits to try and gauge your knowledge. If you pass that stage, you then go on to a face to face interview.

Might not catch everyone who tries to cheat, but will help.

That sounds like a sane test. If someone does blatantly cheat, it will be immediately obvious during the interview afterwards.

At my company, we ask people to submit some choice prior work if possible. Then we look at that, and try to have a conversation about the tech. The bonus is that it respects the candidates time, and it is easier to get them talking when it's their own projects. The downside is that very few candidates have recent prior work publicly available.

The main problem is companies are too afraid of firing people - a "good fit" from an HR perspective is someone they won't have to fire later.

They are "risk averse" insofar as they would rather hire a safe and comfortable person who meets their personality metrics rather than take a chance on someone outside of that who is technically sharper.

There was an article a few days ago entitled "Bullshit Jobs" regarding how we fill the economy with sinecures (albeit soul-crushing, depressing sinecures) perhaps in some futile attempt to give everyone a job to do (regardless of ability or attitude).

I think a real problem arises when people don't realise that their job is a bullshit job, or worse - they start drinking the kool-aid. I'm sure most homeopaths believe strongly in the methods they use and feel they are doing good. Maybe most of the time that's harmless and can be humoured. But on the odd occasion when they believe so strongly that they reject scientific treatments to the patient's detriment, it is actively harmful.

Here an HR rep who was given psychometric tests to play with forgot that he was just playing and fucked over a competent job applicant, as well as his own company.

The key to all this is HR refuses to identify the test or what it measures or allow anyone outside HR to examine it or question its empirical validity.

This test is probably not even graded and it's unlikely that it is accepted in psychology, or even heard of.

What is happening is the new hire was the wrong race, so he got "1%". Because he questioned the system, the author then was forced to retake the test and told he failed based on some mysterious new "antiauthoritarian" aspect of this single-dimensioned 0-100 metric not because the test showed that, but because HR is using the test as a prop to make sure the wrong races, looks, and attitudes don't show up on the payroll.

A discrimination lawsuit subpoenaing HR's test and information about its validity and scoring will be extremely instructive in ferreting out what is really going on here.

Ok, I'll play the Grammar Nazi Troll (On topic, since native level English was relevant in the story :-) )

Interesting article, but you make a bad impression when you write with high school level grammar.

"Me" is a sentence object; "I" is the subject. You did it three times, which is more than just a slip.

Yup, nothing worse than a HR monkey with a meaningless number. "Bow before my all-powerful metric, puny mortals!"

More generally, there's nothing worse than a social scientist who has illusions about being a scientist.

I was going to ask, somewhat facetiously, whether Asimov wrote "social science fiction" rather than science fiction.

Fortunately, I googled the phrase before embarrassing myself. Turns out he all-but-invented the phrase to describe his own work.

I suppose he had no such illusions.

Yeah.. There was that little Foundations trilogy that dealt specifically with psychohistorical studies.

Yes, that was why I thought of Asimov.

The thing I was unaware of was that Asimov did actually think of his writing as social science fiction.

There's nothing scientific in this case - quite the opposite: pure cargo cult. Hence my choice of the word: monkey puts candidate in, a number comes out, monkey checks if number exceeds another number. No science - not even thought - nothing, just blind obedience to whatever process the monkey was trained to follow.

That's my point -- the HR monkey was a social scientist, and the fact that they were administering a test and getting a number out gave them the illusion that they were actually doing something scientific.

An actual scientist would have asked questions -- Do the test results correlate with performance? Is the test biased? What is the margin of error on the test? etc. -- and would very likely have come to the conclusion that the test should not be trusted as a reliable indicator.

I once failed a test because I wasn't good at abstract thinking. And they decided to be a good developer, you had to be a good abstract thinker. At that time, the test was already more than 10 years old.

I didn't get the job, although I had several references that I was one of the best and also most social and motivated developers they had ever worked with.

One of the references also stated that I was really good at thinking 'out of the box', finding a solution while everyone was blindly staring at the problem. That is abstract thinking, no?

I'm CEO now... And it might be me, but I've worked with some abstract thinkers and whatever they cook up hasn't resulted in anything concrete yet. (except for a huge consultancy bill on occasion)

If you're good at abstract thinking everything is the same. Even being the same is the same as not being the same ;). Really a good skill for software design, as you can build a lot of functionality that looks different on the same base and save a lot of time. Your software will also become easier to maintain and to extend.

Thinking "out of the box" is creativity. This isn't the same as abstract thinking, though you can "fake" being creative by seeing things are the same and proposing a solution that worked for the other problem.

It is my experience that purely abstract things are not usable in the real world by real people. They simply won't get it or making it do things is way too hard (inner platform effect). A good piece of software has a abstract core and a very concrete interface.

But then, not getting what abstract thinking is about is probably a good sign that you aren't an abstract thinker?

Blah! I just did some abstract reasoning tests and i had an excellent score. Now, the tests on the net might be crap... Bu who says the tests HR uses aren't?

People aren't even able to make a good estimate of how long a project will take, or if it will even get finished. So how can they determine which kind of people are a right fit to work on those projects?

I don't understand why HR should have a role in decision making to hire candidates. I'd find them useful in: 1) providing guidance; 2) ensure that all hiring is done legally and ethically; and that's about it. It is the hiring manager's responsibility to make sure his team delivers, so it should also be the hiring manager's decision on who is hired.

This comment will probably get lost in the noise on this thread, but this one line says it all:

"The psychometric test was supposed to produce a "true" reflection of how someone saw themselves, and I was told it couldn't change over time - i.e. whatever it determined was fixed, immutable and infallible."

Any HR person that believes humans are immutable, fixed objects should be fired on the spot. Humans beings are adaptable organisms capable of far more than we can ever imagine. Any person who has the power to hire and fire other people who fails to understand this is not qualified for the job they have been asked to do.

