Breaking: You Should Always Tell Your Employer That You're an Honest Person

| Wed Sep. 19, 2012 11:49 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports that more and more companies are turning to software to make hiring decisions for them, rather than using human interviewers:

It isn't just big companies that are turning to software for hiring help. Richfield Management LLC, a Flint, Mich., waste-disposal firm that employs 200 garbage collectors, was looking for ways to screen out applicants who were likely to get hurt and abuse workers' compensation.

About a year and a half ago, Richfield turned to an online test developed by a small firm called Exemplar Research Group. It asks applicants to pick between statements like "When I'm working for a company I take pride in making it as profitable as possible" and "I'm only concerned with how well I can do financially in my job," then rate how strongly they agree or disagree.

The goal is to gauge an applicant's emotional stability, work ethic and attitude toward drug and alcohol. Those who score poorly are considered high disability risks. Richfield said its workers' comp claims have fallen 68% since it has used the test.

Honestly, this just seems like an IQ test to me. Do I take pride in making my company as profitable as possible? Yes sir, I sure do! Do I consider myself a clock watcher? No sir, I sure don't! If you can't figure out that these are the right answers, you might not be bright enough even to be a garbage collector.

Of course, these tests might be trickier than I think. Retail outlets ask questions that test for honesty, and according to one retailer who uses software to screen new clerks, "People who are trying to fool the system are going to get tripped up." Maybe so.

On a more policy-centric note, if this kind of thing becomes genuinely widespread, I wonder if it will create a new class of the permanently jobless. It's a law of nature that there will always be a certain number of people who just don't have good temperaments. Still, even if you're basically a lousy worker — unreliable, quick-tempered, etc. — you can still find jobs here and there since human interviewers won't always figure this out. But if screening software becomes hard to beat (especially among those who aren't too bright), then lousy workers will simply never be able to find jobs. They'll be turned down every time. So then what happens?

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