Develop your own pre-hire assessments

One of the things I strongly emphasize when coaching recruiters and hiring managers, is the use of pre-hire testing in the hiring process.

There is often a big difference between what applicants include on their resumes or applications, and what they actually can do, so it’s important to test for skills before making your final selection.

I once needed to hire a secretary. I took an actual letter the general manager had sent out, reworked it to remove all the formatting, included lots of grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, and then used the error-filled version as my typing and word processing test. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission it was “a great test” because it was based on the work itself.

You can do the same. Build a basic test, from your work, that will determine if someone has the skills needed to do a particular job. Administer that test to your current employees, and modify it as necessary. Then use it to pre-screen applicants for your job. You’ll find the quality of your applicants, and your hires, will increase, and you’ll have a new-found confidence in your own hiring skills.

Here’s what you need to consider when developing your tests.

1. Make sure you validate the test to be certain it has no adverse impact. This will be the first thing the EEOC will check if you get a discrimination complaint. The only to answer that question is if you have done the research.

2. Use more than one kind of assessment for each test. Testing only for personality traits is better than not testing for traits at all, but the better assessments involve testing for all the traits required in a particular job. Some positions require customer contact, for example, while others do not. Test for all the traits required in your particular job.

3. Be sure you validate your test. Use construct validity, which means the test actually measures what it is intended to measure. This takes very careful research and design.

5. Check for reliability. A good test will reliably predict an applicant’s success in your particular job, and will include a lot of research up front. You’re looking for internal consistency over time. For example, if you’ve ever taken one of the on-line personality tests and found out you were an ABC, and then the next time you took the same test you scored XYZ, then that test lacks reliability. It’s crucial that your test be reliable, or it’s useless.

6. Use the job itself as a benchmark, not the incumbents. Jobs can be standardized; the people cannot. You must benchmark the job or you will never have construct validity and reliability.

In the case of hiring our new secretary, I learned that some of my most impressive candidates on paper made so many formatting or editing errors, or took so long to complete the test, that it was clear their qualifications were not worth the paper on which they were written.

Pre-hire testing and assessment is a complex subject, and I’ve only skimmed the surface. It’s an important part of your screening process for job applicants, but because it is so complex, it requires a lot of research and thought before you begin. Take the time to do your research, get some qualified help, and do it right.

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Stress has devastating health effects

As a manager or leader, you likely experience stress, right? Perhaps you have to fire someone. Maybe your team is not meeting its budget goals and you’re getting pressure from your boss. Or you are distracted at work because your spouse is seriously ill.

An article in the April/May 2015 issue of Neurology Now magazine details the negative, long-term health effects of stress. Let’s take a look at some of those effects, and what you can do to reduce your stress and improve your health.

1. Stress exhausts the brain. Laboratory studies on mice and rats show that “stress triggers chemical, cellular, and structural changes that eventually take a toll on brain function.” According to the article, “Calm Your Mind,” scientists believe that many of these same responses take place in the human brain and produce cortisol, which causes the “flight or fight” response, which then increases heart rate and blood pressure.

2. While that short-term response can help in survival, sustained long-term stress can have the opposite effect.

3. A positive attitude can lesson the effects of stress. In one study, people who reported more positive experiences and a better mood had lower levels of cortisol.

4. Illnesses, such as brain lesions in people with multiple sclerosis, have been reduced by using a stress management program. In one study, almost 77 percent of people who practiced stress reduction techniques remained free of new brain lesions, compared with 55 percent who had not had the training.

5. Results of all this research are important for traumatic brain injury patients, those with neurological-based issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, strokes, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, among others.

What are the implications of these findings for managers and leaders? It’s urgent that you begin immediately to reduce your own work-related stress, and the stress produced in the workplace for your employees.

The Neurology Now article recommends five things you can do to reduce your stress:

1. Meditate. Spend a few minutes every day meditating or practicing mindfulness.

2. Move. Exercise, or at least be physically active for 20 to 30 minutes every day. The goal is to get your heart rate of to 75 or 80 percent of its capacity.

3. Laugh. Some evidence suggests that laughter can deactivate the stress hormone cortisol.

4. Listen. Music has a powerful affect on the brain and can induce the release of calming hormones, thereby reducing stress.