My supervisor recently asked that my compensation be increased; so I got a weird phone call from the HR person where she just wanted me to know that she and the senior management knew I had been arrested a long time ago. But she conceded that she did not tell my supervisor; because well I was found not guilty in court. wtf.

Where do you work that psychometric tests are required of candidates? It's the first I've heard of something like this (outside of various gov't/military jobs).

My current company do this, we've around 600 employees across Europe and every candidate for an IT position in the UK takes the same test at a 1st/2nd level interview.

Unlike the OP it's at the hirer's discretion how much weight they put in the score and it's made clear to us there's a definite pattern that more nervous candidates & those without English as a natural language score less well. We ask them to come into the office, only in rare occasions does someone do it remotely.

Most of my candidates in software positions score 40-70% and have done well in the company, I've had a number in the 0-20% bracket of whom I took 1 based on his good performance in other aspects of the interview - he's not turned out to be a great hire relative to the others. A handful in the company get the 95%+ scores and they've all done well - I think many are among the best performers in our department suggesting some kind of particular capability.

The output of the test is a % score with breakdown in a few catagories plus a 2-3 page personality profile. I showed mine to a few ex colleagues, it said probably 8 things like "will have days where he's uncommunicative or seems unfriendly and days he's warmer" which everyone pointed out as eerily true about me (and the negative aspects I can therefore work on!) but it read a little like a horoscope in that you can probably find truth in it and it's up to you to what extent you forgive the paragraphs that are very untrue, although presented in a scientific way.

Honestly, I think it's pretty helpful as accompanying information and would use it again at another job

"will have days where he's uncommunicative or seems unfriendly and days he's warmer"

Yeah, I think that describes approximately 1 of out every 1 persons.

Here in the UK, it's not uncommon in large companies.

What would be awesome would be taking a variety of (cheap, painless, ideally totally passive) tests on a control population, your applicant population, your offer population (specifically those who turn you down), your new hires, and your ongoing employees (especially if you can sort your employees once hired into good/bad).

It would ideally be descriptive vs. prescriptive, so you could uncover things like "we get mainly recent-college-grads applying, but our strongest employees are those who joined mid-career", or "we have very few minorities who apply, but those who apply and are offered positions tend to be strong and stay with the company a long time".

Pretty meaningless unless you are hiring at Google scale, though.

In the UK a lot of otherwise sensible organisations seem to include these daft wee tests into their hiring process (including at least one large US tech giant and one fairly successful VC funded startup that I know of).

HR must do something to got paid, let's do a stupid test to each candidate!

It's common with big companies in South Africa as well. It may have to do with how difficult it is to fire someone under our laws, but a few months probation is usually good enough, and fairer.

And here I thought my company was one of the few doing it in SA...

Software consulting places and body shops (unfortunately the line is increasingly blurry) don't generally do them. There was small software company in Jhb that used to send candidates for invasive IQ and personality tests to a psychologist, but they don't exist anymore.

Many big corporates have psychometricians on staff. At least one even has a department dedicated to psychometric testing.

There's plenty of demand for skilled developers so I don't understand why people put themselves through the humiliation. I expect that a lot of skilled people self-select out of these sorts of psychometric processes if they can, to the detriment of potential employers.

I also wouldn't be surprised if many of the tests contain an element of uncorrected racial/cultural bias, and the psychometric industry has been exploiting the inability of the government to enforce the law (Employment Equity Act), which makes discriminatory testing illegal.

"I also wouldn't be surprised if many of the tests contain an element of uncorrected racial/cultural bias, and the psychometric industry has been exploiting the inability of the government to enforce the law (Employment Equity Act), which makes discriminatory testing illegal."

Bingo! The way it actually works is you organize everything with the assumption that applicants will fail 20% of tests. A different failure mode each time, but the odds are excellent if you give an applicant ten tests, and they fail 1 in 5, every applicant will fail at least one. Then you remove all the undesirables (skin color, sexuality, that kind of thing) and declare the fact that the bosses nephew being the only guy to fail the 360 interview with the janitor turns out to be not relevant, so lets hire him.

In the original article the only reason the 1% test result mattered In That Particular Case is the HR person didn't like that asian's nationality, or race, or religion, or something like that. Guarantee if I was the candidate it would be swept under the rug (unless the HR lady hates me because of my race, politics, religion, of course)

"I also wouldn't be surprised if many of the tests contain an element of uncorrected racial/cultural bias, and the psychometric industry has been exploiting the inability of the government to enforce the law (Employment Equity Act), which makes discriminatory testing illegal."

Why would the psychometric industry want to exploit such a lack of enforcement by vending a discriminatory test? Do you think their customers are interested in using tests that give bogus results?

Perhaps I was unclear. I don't think that they deliberately bias the tests, I do think that they don't rigorously validate the tests to prove that they are non-discriminatory, perhaps because of laziness, or because they lack the statistical know-how.

Or just use the Employment Equity Act to discriminate directly if the candidate fits...

The Employment Equity Act doesn't make discriminatory testing illegal, it legalizes discrimination.

Section 8 of the Employment Equity Act: “Psychological testing and other similar assessments of an employee are prohibited unless the test or assessment being used— a) has been scientifically shown to be valid and reliable; b) can be applied fairly to all employees; and c) is not biased against any employee or group."

That's big companies for you. Enterprise!

Or even in medium sized ones

I recall hearing - I think it was an article posted to HN a few months back - that handwriting assessments are common in France.

In India, it's very common to have fresh graduates take psych tests.

I don't know if the results matter.

I've taken several kinds of psychometric tests, but have never seen one that produces a single result, whose unit is %. What kind of psychometric test could that possibly be?

Even when I saw my own results, towards the end of my employment there, there wasn't a single overall metric result.

