Help me avoid becoming another question about a new job & bad fit or....
June 5, 2021 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Interview the interviewer! I wrote 2 weeks ago about a strange interview for a talent management & OD consulting role and my typing speed. MICROMANAGEMENT fear! I’m now in the third interview and final round and will have to travel. I like the company and people, but we may disagree on certain methods. As they recommend, I want to ask them a few tough questions to establish whether this is a fit and avoid wasting anybody’s time or money. I want to throw out a question about their use of PSYCHOMETRIC ASSESSMENTS – personality & cognitive ability.

This company does a lot of talent acquisition and planning work for clients in addition to some light organization development.

I am a very early career industrial and organizational psychologist and psychometric assessment as a selection tool for hiring and development is fundamental. Research supports that the best predictor of overall job performance is general mental ability (please hold the comments about controversy over cognitive testing) with some incremental predictive power from personality traits. I asked the company owner in the first interview if they used psychometric assessments for selection for hiring, or high-potential identification and development and she said, “No. Because of adverse impact they are not legal”. That’s not true. There is potential for adverse impact on protected classes of individuals but also ways to mitigate that. At the conclusion of the interview, I asked about next steps she told me. “I will send you an assessment to complete”. Sure enough, it was a psychometric assessment. It wasn’t intelligence or explicitly personality, but to say that they don't use psychometric assessments and then sending me one was weird. I’m not sure they understand psychometric assessments. That is the single biggest quirk and where my biggest doubts are coming from.

There are other things on the company website that are concerning and we may disagree about. Many of the articles posted on their website contradict others. Some are written by company consultants and others copied from The Harvard Business Review. Here are a few things:

- In industrial and organizational psychology research and practice, methods predicting performance equal to cognitive ability are structured interviews with validated and standardized questions and response criteria. These are generally based on behavioral questions or situational judgments. The owner writes on the website that behavioral questions are useless because candidates prepare canned responses. Here we disagree for sure. Then, they have a blog post taken from another source citing research on the predictive power of cognitive ability and structured interviews on job performance. Structured interviews reduce hiring manager biases and adverse impact, however, the post author then suggests questions such as, “Describe a typical Saturday.” and then suggests that these kinds of questions give us insights into personality through candidate PASSION! Well, in addition to being completely irrelevant like the the Saturday question, and assessing passion blows all objectivity out of the water.

- The owner writes in one article about hiring for cognitive ability and suggests questioning for learning speed, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Simply questioning a candidate is a pretty subjective way to determine cognitive ability when an assessment would do the job better.

- They are big on reducing bias in hiring decisions, but not only do they recommend against behavioral-based interview questions, but the owner also suggests that asking candidates perceived as likable HARDER questions to maintain objectivity and to ask less liked candidates EASIER questions. That doesn't compute very well. It sounds like something she came up with herself.

- They suggest promoting based on past performance because it is the best predictor of future performance. I agree, but with the caveat that similar performance "under similar circumstances and consitions". Often promoting based on past performance leads to the so-called Peter Principle and ineffective management and leaders.

Other things: they are not clear on performance measurement or how bonuses are based on that. I was told performance bonus criteria are case-by-case and depends on what your specific skills are. There are no benefits such as health insurance. It’s a 12 person company so there is no opportunity for advancement. My biggest concern is to relocate at my own expense with my doubts. I asked a leader in my field about this and he warned that relocation is a big life disruption and if the company and I don’t agree on methods and procedures then I probably won’t last very long. Some of my peers told me “RUN” but I still want to extend the benefit of the doubt.

I didn't think of asking this to colleagues earlier: The company emphatically recommends their clients ask candidates HARD questions to weed out bad fits. I’m thinking that I should do the same. So on my next email Monday morning including my references I’m thinking of writing something along the lines of, “Please see my references. Should they be in order I look forward to planning the face-to-face interview. I did want to ask another question though. When we spoke you mentioned that your company didn’t use psychometric assessments. You wrote an article posted on your website recommending hiring for cognitive ability (link). How is your company determining or recommending that your clients do so without a formal assessment tool?” maybe I’ll add, “Psychometric assessment for personnel decision making is pretty fundamental in the discipline I come from and I believe that they are very useful tools and also that there are alternatives with relatively equal predictive power*. I want to make sure that we don’t mismatch on methods such as this, etc., etc.” or, “We might not agree about behavioral interview questions” I can find more diplomatic words before the end of the weekend and am open to suggestions.

I’m leaning towards this as a bad fit, but I’d still like to keep an open mind at least through the weekend. Asking a HARD question like what I propose seems like a straightforward and sincere way of cutting directly to the chase. What do you all think?

