Questionnaires on online job applications

Inspired by this thread currently going on in the pit about the onerous process of applying for jobs online:

They’re the ones that ask questions like “Is it ever OK to steal something from your workplace” or “What would you do if a customer came to you needing assistance five minutes before the end of your shift” or “How would others rate your work ethic.”

Anyway these types of questionnaires are quite common if you’re applying for retail jobs, but really aren’t all that unusual for other types of work. My wife had to deal with quite a few of them when she was jobhunting.

How seriously do HR departments take these things? If they have a serious candidate in mind, do they go through that person’s questionnaire to see their individual responses?

And how good are they at ferreting out bad eggs? If you’re a dishonest person by nature, well, you’re going to answer the questions dishonestly. And even if you’re not a typically dishonest person, you’re probably still going to be inclined to answer those questions in such a way as to cast you in the best light possible, at least if you’re serious about getting the job.

I don’t know the answers to your questions, but at least they are actual questions.

I was asked to take some test- the Hartman Values Survey, or something like that - that was so stupid. You were supposed to rate things like “a rubbish beap/trash pile” on a scale of 1-18.

I did’t complete the survey or the application process after being asked to take that survey. For one thing, I don’t want to work for a company that uses such a stupid screening tool. another reason was the company has a policy of not hiring people who use tobacco in any form and they test for it pre-hire. I don’t mind a company having a no smoking policy, but noticed they didn’t test for alcohol or drugs as well. At this point, what’s to stop them testing my cholesterol and telling me I can’t eat French fries in my off time?

Wow, that is pretty asinine. I’d walk away too.

Here’s a WSJ story from two years ago about these types of personality tests and how some people have put up the answer keys for them. Pretty interesting.

I had to take one of those tests when I applied for a job with Circle K about 15 years ago, although I’m not sure it was from the same company. It was laughable in that the answers they were shooting for were so obvious. For instance, one of the questions might be something like:

It’s OK to occasionally take store merchanise home without paying.

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Agree
  3. Neutral
  4. Disagree
  5. Strongly disagree

Of course, the answer is “Strongly disagree.” Just to be contrary, I was totally honest when I took the test. I was interviewed later by the regional manager, who obviously took the test seriously. She was concerned how I answered the question, “If I was aware that a coworker smoked marijuana at home, I would report it to the store manager.” I explained why I answered “Strongly disagree,” and while she still didn’t like my answer, I still got the job.

ETA: So what these tests seem to select for are people who are savvy enough to tell the hirer what they want to hear, so I guess that’s something. Most of these tests seem to be completely unlike true psychometric tests (like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), where the answers aren’t obvious and deception checks are built in.

My 18-year-old son recently submitted about a dozen online applications for retail jobs, and almost all of them had these kinds of questionnaires. He showed some of them to me, and we were both amazed not only at the content of the questions, but at how many there were. Some of the questionnaires went on for many, many webpages, and took quite a while to fill out.

As PoorYorick points out, most of the questions were silly, with a painfully clear correct answer. I even wondered if choosing the obvious answer was a mistake – I wondered if they were really looking for an honest answer, and were trying to screen out people who sounded too good to be true. But we concluded that they were probably trying to screen for idiots who really did not know what answer the employer was looking for.

One example I remember where the “correct” answer was not necessarily the honest one was a question about how many sick days it was okay to take. The applicant had to choose a number – zero, 2, 4, or 8, I think. I actually can’t remember if my son picked zero or compromised at 2. He thought they were looking for “zero” but he (and I) actually think it’s unwise for an employee to go to work if truly sick, and given that most people are sick occasionally, “zero” did not seem like an honest answer. I expect, though, that it is the answer they were looking for.

As a current job hunter myself, I can’t tell you how much I loath these things. 75% of the questions are pretty much the exact same thing with 50 different variations. The other 25% are really annoying questions where they throw in both a negative and positive action to one question. For example one I just completed:

“If I make a mistake, I figure out what went wrong, how to fix it, and then forget about it.”

Well, yes, I do figure out was was wrong and fix it, but I don’t forget about it. So how do I agree or disagree with that? Another was “I am more likely to follow a rule if I fully understand it.” We’ll obviously that’s true, but if I agree with that, am I saying that I WON’T follow a rule if I don’t understand it?
Or they’ll have these “situational” questions like “A customer complains about a product she just bought. Do you: A) Refund her money, B) Talk to the manager C) etc.” There’s no “that would depend on the work policy.” I’ve had plenty of jobs where I could make those decisions on my own, and plenty where I would have to get a manager.

The worst is that out of all the jobs I’ve applied to, 99% of the applications go through the same job companies. I which I could fill out one application, do one stupid survey, and just say “send it to all of these places.”

Sheesh. It is OK to take however many sick days as days that you are sick. That’s what they are, sick days. For those managers out there - don’t play games with us! If you don’t want to pay people when they are sick, or you want to make them use vacation time instead, make that the policy. Don’t put those days out there and make employees guess whether or not it is acceptable to use it.

In terms of the embezzlement question, I’m glad it mentioned merchandise, rather than making the question so broad so as to include occasionally forgetting to return a pen, or using an office stapler for your personal tax return or something.