Maybe she did some kind of averaging, or maybe she was told by management to invent a reason to reject him... since about 96% of the company was of British White origin - I shouldn't speculate though.


"Often what would happen is the first ten minutes or so would be socially awkward for the candidates since they would soon realise that they're technically all working against each other, but they also had to work together."

is quite as bad as this:

"As a young man, in the late 1920s or early 1930s, the narrator lived in the South. Because he is a gifted public speaker, he is invited to give a speech to a group of important white men in his town. The men reward him with a briefcase containing a scholarship to a prestigious black college, but only after humiliating him by forcing him to fight in a “battle royal” in which he is pitted against other young black men, all blindfolded, in a boxing ring." [1]

But it's getting "up there". The complex technical interview and the "do stuff for us for free" thing is bad enough but "start cooperating with your opponents in a 'there no right answers but we'll be failing you for some answers' situation is pretty despicable just to start.

Part of me hope they wind only with only really bad candidates, serves them right for putting on such a circus.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Man#Plot_summary

Is "me and X" as the subject of a sentence valid British English grammar? It comes across as really uneducated.

It's normal, yes. Growing up in NZ we were taught that it's impolite and you should always say "X and I." I was surprised to learn that in the UK it's said the other way around.

It's not really valid, but it's not uncommon either. It's something that would sound unremarkable in speech but looks quite bad when written down.

It's perfectly valid. "X and I" is only valid if the sentence makes sense if you only used "I".

This article makes one valid use of "me and X":

> in an effort to score extra points with me and Carl.

If you changed that to "Carl and I" then took out Carl it would be "to score extra points with I", which is disturbing and wrong.

Notice that I said "as the subject of a sentence". It certainly works in the single case you chose. How about these:

"… and me and Carl were quietly trying to weigh up which team …" "Me and Carl had a winner and …" "During the excercise me and a colleague, Carl, made ourselves available …"

Yes, those are incorrect. Perhaps it's just because I'm not located in the UK, but it really stands out for me. Those, the lack of periods and phrases such as:

>and thinked the way most of the team already worked and thought

Hopefully, I've fixed the grammar.

Yes, that sentence in the first paragraph stood out to me too, but I really didn't expect for the article to gain traction.

I want to add that I can't suit everyone, there are things that annoy me about American English grammar that I can't change, and I wouldn't think about writing in the comments suggestions on how to fix it. Maybe that's just me.

Of course, and if these formulations are valid British grammar, then I don't expect you to change them. That's why I asked.

Aha, you appear to be correct. This might be a case of linguistic prejudice then - the mistake of saying "me" when "I" is appropriate is considered to be a sign of miseducation, whereas few people ever make the mistake of saying "I" when they mean "me", so it has not acquired any negative connotations. This prejudice applies even when the usage of "me" is correct!

Shouldn't it be "Carl and me"? I thought there were two rules for these phrases: subject vs. predicate (as illustrated in the parent post) and that you should put yourself last.

That you put yourself last is a question of modesty, not grammar :)

Just did some research and it looks like you are right. I learned both rules as a kid at once and didn't realize the distinction.

I like to read what I write aloud as a sense check before submitting it - nothing stood out immediately. My wife often tells me my (written) English is terrible.

It's fairly common. If one says "X and I" one risks coming across as being a bit Brian Sewell.

Yep, this. My wife refuses to use it. It's a form of inverted snobbery and a symptom of the UK's class culture.

AFAIK, it's very common but still incorrect in British English.

The HR guy once called me into his office to ask why I was leaving. To which I said "excuse me?", and then he turned around his monitor which showed my LinkedIn profile.

Turns out I had stuffed up a few of the dates for a former job and it looked like I working for another company!

I was curious as to what he thought I was doing all day in the office. Even more curious - why the hell was he tracking me on LinkedIn? I suppose I shouldn't have been that surprised.

This reminds me of an article I read a while ago. In essence it warned of hiring people that think the same as everyone else on your team, as you will get stuck with the same opinion almost every time. It advocated hiring different thinking employees to achieve a broader view to any given problem.

These psychometric tests seem to go against that advice by only selecting people with very similar personalities and thought patterns, thus stinting the company.

The job interview is the absolutely worst way to find different minded people. I temped at a fairly large electronics corp and they made me take the ridiculous personality test. I answered the questions the way you assume a large corporation would like and got the position. A few years later I applied to the same company again and took the same personality test.

I figured now that I've got some experience under my belt and I have references from within I'd be a shoe-in. So I answered truthfully this time and was rejected. I asked my references about what happened and HR told them I didn't pass the personality test.

When money is on the line people are quite flexible about their views. If you like ObjC, I like ObjC. If you like Starbucks, I like Starbucks.

1. Writing a blog post about this - good

2. Naming and shaming the company - better

3. Quitting your job and letting them know about it - even better

If I had the money to fight the lawsuit, I'd be right there.

Also, I formally let them know I disagreed with the psychometric testing.

Double also... I used to apologise to new hires for the psychometric testing, and tell them "this is not how the real-world works, this is a micro-community"

Fight the smart battles - and know the parameters of your influence ie don't be labelled as public enemy no.1 by dis-agreeing visibly.

Personally i think hr's role in selectin should simply be one of co-ordination and documentation, nothing more. Selection should be done by the team that needs them, with even the managers of the team playing a supporting role ie team decides not even the project manager. That requires a strong CTO/CIO type person and supporting CEO etc.

But, more importantly, by allowing HR to label you as a dis-ruptor and someone who threatens their own influence, it will be tough for you in the long run

Most of the top comments are restating a common belief among technical workers: HR managers (or all of HR) is worthless, especially when they try to be more than paper-pushers. Lumping all HR people into a single category is foolish and unfair.