Also, I had four other interviews this week, so I’m doing pretty well across the board as far as interest from employers. Obviously finding a good role sooner is better than later and I have a little financial cushion and am not desperate.
posted by Che boludo! to Work & Money (18 answers total)
This is a 12 person company that is giving you mixed messaging from the get go, and from all of this you sound like someone who needs consistency in an employer . This is way too much thought for a job you don't even have is a sign this is not the job for you. The messaging will not get better, it will get worse. This is this team on its best behavior.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:36 AM on June 5, 2021 [37 favorites]

Is your priority to get the job, or to prove them wrong?

Because I’m not sure you’ll be able to do both. I’m guessing what you hope is that when you challenge them they’ll say “Oh! Thanks for putting us right, you know your stuff, jump on board” but people don’t often like being told they’re doing everything wrong, especially by someone who is very early in their career, so they’ll more likely think you’re a smartass and drop you.

I guess that will at least weed out whether you’re a good fit or not, so maybe it’s fine to do if you don’t mind not getting the job.
posted by penguin pie at 2:48 AM on June 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

If they’ve received push back from others in the past about psychometric tests, they’re not going to change their mind because a candidate they haven’t even hired advocates for them. Source: an employee of a company who pushed back hard (along with most of the other employees) against our internal HR when they proposed these tests. I think you should save your time and find a better fit.
posted by redlines at 4:30 AM on June 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

“There are no benefits such as health insurance.

This was buried, but to me, this is the biggest red flag of them all. Unless none of the other places you’re interviewing with offer benefits, this would be an absolute non-starter for me.
posted by umwhat at 5:18 AM on June 5, 2021 [41 favorites]

There are no benefits, you not only have to relocate but pay for the privilege yourself and it’s a company you’re already disagreeing with on a few fundamental points.

As your friend mentioned, even if you get the position, if this mismatch reveals itself early on, you could soon find yourself out the door, out of pocket and literally out in the middle of some random city all by yourself. With four other interviews lined up, why would you even risk it?!
posted by Jubey at 6:41 AM on June 5, 2021 [17 favorites]

Send them an email right now and tell them you are not interested. This is not a good job for you! Simple and done!
posted by mareli at 7:11 AM on June 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

There are so many red flags here that I’m having trouble seeing beyond them.

No benefits, no opportunity for advancement, conflicting info on both their website and in person, relocation expenses, unclear on bonus/payments... plus you say you have a financial cushion, other interviews lined up, and you have the luxury of not being desperate to get a new job...

If a friend came to you with this scenario, what would you tell them? Honestly, I wouldn’t spend another moment thinking about this. Asking “hard questions” is just going to prolong it. Email them with a “thank you, no” and move on.
posted by bookmammal at 7:19 AM on June 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

There are a lot of flags here for both sides. I am surprised they are following up with you as much as I am surprised you are continuing the pursuit. I guess it feels good to turn them down?
posted by AugustWest at 7:27 AM on June 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

I genuinely don't understand why you are still considering/interviewing for this job. As previous posters have noted, this gig has red flags (not quirks) galore.

Some of my peers told me “RUN” but I still want to extend the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, they are right. You should run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Why are you still wanting to extend the benefit of the doubt? You've got promising interviews in the pipeline. There seem to be no pros to this job, only cons. Please tell them thanks/no thanks and move on!
posted by skye.dancer at 7:38 AM on June 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Simply questioning a candidate is a pretty subjective way to determine cognitive ability when an assessment would do the job better.

Tbh, in your “very early career” as you describe it, coming into interview situations with a huge chip on your shoulder about The One Right Way To Do Things and trying to prove your interviewers wrong is going to wind up losing you jobs you DO want. You sound like an idealistic recent grad with little real work experience. Maybe you’re not, but that is how you sound.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2021 [38 favorites]

they are not clear on performance measurement or how bonuses are based on that

Chiming in to add to the chorus that there are too many red flags here to count. In general this sounds like an employer that is flying by the seat of its pants, and for somebody who likes certainty and clarity the way you seem to, this could be misery-making on both sides.

If you are a recent grad who really needs a first job, and you could work remotely or not have to move, it might--might be worth giving it a shot just to gain some experience for your c.v.. However, given the major life disruptions and expenses that would be involved, I think bailing on the whole thing now would be your best course of action.

If you do decide to go ahead and want to ask them some questions, I'd suggest asking in general about their approach to behavioural interviews and assessing candidates' cognitive ability, rather than anything that suggests you are going to be pushing for a particular methodology.
posted by rpfields at 8:41 AM on June 5, 2021

You don't want this job. It will be a bad fit, make you miserable, and doesn't offer compensation nearly enough to make it worth it.

The only reason you're still engaged in this process is because you've fallen for the sunk cost fallacy yourself.