5. Strengthen relationships. There is strong evidence that “being socially active boosts cognitive ability . . . and may reduce your risk for dementia by as much as 60 percent. Friendships help reduce the feelings of loneliness, a major cause of depression that can lead to dementia.

In your workplace, make sure you and your employees take plenty of breaks during the day, and get away from the work. Take a brisk walk, visit with others, initiate fun activities in the break room or outside the building. Not only will your productivity increase, but also employees will feel better and have higher morale.

Play soothing or upbeat music in the break room. Give people a chance to disconnect their work-related stress with calming, soothing sounds, or the sounds that get people motivated to move. Remember how much fun it was to dance to the disco music of the 1970s and 80s?

Ask your employees what their workplace stressors are, and find ways to remove them. Deadlines often produce stress, so add fun activities and goals to make the thinking positive, rather than negative. Create inexpensive incentives to help workers buy into goal setting and positive thinking.

Create opportunities for workers to learn new skills or to stretch their imaginations. Adults who learn new things have less stress and better brain functioning, and are happier, than those who never learn anything new. Researchers now know that learning new things is a key part of continued motivation and brain functioning for adults.

Keep a positive attitude yourself, and find ways to help employees keep a positive attitude. Remember, research has shown that a positive attitude can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol. Look forward, not back. Don’t focus on the problems, look for opportunities.

This issue of Neurology Now is online at http://www.neurologynow.com. Check it out, and begin now to reduce your stress and improve your future health. Subscriptions to Neurology Now are free!

Here’s to a healthier, more stress-free future for us all!

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Five Tips for Becoming a Leader

One of the most frequent questions I get from readers is “How can I get promoted into a management position?” That list of answers is far too complex for just one column, but here are five to get you started.

ONE Start taking responsibility now. Don’t wait until you’ve been promoted. Show your potential for leadership right now by taking responsibility for your own work. Don’t make excuses for poor quality or missed deadlines. Give up the idea that you can’t move ahead because of bad management, or poor supervision, or you’re a minority or female, or you don’t have a degree, or any number of other excuses. Take responsibility for your own future.

For example, no one will consider you for a promotion if you’re only doing average or sub-standard work. You must do more, be better. That means showing up for work every day, being on time, meeting your deadlines, looking for ways to improve. It doesn’t mean criticizing everything and everyone. It does mean offering simple, constructive ways to make small, incremental improvements in systems or processes, or volunteering to research a persistent problem and propose one or two simple solutions.

TWO Focus on building relationships. No one becomes a leader just by being an outstanding individual performer, although that certainly helps. You become a leader because people are willing to follow your lead. Give others more than you get. Ask yourself every day what you can do for other people. When others do nice things for you, or contribute something helpful to the team, or to improve how things work, write a thank-you note. Forgive mistakes–we all make them, and nobody is perfect. Own up to your own mistakes. Say you’re sorry and be sincere about it, then learn from it so you don’t repeat it.

THREE Become a lifelong learner. Regardless your level of skill or education, or the number of certifications you have achieved, keep learning new things. The more you learn, the more you grow. Join a professional group, subscribe to an internet blog you admire, follow your industry news, read a book, take a class on your own time.

But don’t pretend a level of knowledge you don’t have. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure I’m ready yet, but I’m willing to try.” Then redouble your efforts to master a new skill.

FOUR Get help from other people. Ask someone you admire to be your mentor and coach. This person should be someone in a position at a higher level, preferably in management. They should be willing to give you direction, and honest feedback. And hopefully, they will recommend you for special projects that will help you grow.

FIVE Take charge and lead. When you see a need, don’t make a big deal of it, just get the job done, and make sure it’s done right. When you see that someone needs help, offer that help. When you see a problem, do the research and then propose a solution. Become the person others come to when they need help. Don’t toot your own horn, just get the job done. Believe me, someone will notice.

These are only a few of the things ambitious people do to become successful in their careers. Apply them now and you, too, will be able to grow into a future leadership position.

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Don’t let negative criticism cause you to fail

It’s a rare person who has never heard negative comments or criticism about job performance or personal qualities.