I admit that most HR managers are just paper pushers who are simply not knowledgeable enough to make hiring decisions. And shame on the manager who allowed such a useless position and department to persist. If these people are not qualified to help make hiring decisions, why would you even trust them to find and filter candidates?

I've worked places where the HR personnel understand the business, know the team, and were aware of heaps of research on hiring and keeping people happy. Their feedback on hiring processes was extremely valuable, and they made contributions to the culture and environment. They were the first to attack "corporate bullshit" as it sprung up. In short, they knew how to build and foster a productive, creative environment better than anyone, and we listened. That, in my opinion, is what HR should do.

Sometimes, the vocal majority on hn is highly skeptical, going above and beyond the call of "duty" to point out unsupported conclusions, anecdotal evidence, etc. Other times, they grab their pitchforks and attack the enemy (government, management, corporations, patent law) without so much as a glance at the data.

1. Are you certain that all technically qualified candidates will fit in with every company? Do you have data that supports this opinion?

2. Assuming there are some "poor fits", are you certain that the HR department and its tests are unable to accurately detect poor fits? Do you know what the sensitivity and specificity of the tests are?

3. Given that there will be some false positives (incorrectly labeled as "poor fit"), are you certain that losing these false positives harms the company more than hiring the true positives would (because you don't detect them)? Do you have data that supports this opinion, for various objective measures of harm or success?

Consider that these programs may be data-driven, which your anecdote is not, and therefore a) this person might actually be a technically qualified yet poor fit for the company and you just can't tell and b) this person could be an acceptable false positive, and that judging a program due to a specific instance is vacuous. My gut reaction is that, probably, the best hiring program allows several people and departments with various expertise should each have veto power.

Finally, hackers are traditionally anti-authoritarian, and that is both good and bad. Failure to realize that, and to admit that authority may have some value that even you, brilliant computer programmer, can't personally vouch for, is one of the aspects of our community that I would love to see change.

1) Absolutely not, there's no perfect way to figure out if someone is a good fit for the company.

2) I expect that the HR process is evidence towards whether a candidate is a good fit, but not as good evidence evidence as the estimation of future coworkers regarding if they would be a good fit. I expect that written tests by HR regarding personality would be approximately useless, and that the people who created them haven't measured their sensitivity and specificity.

3) I expect that would vary wildly case by case.

EDIT: To unpack 2 a bit more, I'm sure there are personality tests that would be fairly useful in these cases, but I also expect that actual researchers who are doing things scientifically and only promise what they can deliver would be at such a huge disadvantage selling to HR departments that I wouldn't expect any uptake even without competition from unscrupulous types who think they've got everything figured out and don't feel the need to scientifically test their methods.

HR should never have the final say in a hire or no hire. I interviewed with a company recently which originally said they wanted me but later took the offer away. I was interviewed by 3 engineers and realized after talking to them that they were all very smart and that I would love working for the company. Apparently they all 3 liked me and I was told they wanted me after I talk to HR and filled out an application. Turns out I had about a 2.9 gpa and they wanted at least a 3.0 so my offer was never official. I still want to work for the company and I might in a few years when my gpa isn't even looked at because I'm sure the engineers will like me again...

This has nothing to do with HR, but everything to do with the power HR was given by the directors, or what ever. Good, well positioned HR staff are invaluable.

I wonder how many times technical staff have had hiring lumped on them, and got it horribly wrong?

People really need to start realizing not everyone is specializing in communication/social-interaction or business writing. And that does NOT make them horrible candidates for being more professional in other aspects of their work. These tests the HR departments keep making are not helping and detering very skilled and productive people who should have otherwise been hired.

And this is coming from someone who is from US and natively speaks English. Social awkwardness is in a sense showing intelligence, however it is hard to convey speech articulate for some people. Some people are much more wrapped in the news of now and what is going on the world than others. And people all have different ways of jumbling facts in their head and through speech, so it's not exactly fair to say one person is smarter based on them using cleaner and more syntactic language.

But generally companies do need to hire people that they can at least get along with. That I can understand, because if you can't stand a person who is there by your side for 6 hours or more then you can't really work with them.

Companies that are looking to hire people based off of speech and writing are looking at it as a communication issue. This could be good or it could be much worse. They need to realize the trade-off between communication and talent being there.

When I was still at the university, our statistics class was used as a sample for a company creating such tests.

We had to fill out a test and hand a second form to someone who knew us well enough to judge our social behaviour.

The goal of this was to validate that the test.

When asked what would happen if the test was not valid, the company representative answered:

"There are 2 ways to handle such a proiblem: we can change the test or we can try again with another sample group. We prefer to change the sample group."

Ugh. I had to take tests like that when I was interviewing right out of college. The whole experience rubbed me the wrong way. I ended up telling them I smoked (they were 100% smoke free and you could be fired for testing positive for nicotine) just to get them to leave me alone as smoking immediately knocked you out of the running.

Not surprisingly, my company has hired several people from them and absolutely no one has a good thing to say about working there.

Recruiter here. I cannot imagine working in an organization where this is reasonable. The idea that I would EVER tell an engineering team that they can't have the candidate they love is just mind boggling. This is exactly the type of HR people that the industry needs to be rid of. We should be helping teams get the people they want, not hurt it. If this was my role in a company I would resign immediately.

While this is pretty shitty, and overall I completely agree that personality tests should not decide a hiring decision, I certainly don't think that we should lose sight of one thing:

It is 100% legitimate to not hire someone because they don't fit in with your team. They might be really smart and ace your interviews, but if they simply don't fit in then they don't fit in. This advice is given countless times in basically every single "how to give interviews" post I've read, and they come up on HN quite often. Remember the one a few days ago about how Stripe (?) uses "the Sunday test" on candidates? I thought that was pretty brilliant.

So, while the company in this story did something most of us agree is bad, they at least had good intentions. I'm not defending them, just reiterating that it's valid to reject someone based on how they fit in with your team. Just try to not do that by using a test...