That depends on whether your hypothetical lack of understanding is about the nature of the rule and/or the proper way to apply it, or is about why the rule exists.

Potentially excusable: The rule says “No employee shall blark or fnag within 10 kels of any gaspom manager unless they have an appropriately filed A-22 form that has been counterstamped by an authorized chazwanger.” I have no clue if I’m in compliance or not. It may or may not be something I need to raise with my supervisor.

Inexcusable: The rule says “No refunds shall be given for a returned product unless the purchaser lives in the State or Territory where the sale was made.” I don’t understand why anyone would have such a bizaare policy, so I won’t follow it.

I don’t suppose that you are allowed to ask for clarification on the question?

Or, something so vague as:

“No employee shall behave inappropriately.” How do I gauge my behavior against such a rule in order to make sure that I am in compliance?

No, it’s all online. Most aggravatingly, at a lot of these places, no one will ever see this survey. The site generates a score based on your answers and that what they see, if that. I remember back in college I tried to get a job at Best Buy. They were having a job fair, and the manager running it was my old boss at another job, so he told just to fill out the application and he could get me in no problem. Except apparently I didn’t do well enough on the personality test, so my application never even got to sent to them.

I’m pretty sure that one means “Employees shall be disciplined and/or fired anytime we damn well feel like it, and they shall have no recourse because we can claim they were violating our deliberately ambiguous company policy.” :rolleyes:

Maybe its brave of me to cut my teeth, so to speak on this topic…BUT I work in HR, and speaking only for my own practices and that of my company, we actually do use the screening tools to narrow down applicants and/or place applicants into other departments they may be better suited.

We also use pre-employemnet screening (the personality tests) and those are only a factor in making decisions. They are used in your career with a company as a means to understand what type of coaching is best to use with you, where your natural tendancies as far as behaviour are…etc.

When used properly as they were intended, they are a valuable too.

You are correct, and the quoted article affirms this. When I was in H/R we would use some tests, and what we could do was request to see only applicants that scored “above” this level.

One thing I learned being a temp worker for the last few years is a lot of them store the info by your telephone number. I would take a test, not get called, then I would see the job was open a few months later. I’d reapply and not get called to take the test. Then I’d go to Google Voice get a new phone number submit the application and then get called to take the test again immediately.

The thing is you have to look for answers as people see them. And a lot of the questions are “masks” and meaningless. What you look for are questions worded differently.

Though this isn’t an employment test, it is from a classic psychological test, where applicants overwhelming voted against “welfare” in one questions but 20 questions later when asked “should the government help people who need help?” a huge majority would say “yes.”

So a lot of these questions are just rewords to trip you up. A lot are filler, like “Have you ever stolen from your job.” Well of course you have. I mean I have pens from the last five jobs I worked at. I’ve never stolen anything “for real” but yes, I’ve taken pens and post-it notes and that IS stealing. But that is most likely a “blind” put in there to catch you or will be followed up in a later question to qualify that answer, in an unobvious way.

Now, see this makes sense to me. You’re using these tests in a strategic manner that seem to be beneficial to both the company and the employees.

Most companies that use these tests, however, seem to use them to gauge your worthiness simply to get your foot in the door, even if you’re only applying to be a cashier.

And just how the hell are you supposed to answer a question like this one that somebody mentioned above, especially when you’re only given choices like “agree” and “disagree”:

Still, having taken a few of these tests myself, I don’t see how anyone with a half a brain who was willing to be a bit dishonest couldn’t pass these things with flying colors.

I agree. The last company I worked for had a very enlightened sick leave policy. Simply put, they didn’t have sick days. If you were sick, you took off from work, and there was no number that it counted against. In our office at least, this was never abused. I’m sure if someone called in sick every Monday and Friday it would have had to be dealt with, but you never had to worry about whether you were sick enough to use some of your precious days.

Here is link to what is supposedly an answer key to the Unicru test, which is the most widely used.

http://www.timothyhorrigan.com/documents/unicru-personality-test.answer-key.html

My uncle is/was an industrial psychiatrist, and worked on these things as part of his job. His professional opinion is that the questionnaires only filter out obvious idiots and oblivious thieves. Basically, they’re not worth much, but if someone is dumb enough to say “yes, it’s ok to steal a pencil” when that is clearly not the expected answer, at least you can thin your applicant pool a bit.

As far as extra scrutiny, my uneducated WAG is that the HR types don’t pay much attention. My guess is that these are generally “pass/fail” tests.

Speaking of online applications, WTF is it with the Gap/OldNavy/Banana Republic? I’m putting job applications online for a friend, and I have never seen such as site as difficult and fucked up as this one. Why is it so complex? Am I stupider than I thought? How do those brainiacs in the stores get their jobs, anyway? I think they all have an uncle who’s a manager.

That’s the policy where I work. For absences of more than two days you have to provide a medical certificate, but otherwise your sick leave entitlement is ‘unlimited’. The sytem is rarely abused and absentee rates among the staff here are way lower than average. Not surprisingly, when people are treated like responsible adults, they act that way.