I once worked with a plant manager who openly and loudly criticized everything I did to improve our operation and profitability. He felt I was “interfering” with his responsibilities, and made his dislike known in every way he could.

When I was validating the employment process he accused me of violating the law. “Everybody knows that,” he said. He was wrong, of course, and what I was doing was completely legal, but his insistence made me question myself and eroded my self confidence.

It also made other team members question my decisions.

Old habits of thinking are hard to break, but there are some things you can do to keep negative criticism from causing you to fail.

Honest, candid feedback is necessary for growth, so search for the nugget of truth in the comments, and then look for the opportunities. Even when you’ve made a mistake–and most of us have made a lot–acknowledge the error. Admit it, sincerely apologize, then move on, using the experience as a guide to prevent future mistakes.

There’s no shame in making mistakes. The only shame would be in not dealing with them correctly.

Most negative comments will be about how you do your work, and when that’s the case, learn from them and move on. Ask for explanation, but make your request humbly, not belligerently. If you don’t trust the person making the comment, ask someone else for their opinion. Listen for the intent behind the message and deal with the real issue. 

When negative comments are about the essence of who you are, however, examine your conscience to see if the comments have merit. If they do, decide if you want to make the effort to change who you are. If you are comfortable and confident with yourself, just move on and discount the comments, or the sender, or both.

And don’t allow people to be rude or disrespectful in their comments about you. I once told someone I was happy to discuss a problem with him, but not “not while you’re being rude and disrespectful.” The tone of the conversation changed immediately, and we did some real problem solving.

While we’re at it, accept criticism and negative comments only from people you trust. Surround yourself with those people and negative comments will soon become positive feedback on things you need to do differently.

Asking for feedback is a good habit, and can often result in meaningful growth for you. The key is to not let criticism get you down. Use it for your own development, think of it as an opportunity to learn, and build new habits when that’s appropriate.

Remember, your attitude is the key. Make sure you’re hearing criticism in a positive way and not as an indictment of who you are. Grow on!

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Meet employees at their level of knowledge

At one company where I was Human Resources Manager, concern about worker literacy prompted me to begin testing job applicants through the state job service, which used standardized literacy tests. That experiment didn’t last long, however, because nearly 50% of applicants couldn’t pass the basic reading and math portions of the test. The job service was afraid to continue the testing because it was “eliminating too many candidates.” So I developed my own pre-hire testing process. I ran the test by the EEOC, who approved it, saying it was “the best kind” because it was “based on the work itself.” All applicants were asked to read several paragraphs of applicant information, then answer ten basic questions about what they had read. Those who could not correctly answer the questions were not hired. Nearly 50% of applicants could not pass the test. My reasoning was this: if they couldn’t read the most basic information, how could they possibly read the safety instructions, company policies, and benefits information? How could they follow machine operating instructions? How could they complete their basic productivity reports? My initial concerns were based on a report released by the state workforce development department. At that time, according to the report, there was a shocking level of illiteracy among school students in the state. I reasoned if that was the case, it was likely true for my entry level workers as well. And my concern was verified when I tested our current employees. Fully 36% could not read or do basic math at the eighth grade level. No wonder we had so many production problems! For example, we had asked employees to give us a simple daily calculation of their daily productivity. Most simply didn’t comply. Once we discovered their illiteracy, we understood why. So we changed our in-house training, issued simple solar calculators, and taught workers how to use them to calculate the productivity. Compliance went up to 100%. Over the next two years, we changed every training program to consider reading and math skills, and productivity, quality and compliance issues went away. So now my question to business owners and managers, Human Resources staff, trainers, engineers and production supervisors is simple: do you really know the level of knowledge and skill your employees have? If you’ve not tested them, you’re only assuming, and your assumptions may be wildly incorrect. Start by surveying the records of all your current employees, as well as all those who once worked for your company and left for any reason. Keep track of things like whether they graduated high school or not, graduated from a tech school or not, which school they attended, and so on. My survey found that 100% of workers who had attended or graduated from two particular are school systems had left the company before completing one full year of employment, costing the company tens of thousands of dollars in turnover. What are you doing about workforce illiteracy? I’d love to hear your comments and solutions for this huge problem.

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