[edit] also, the "fits in with team" decision should obviously be made by the team itself and not by HR. But I'm definitely not in the "abolish HR" camp, lol.

> So, while the company in this story did something most of us agree is bad, they at least had good intentions.

Road, hell, paved... you know the rest. If I were ever subject to such a test I'd walk out of that interview pronto. If I were ever in the hiring manager's role I'd raise this to the CEO and fight like hell to get the situation changed or the HRbot repaired.

I've worked for a lot of software corporations (either as an employee or contractor/consultant) and I've never heard of anything like a psychometric evaluation.

Please tell me this isn't becoming popular.

I participated in a similar test not a long time ago. Along with personality test it self, It was basically asking same questions again and again and testing if I am being honest/consistent.

They told me in my next interview I was one of the most consistent people that took test. I got a 95%, whatever that means. In reality I just noticed the pattern and gave my answers with that information

What was the test, out of curiosity? What tests are the most commonly given?

There were two tests - I don't know the names but maybe someone here knows more than I do about them.

Firstly: You had to write a personal statement, something to describe yourself

Test 1: Involved ticking (agreeing) with a list of statements from two perspectives. The first perspective was how you see yourself. The second perspective was how (you think) others see you

Test 2: Involved rotating the letter R many times in a fixed time period. I was given a grid of about 100 R's all at different angles and had to count the number of clock wise rotations for it to be normal.

The end-result was basically a bunch of weightings that gave personality traits. Followed by a really well written auto-generated description of that individuals traits.

Typically when people had the chance to read their results, they'd say "ooh, actually I agree". But of all the things it said - there was a hell-of-a-lot that it didn't say.

Involved rotating the letter R many times in a fixed time period. I was given a grid of about 100 R's all at different angles and had to count the number of clock wise rotations for it to be normal.

This sounds like a test to see if you're capable of doing boring, repetitive and uninspiring work. I can see how that might be useful to many large businesses!

"ooh, actually I agree" is cold reading?


I think the test was Myers-Briggs based http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

I got a test that tested my math skills, problem solving, my understanding of a text, and word associations. They ended with a test for a Myers-Briggs personality type.

My math skills (without calculator) were pretty bad, but I was reassured that it didn't matter, I was applying as a software developer not an accountant.

I got the job, and in my time there I also heard about people that "failed" the test.

Yeah, I have some background in psychometrics. I looked into getting work in these HR psychomestric firms at some point. I discounted it out of hand as I did not want to be involved in such a dodgy enterprise. Corporate psychologists give me th heebeejeebies (wearing one of my hats I'm now a corporate sociologist, which is a much more sensible gig).

It's well known that if you want to get a sales job you must first pass a Unicru test. The way to pass a Unicru test is to answer "strongly agree" to statements your boss would want to hear, and "strongly disagree" to statements he would not. One or two wrong answers get you demoted from "green" to "yellow" on the Unicru. Significantly more than that gets you "red" (no hire). Oh, and "agree" is a wrong answer to a question which should be answered "strongly agree".

The personality type the Unicru test selects for is bizarre and paradoxical; I doubt any living human could have these characteristics without wearing a cap (from The Tripods). You have to be a self-starter but have no mind of your own; you have to take initiative but only on things of which the company approves.

Nice to see this practice trickling into tech. I'd say "welcome to fucking America" except apparently this is in the UK.

I've taken these tests - they're terrible. You're told not to try to game them, and this is just trying to get a feel for who you are...but there's often clearly a "right" answer.

And even when there isn't, there is to the person reading it - if your "type" rejects their values, you must be broken somehow.

I'm astonished that this sort of thing still goes on. Who is not aware that this kind of psychological testing has been shown to be utterly subjective, unscientific and sometimes destructive?

And who isn't aware that psychologists have recently been forced to abandon the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis, after an epidemic of phony diagnoses of people who are often very successful in spite of the diagnosis, people like Bill Gates, Nicola Tesla and Albert Einstein?

The big picture is that society is in the midst of a re-assessment of the role and meaning of psychology, and the future doesn't look very bright for psychiatrists and psychologists. More here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/side-effects/201305/the-...

I'll throw my hat in the ring on this one. Just applied to a job and got a response saying:

"Thank you for your interest in the ! Your resume appears to have many of the relevant skills we are looking for in our open * position. Please tell us more information about yourself and attach your resume. We look forward to scheduling an interview."

I reply back and this is what I get:

"...We have had an impressive response to our ad for our open position. At this time, candidates with backgrounds closer matching our job description are being considered."

So, got approved by one HR rep, then rejected by the next. It really frustrates me knowing that I have the qualifications and yet, for whatever "undisclosed" reason, I can't even just get an interview. The world of getting hired....

Edit - blanked out company name so that is why it reads odd.

It's actually a natural selection. If the metrics are bad, the company get's a competitive disadvantage and should be on the way to bankruptcy in the long run. If the metrics actually are quite good, producing only few false negatives and few of the opposite, then there's no problem.

"Also, there were some candidates who managed to get 95% and above - but would then just be absolutely awful during the interview - we would later discover that they were paying someone to complete the technical test on their behalf."

I wondered about this when I see test scores inconsistent with actual ability. The truth does come out.

In general tests (or interviews) for new hires should be tougher than for existing employees. You want each new hire to bring something new to the table.

The OP suggests that you can't beat interviews. I believe that even better is seeing someone in action (which they did) and getting references from someone you trust. This is why employee referral programs are so good.

Once HR gets into the mix of "Fairness to the candidates" as opposed to "Fairness to the company" it gets a little strange.

Some people are hell-bent to kill a deal in order to demonstrate their worth. This happens sometimes with lawyers, and these 'ambitious' deal-killing lawyers are toxic to work with. I hadn't considered it before, but this may be common elsewhere too, such as HRA departments.