Just cut your losses and move on.
posted by stormyteal at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

As I started reading the details of the suspected mismatch, my thought was "Great, he can really distinguish himself in this company and play a lead role in incorporating assessment into their practice." That thought didn't last long. As I read further, I started having serious concerns about the owner, who doesn't sound very knowledgeable in the field nor especially consistent. That's a really bad combination, given that it's a small consulting firm that presumably wants to provide high quality work and advice for its clients. So now I'm leaning toward the career version of DTMFA.

But if you aren't yet ready to cut them loose and turn your attention to other potential employers, I would advise you not to challenge their practices/beliefs in writing. However, your observations and questions would be good to pose to your potential future colleagues (i.e., the current employees) either in a face-to-face meeting or over the phone. Take care to use of a tone of "I'm a bit confused, can you help me understand this?" rather than "Aha! I have found inconsistencies", and you should be able to learn a great deal from how they respond.
posted by DrGail at 9:19 AM on June 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree that this doesn't sound like the right opportunity for you. There are several aspects to this job that each in themselves would be a deal-breaker for me, including your peers telling you to run, no health insurance, and having to pay relocation costs.

But I also agree with a couple of folks that you sound awfully self-righteous and know-it-all, especially for someone early in their career. Toning that down and adding some humility and open-mindedness would serve you in getting a different position with a more suitable company.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 10:00 AM on June 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

From your question I get the impression that the articles on their website are just... there, and that they don't necessarily reflect their true philosophy about hiring or about anything. It sounds like it's resources that they had an intern pull together online so that they would have a website with articles about recruiting talent and best practices, and that it doesn't actually stand for their beliefs or brand. Logical consistency doesn't matter because the point is not to actually provide information, it's to look informational. I could be wrong, but that's really what it sounds like.

In any case, it sounds like you are feeling kind of combative about this particular opportunity, and that combined with the relocation, tiny size of the company, friends telling you to run, and lack of health insurance makes me think that you don't really want this job anyway. I wouldn't ask them a hard question just to follow the advice that they may not even realize that they're giving. I would ask them about psychometric assessments if that this is important to you, but it sounds like you are asking because you want to get the interviewer in a "gotcha" moment. From the way you phrased the leading question you might ask them and the context you provide here, it doesn't seem like you actually care about their answer to this question. If that's the case, I don't think you want this job.
posted by twelve cent archie at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not looking to challenge anybody or be right. I think I might be trying to talk myself out of something or justify turning the role down. Cognitive testing is not necessary for hiring by any means but having a real misunderstanding of what assessments are is the concern.
posted by Che boludo! at 1:41 PM on June 5, 2021

I think based on your question, it's not super clear, they are a small team of 12 looking to hire someone in I/O psych to help organize their hiring practices? It's also really common that interviewers aren't as well trained and just simply don't know what they are being told to do. There is just a bredth of knowledge required and many times interviewers aren't actually all that knowledgable about why they are doing what they are doing. Yes it's an assessment, but the person who told the interviewer to interview said, hey give them this questionnaire and xyz will score it and that person simply has no idea what it is or why or is being done.

If not, this is not your place. If so, then yeah these are valid questions to ask and comment on if you desire. But you also must remember that different people you are interacting with have different skill sets and knowledge bases, and I/O psych isn't something people are going to be familiar with in general.

In terms of talent recruitment agencies:

Regardless of the science about this stuff, different fields have different opinions and standard practices about these things, and the bosses of this company may be specifically advertising their practices in a wide bredth to make sure they can get clients in all types of fields. Because as much as there is science, companies do put alot of feeling into their interviewing practices, lots of intuition and random well this always worked for me logic that isn't applicable on the population level. There is doing things the right way, and there's doing things in the way that people will pay you for, and they aren't necessarily always overlapping. It sounds like you are reading their keyword adverts for companies and being like but this is not best practice! And no, it's not. But people looking for help with this stuff are looking for passionate people with grit or whatever not industry best practices for people who will do the job and stay which didn't sound nearly as exciting for their team.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:38 AM on June 6, 2021

“HARD questions” are great when you don’t know the answers. You already know. They have a “real misunderstanding of what assessments are.” They say they don’t use them and they’re not legal, but they do and they are. They practice conflicting methods. They don’t know, understand, or believe the things you do about hiring and performance management. Frankly, I don’t either, but it’s clear that it’s important to you that your employer does. There aren’t any answers to hard questions that will change all that, or make them realize that they need to overhaul their philosophy and practices.

So unless the job they’d be hiring you for is to lead and shape that kind of overhaul, you’re not aligned, and you’re not going to be aligned. If leading that kind of overhaul IS the job they’d be hiring you for, then the questions to ask aren’t about their current philosophy and practices, since you’d be throwing those out the window anyway, but maybe about how open they are to following your lead on adopting major changes of the sort you’re anticipating wanting to instate.
posted by daisyace at 1:21 PM on June 6, 2021

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