Sunday, January 28, 2007

Assessing Candidates

Personality Testing

The use of personality testing is something that I have encountered in management-class settings before. Typically, we discussed the possibility of using personality tests in order to evaluate employees' ability to work together, and to assess the ways in which different types of people could be molded into an effective organization. In these cases, personality types, quirks, and values were not considered to be part of what makes someone "good" or "bad" for an organization. The discussions of personality testing this week seem to have indicated that there are "right kinds" of people to hire. I'm not sure where I come down on this issue, to be honest.

It is difficult to imagine how the five-factor tests I've taken before could be effectively used in a hiring situation. Inventory items like "I shirk my duties" and "I feel comfortable around people" seem obvious and easy to game, cheat, lie about, or whatever word would be most appropriate. While I certainly agree with Hogan's and Ross' perspectives that accurate measures of conscientiousness, openness, or extraversion could certainly be valuable, a good personality test for a work setting would have to mask its items' intent very well to actually measure the factors it targets.

To be completely honest, I feel like personality testing is a pretty poor substitute for interviewing. Interviewers can ask similar questions to those on a personality test, and also evaluate the ways in which people communicate about themselves, which is relevant to all different kinds of items that personality tests have to measure anyway. In a large organization such as the credit company from the case study article, though, the relatively non-intensive nature of personality testing can save the organization time, money, headaches, and effort, and could be a valuable tool. It seemed even more valuable that the assessment that was instituted here was based on assessing competencies and skills, though; these are harder to fake.

A good personality test, or interview designed to target personality attributes, might begin with scenarios to see how people reason through them, how they identify the key factors, and how they would go about dealing with problems. Scenarios are already commonly used to measure moral reasoning, which is very similar to the "conscientiousness" personality factor as it is. Scenario items, because they do not provide much guidance as to what a "good" answer would be, could be effective and (helpfully) qualitative measures of personality type and reasoning level at the same time. These seem more helpful than personality inventories, because they add a richer dimension to the candidate's profile.

Checking References

Reference checking is extremely important. As crass as this may sound, all other aspects of candidate assessment are completely in the hands of the candidate, and so it is difficult to get a picture of much other than the side of the candidate that they want you to see. While this side is likely to be the most commonly seen side in the workplace, aspects like bad tempers, laziness, and being generally difficult won't show up in the guarded situation of applying for a job. Finding out others' assessments of candidates' work is the best way to find out more. To effectively check, I think it is important for managers to learn the skill of reading between the lines; "they were good" is very different from "they were outstanding," and I think learning to distinguish a solid reference from an outstanding one is an important skill.

The lecture posed the question, "What do you think you can do to make this easier and more efficient?" I believe that one solution is a willingness to solicit references via email. I am aware that many people prefer to make phone calls, but I imagine that phone-tag situations happen quite often, to the detriment of the hiring organization. If I were a manager who hired frequently, I would develop some sort of form letter in which I ask certain key questions about job performance and character assessment, and use it to solicit email-based answers from listed references. This might cut down on conversation time and be more convenient for all involved. Then again, some people might hate these; I think it seems reasonable to use this as a backup if the phone doesn't get picked up, however.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Week 1: Recruiting Case Study

The easiest of the questions here to answer is the last question. "How much of the problem should she share with senior managers or should she keep quiet in the hope that she will turn the staffing problem around without anyone being aware that the department was struggling?"

It doesn't seem that anyone, at any level, will really benefit if Ms. Morphine keeps a lid on this worsening situation in her conversations with her superiors. The desire to avoid confrontation, and to avoid being the bearer of bad news, is understandable in human terms but basically inexcusable in a work setting. The efficient working of the pharmacy is in the interests of everyone in this very large organization; it is also evidently an organizational feature that the higher-ups are willing to take for granted. Simply put, neither they nor Ms. Morphine can continue to labor under the perception that "things will get better," because there is little evidence to indicate that they will on their own. Obviously, Ms. Morphine requires some support beyond her own department here, and some of the below recommendations really require a certain amount of support--both budgetary and in terms of personnel--beyond the pharmacy division itself.

The scenario does not identify many reasons for the problems, save that the pharmacy department has a bad reputation. It is possible that this could be combatted directly through better marketing of the department as a place to work, though previously earned reputations change little without a certain amount of evidence that positive change has occurred. A strong recruitment strategy is needed here, and can be summarized in three steps.

Step 1:
Appraise the reasons for high turnover. If there are currently available evaluations of job satisfaction, or if evaluations will have to be newly conducted, a hard look at the data about what employees find particularly frustrating about working in the department is necessary. Without knowledge of why turnover is high, correcting the problems leading to turnover will be impossible. Whatever is behind the high turnover, it is reasonable to assume that if turned-over individuals are proceeding to work in other departments, they are spreading bad vibes (deserved or undeserved) about what it is like to work in the pharmacy division.

Step 2:
Develop a program for filling positions.
There are proven ways to attract employees to positions. Perhaps the nature of the work itself, coupled with the recent crisis, justify an increase in wages for new hires that might encourage people to move departments or to choose this pharmacy over a competitor in the case of new graduates. A better training program for agency employees (who I am assuming are equivalent to "temps" in the States) could lead to temporary employees making the jump to full-time, which is good if they are capable, and increase the efficiency of the pharmacy in the meantime. Additionally, a more aggressive recruiting program for new graduates could be undertaken; graduates typically are interested in positions that seek them out, and there are a number of good models for actually recruiting good staff as opposed to ending up with an applicant pool. Whatever the case, this program will likely require a fairly large amount of help from people beyond the pharmacy department; this is acceptable because of the fact that the pharmacy division is essential to the workings of the hospital as a whole.

Step 3:
Redesign responsibilities to make work more satisfying.
The pharmacy does have some employees left. Presumably, these individuals will eventually move on if the problems causing high turnover aren't addressed. It is necessary to redesign existing job responsibilities so that work is not as dull, or repetitive, or unfulfilling, or whatever the case may be. Redesigning jobs will increase satisfaction as well as making the available positions more attractive to new hires. Perhaps creative solutions, such as cross-departmental appointments and cross-training, could be used to fill some of the issues and increase the image of the department within the larger organization.

In the end, it's unclear at this point what exactly is causing the turnover and bad reputation of the department. As the management consultant indicates, though, it's not unlikely that a good bit of the issue has to do with Ms. Morphine herself; high turnover and a lack of satisfaction typically originate from some negative management practices. Opening the dialogue with her superiors will certainly increase the possibility for a learning experience here, and will likely eventually lead to some discovery about what could be changed in Ms. Morphine's own management practice.

Friday, January 12, 2007

About Me...First Off

Hello all fellow travelers in the Human Resources Management/LIS realm. It'll be nice to be able to see so much activity in this class over the course of the semester.

I'm a second-year student at SILS--who often wishes I was still a first-year student at SILS--seeking a career in academic library public services. I'm looking forward to reflecting on issues of management, hiring, and the "work" side of librarianship and of course employment in all of the varied fields that the IS folks will be following.

I believe this is going to be an excellent, steadily challenging, interesting class that I'll probably look back on every week once I finally find one of these jobs I hear people talking about.

See you around the Net.