Maybe we should come up with an HR equivalent to the "duck"? Story pasted below:

This started as a piece of Interplay corporate lore. It was well known that producers (a game industry position, roughly equivalent to PMs) had to make a change to everything that was done. The assumption was that subconsciously they felt that if they didn’t, they weren’t adding value.

The artist working on the queen animations for Battle Chess was aware of this tendency, and came up with an innovative solution. He did the animations for the queen the way that he felt would be best, with one addition: he gave the queen a pet duck. He animated this duck through all of the queen’s animations, had it flapping around the corners. He also took great care to make sure that it never overlapped the “actual” animation.

Eventually, it came time for the producer to review the animation set for the queen. The producer sat down and watched all of the animations. When they were done, he turned to the artist and said, “That looks great. Just one thing—get rid of the duck.”


I was horrified by the Milgram experiment (psychological test to test obedience to authority) that the author cites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

And (but not related to the article) I was amazed to find out that Milgram is the same researcher who created the first "six degrees of separation" experiments, that lead to the creation of the first global-scale social networks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_experiment

At my last job, we decided to do a little recruitment test. My co-worker set up a php file (and a mirror python file to let the candidates choose), with a blank in a function and a bunch of unit tests for the function. We needed someone to try and debug the test, so I volunteered. Seeing that the team manager was about to take a development literacy test, the whole development team got up and rounded around my screen. It was the most stressful 20 min of my career, I prefer having the website down, at least everybody is focused on work and rooting for success. (I passed the test and I we ironed the last wrinkles doing so)

HR - particularly recruiting - at most (big) companies is a colossal joke. They´re typically lazy - limited in their understanding of the business and very quick to make decisions that they refuse to change due to the insecurity of knowing that they might actually be superfluous if it wasn´t for all that paperwork that someone had to take care of. They set some random parameters and don´t actually have an understanding of who would really fit the job. At the end of the day - they dont have to work with those people, nor do they understand the current team dynamic - so how can one expect otherwise!?

I had kind of the opposite happen at my last 9-5 job. They were considering using this type of test for potential candidates. The managers got together and came up with the metrics they felt would make the best team members. To get a baseline they gave the test to all current employees in the department. The test was a combination personality and IQ test. The test was determined to be a failure and wasn't used, one of the primary reasons was I scored highest/closest to the benchmarks that the managers had set forth before we took the tests. I quit that job and am a lot happier.

At one company, they gave a personality test in two sessions. The test gave everyone a color, green, yellow, blue or red, that determined if you were better in sales, management, tech, or whatever. Techs were supposed to be green. Well, the first group took the test, and we were able to figure out how to game the test so that the score would come out exactly centered. Everyone in the second batch of tester scored exactly in the center. Boy was the HR manager pissed! He was fuming! It was so hilarious. They too used those kinds of tests to determine whether people would be promoted or fired.

Some tests may be acceptable as early filters, if you have a lot of candidates for one vacancy. But opinion of a reliable employee after personal contact should overpower any test IMHO. It's just crazy how HR blocked the candidate. Also, if they knew he couldn't be with the company, why they even let him into the competition? Strange rules. And that bit about "special treatment" was kinda stupid, he already had disadvantage cause of bad English. By they way, in order to get 1% on any test I think you have to know all the right answers and respond conversely.

I have no issue with testing as part of a recruitment process but it should be a single input into the overall decision and certainly shouldn't be able to override other more significant factors.

In this instance a reasonable compromise would seem to be to have the HR manager state what the specific issues they felt might exist were and call the candidate back to talk through them and see if they could be substantiated. If someone was that bad a fit then I doubt very much it would be hard to surface supporting evidence in a face to face discussion.

We run a psychometric test on every candidate that walks through the front door. The ones that get hired get their test results in a sit down with HR and the option to share the test results with their colleagues. I don't get to see them unless the hire shares them with me. The purpose of the test and its results is to start the new hire down a road of self-discovery and awareness (if they so choose) that we can leverage into ongoing development and improvement together (again, if they so choose). Its worked brilliantly so far.

If anyone wants to see HR done right, you should read about People Operations at Google:


I know it's a bit demanding to ask what are usually a bunch of unskilled supporting staffers to become proficient in analytics, but you can't expect to solve a problem without putting in some work.

It's been a long while since I had to get involved in any HR related business practises, but I've got a vague feeling not hiring a candidate on the basis of a psychometric test might actually fall within hiring discrimination, if it's a case that the test is unsuitable for the candidate. Which in this case, as a non-native speaker, it seems very much like the test wouldn't be a fair fight. They simply cannot complete the testing in the same way a native speaker would.

"she later told me that I was anti-authoritarian and more likely to do what I thought was right rather than what I had been instructed to do. I am still baffled to this day about how that is an undesirable attribute"

Pretty much sums up everthing that is wrong with Corporate America, American government and American society in a nutshell. Your betters (aka "leaders") want solders, not moral people. This is social Darwinism in action, and it's not going to lead to a good place.

Military here.

One of the funniest things, to me, is that the military is having a lot of problems shifting mentalities. The "Shut the fuck up and do what you're told" model works for a draftee military, but it's complete garbage for a professional military. Today's soldiers are faced with circumstances that require improvisation, creativity, and original thought. Literature on the subject focuses on the "strategic corporal," the squad or even fireteam leader who is forced to make autonomous decisions.

Unfortunately, things are pretty slow to change in the military, so basic training is all about the STFUDWYT Model.

Then, when it actually comes to promotion time, they have to find the people who haven't been completely brainwashed. It's awesome to find that the kids who were seen as shitbags in boot camp tend to end up doing far better than the kids who wholeheartedly drank the Kool-Aid.

I have both in my shop right now. I can use the brainwashed kids, but I can't make them leaders because they have no capacity for original thought. They'll be minions forever.

That being said, I also have a kid in my shop who is certainly not brainwashed and is also completely intolerable to work with.

Is there something I'm not getting here about UK Law? I've never run into something like this in the US, and wonder actually if it would be legal (especially taking into account the language barriers, as that'd be discrimination). I would surely hope that anyone offered such a test could opt out. It sounded like these guys were high up in the company, if not the founders, so why didn't they fix the problem themselves?

I think this story is a great example of sometimes being rejected on an interview can be a fantastic outcome. With the impressive score of 1% this guy was clearly either going to be miserable in the kind of company that thinks this sort of test is of paramount importance to the hiring process, or deliberately chose answers that made sure he wouldn't end up in such a company. Bravo.

Wait, I see the problem! You've sorted by:

  [hr_score, tech_score]
when you meant to sort by:

  [tech_score, hr_score]

I'm a recent hire in a big company ( for brazilian standards, 600+ people). And my boss told me the the HR recommended the other candidate. But my boss already knew me, and actually, he called me direct to the recruitment process. So, our company value the opinion of the manager, it knows that the best managers know which people are best for their spots.

I love this. I not only illustrates the concept of the false negative (which is presumably as likely as the false positive)- it also showcases that disciplines and best practices, even policies hr, finance, sales ops and yes, even product are not absolute. every case is unique and can be quantum- not binary right or wrong, but every infinity in between

By the way, in hiring you typically are ok with a reasonable number of false negatives, but you really want to eliminate false positives - so a strict filter is actually appropriate.

For example, if you're interviewing candidates with "true objective fit optimalities" of 31%, 52%, 84%, 91%, 94%, 96% - then your process must ensure that there is no way that the bad candidates get hired because they got lucky, even if it means that sometimes the top one gets thrown out by the filter. The delta between best and second best candidates is likely to be narrow (certainly much smaller than any margin of error of your interviewing/'measurement' process), and insignificant compared to the delta between a good candidate and a shiny-looking bad apple - except if your job market is starving and almost noone good applies.

I had lots of questions after reading this. So why was the test given, if it wasn't used to disqualify people? And who came up with this test idea in the first place anyway? Why was it important?

In general, it's a mistake to substitute technical knowledge for ability to perform. You might be a freaking genius, but one that nobody can get along with. So how well this guy did during his technical evaluation is besides the point. Don't hire people that can't construct normalized data models. End of story.

A much more interesting part of the technical evaluation exercise was seeing how people worked in ad hoc teams. Is being mostly quiet, having difficultly with the language, and prompting other people to ask questions a good thing? Probably not. Is it bad enough to disqualify somebody? Probably not.

The dirty secret about hiring is that there are no right answers. There is no magic thing that once you have it, you automatically are perfect for a job. It's technical chops, it's personality, it's social skills, it's communication skills, and so on.

The best part in the comments looks like more of the membership theory: only hire people that you want on a team, and ignore everything else. Probably works great for small teams. I wonder how that would scale, though.

So I didn't get a lot from this. Wish there was more in it.

The notion behind tests like this is to get a feel for your personality, in order to assess "fit". Not necessarily to disqualify people but, for example, if you're not much motivated by money, but are interested in challenging problems, and you're being considered for a lucrative but dull-as-rocks position...it might not work out.

That's the idea at least. In practice, I haven't been impressed by them at all.

I think maybe I did a poor job of explaining myself.

Yes, I understand the things the tests provide. These kinds of tests have been around forever. Personally I don't like them, most engineers don't, but that's not going to make them go away.

My question was about the organization itself. Why measure something if you're not going to do anything with it? So in your example, where you're not motivated by money, but its a job that pays well and is boring, why find that out if you're not going to use it to disqualify someone?

The question in general is this: why measure something if there are no consequences to what you measure? I wasn't trying to say the test was great, I was asking the reason the test was given in the first place. The way I see it, it would have to be disqualifying in some cases. Otherwise, there's no reason for the measurement. Unless the goal is just to create a lot of arguing, which it seems to have done very well!

I think the problem is we like to wave our hands around and say "well, the test informs the decision, but is not definitive". This is just another way of saying that we don't know what we are doing -- there is no plan.

This is probably the root of the author's discomfort. Either he doesn't understand what's going on as far as the evaluation, or there's no reason for it, or both. Don't know. All I know is the guy was smart. That's also not enough information. Lots of smart folks in the world that I'd never want to work with.

It's the standard corporate CYA strategy. If the hire turns out to be a bad apple, everyone will glare at HR. HR will point to the test results, and sigh "We did our due dilligence, not our fault". And noone is to blame.

Same as with all the IT certification stuff that corporate HR loves to get their hands on.

Interesting article.

RE: Nuremberg Defence.

Do you really think it would have been smart for the Germans to hire people who wouldn't have followed their orders?

But in a profession environment, yep I'd agree you don't want all people who just follow orders, quite different to work environments where you want people to act more like machines aka call centres, sweat shops, army etc.

> Do you really think it would have been smart for the Germans to hire people who wouldn't have followed their orders?

It's not so much an antiauthoritarian outlook, i.e. what a person won't do, as what such a person will do, as in creating ingenious solutions to problems.

In the modern military, creative types are highly regarded (and this is a recent change in military culture) -- self-directed and autonomous types like Navy Seals and other special forces are highly prized compared to obedient infantrymen.

Consider Wernher Von Braun, the designer of the V-1 and V-2, and later, the designer of the Saturn 5 Apollo booster. He was constantly in trouble with the authorities in Nazi Germany for his impolitic statements, but they tolerated him because of what he could build. After the war, we tolerated him even though he was a former enemy, because of what he could build.

> Do you really think it would have been smart for the Germans to hire people who wouldn't have followed their orders?

Have you heard of a guy called Erwin Rommel?

I think the bigger injustice is that these sorts of tests are a sham. It is a bogus product oversold to HR managers for insane prices and no evidence of benefit. As far as I am concerned, if a prospective employer were to put one of these tests in front of me, I would lose interest in working for said company.

HR are parasites, you have to keep them on a short leash or they infect the operations of a company. Under no circumstances give them any decision power whatsoever -- they're there to do the tax forms, stamp the cheques, arrange the resumes, and make sure the fridge is stocked.

If you fill out a personality test and hand it to someone who is not your doctor in some capacity you have no idea what are you doing. There's a hell of a lot one can read from the quite a few personality tests and it's can backfire you in quite spectacular ways later.

I think most of the problems come from how much money companies spend on HR people's salaries. You can't really expect a good job done when you pay very little for it. It's not that they don't do their best, but they simply can't be better than that.

she later told me that I was anti-authoritarian and more likely to do what I thought was right rather than what I had been instructed to do. I am still baffled to this day about how that is an undesirable attribute

Ugh.... I have some bad news about the world you live in.

We don't have HR at my company. What does HR do in a well run company? What is their role?

I've implemented a new rule some time ago. If my first contact is an HR person or recruiter, I give it up. They can't even spell my name right most of the time so I don't really hesitate.

To protect the company from employees.

Personality is so difficult to measure, so it is even more ridiculous that HR has not only come up with an ideal spectrum of personalities that would 'fit' the company, but also adjusted it such that candidates can be scored on %.

Someone else posted it, but it's here:

Company in question: Kaonix - http://www.kaonix.com/

Can we please blackball this company into oblivion from ever hiring any smart, capable, or talented developers?

OP here. That's not the company in question, and if they ever read this it could cost me my job - it was a previous employer - a travel company.

For the record, my interview at Kaonix was probably the best conducted interview I've ever had. Me and the CTO sat down and basically just chatted about technology - he had some technical questions but soon gave up on them when he realised they were a peice of cake for me. Kaonix should be praised for their approach - the other company, not so much.

> that a quiet young man of Asian descent

Perhaps that could be the problem, HR used test as an excuse.

I love companies like this! With tests and bureaucracy they are able to give me a clear signal that I shouldn't work for them, as my work will be mired in paperwork, false metrics and needless hoops to jump through.

Just read it. Utterly disgusted. If I had more than a few months savings in the bank I probably would have just quit. A company that lets exactly THAT kind of HR person make any decision, has succumbed to the PHBs.

I don't think this is a company I would continue to work for if I was in your shoes. At some point the strong suggestions from technical advisers and common sense should out weigh their one size fits all test.

I disdain idiotic psych "tests". The mentality of "here's a few questions and now I know how you think or what kind of person you are" is, frankly, insulting.

The worst is psych "tests" without context. What are we supposed to feel from x sentence, but without a given contextual situation? That is bound to go wrong.

Is the HR manager's name Catbert?


Pity the story doesn't end with a double resignation.

too many in authority want the glory of title, they do not want to be responsible, hence they tend not to do. Hence, when they run across people who can think, can do, get it done, they create systems where adherence is more important that work.

Those on the other end fail these wonderful HR tests because they all too often have to around the title hounds to keep the business they work in up and running.

You know ... if the employer doesn't want a candidate like that, then he's fair game for poaching for your personal network.

This is beyond ridiculous - you can't tell a person's personality & potential culture fit based on a few questions.

All the hand wringing aside , can anyone tell me how to game such a test if I encounter the misfortune of having to pass one ?

Err on the side of psychopathic. Seriously.

This post sums it up well: http://melbel.hubpages.com/hub/Unicru

Company in question: Kaonix - http://www.kaonix.com/

OP here - that's not the company in question

Sheesh I was hoping for a happy ending.

Now I'm depressed for the morning.

I hope he ended up working for their competition and cost them money.

This is pretty weird. What kind of places take psychometric tests? Astronauts programs or something?

Wow this is absolutely ridiculous and a horrible way to recruit people.

Just curious if the HR manager took the psychometric evaluation?

Why the heck do you still work there, anyways?

I'd love to know where he is now.

what kind of bullshit company is that? I've never seen anything like this. This is awful.

Please leave that company. Ugh

What was the test?

Me != I

I can only speak for tech companies, but my experience is that once a company becomes large enough to hire HR people and middle management, that's a sign that money is being wasted paying for unproductive types rather than creating and improving sold products and services.

Hiring HR people because "that's what a serious, large company does" and having a certain amount of mid-tier bosses because "we [the top] need better control over what's happening down at the bottom" (read: "we need detailed control of people that have been self-sufficient and productive on their own for several years"), is an excellent time to start looking for other work.

In general, HR and middle management exist for a reason. Someone has to handle all the associated (legal) burden of having employees. There's a lot of paperwork to do, a lot of communication that needs to be handled. Same for management, they exist for a reason. Not hiring HR or management is a waste of productive time: The tasks don't just magically disappear but other people, the ones that you call "productive" will have to take care of them and all of a sudden, we developers do have less time to do productive things, such as having important discussions on HN blaming HR and management for our misery.

There's an argument to be made that HR and Middle Management should be supportive functions in tech companies and thus shouldn't have the last call, but I'd be really really careful with calling them "unproductive". I for myself am glad that the paper-shuffling tasks get managed by a dedicated employee rather than myself. I'd go bonkers in a week if they'd pile up on my desk.

Honestly, even technical tests have their limits. Personally, my memory is digital, meaning that I'm rubbish in "sit down and remember 100000 facts about tech" tests, but if you give me time to research a project and put together a solution, it comes out gold. Technical tests do not mirror your working routine, because you have time to discuss, ask advice, and scan Stackoverflow. Poor kid.

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