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Pre-Employment Testing

Furniture World Magazine


Retailers find that testing improves hiring.

Furniture sales is a high turnover profession and having the right kinds of people on the floor interacting with customers determines a store's success. It's a unique sales environment because it is so intimate. Customers come to you to furnish their living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. They are making purchases they expect to live with for years and they look to the salespeople to guide them through that selection process.

Good furniture salespeople need to understand who the client is, what motivates them, and what makes them comfortable. They have to be able to win the customers' trust and become part of their decision making process. Yet most furniture stores invest little effort into exploring the psyche of potential sales candidates. Cognitive ability, personality, and motivation are three key measures that determine how well a salesperson will perform on the job, yet none of these characteristics can be identified in a job interview or resume.

Test Scores Guide Managers
To make better hiring and managing decisions that reduce turnover and improve sales, many store owners add personality profiling tools and other tests to their hiring process because it offers recruiters insight into candidates' traits they may not have even thought to explore.

When Elizabeth Greaves went to work at Mastercraft Interiors, a family owned furniture chain with five stores in the Washington DC metro area and more than 200 employees, she was a little skeptical of the company's long standing commitment to using a personality profile tool for hiring. She'd had a bad experience with a profiling system at a previous job and was wary of being locked into hiring based on test results alone.

Mastercraft uses a Comprehensive Personality Profile (CPP), that evaluates traits such as emotional intensity, intuition, sensitivity, and recognition motivation. Based on the defined expectations of each position, the resulting test profile rates candidates' scores and flags areas that suggest a likelihood to deviate from desired behavior

“My initial reaction was, “Oh great, another test,'” she says. However, after giving the test to several candidates and making some hiring decisions, Greaves realized the test scores delivered hard evidence about how candidates' will perform on the job, whether they will succeed, and how they should be managed. “The more I used the CPP the more confidence I had in the role it could play in hiring,” she says. “Whether their scores showed that a person was highly motivated, in need of extra attention, or prefers not to be micro-managed, the test results were usually accurate.”

What gave her even more confidence in the test were her own results. Greaves didn't ask to see her scores initially, but after using the test for several months on the job, she grew curious. “I'm fairly self aware, I know my faults and my strengths,” she says. She figured her own scores would be a useful litmus test of the test's accuracy - and she was right. “My scores showed that I was driven and not patient,” she laughs. “One after the other, most of the things it said about me were true.”

Now Greaves is comfortable using the test as part of her hiring criteria, and feels it's a useful tool for new managers who don't have a lot of experience evaluating applicants. “The test gives them confidence to believe in their opinions,” she says, “and when they have a chance to see the test scores before an interview they know to ask questions they may not have considered otherwise.”

She also uses test results if she's on the fence about someone. “If the results are bad we walk away,” she says. “The CPP ferrets out the stuff that may not show up in an interview.”
Once applicants are hired, Greaves continues to use their test results as a management tool. It helps new managers get a feel for how to handle people, she says. When managers are hired, she suggests that they review the scores of their team members early on to get an unbiased peek into their personalities. If issues arise later on, Greaves encourages managers to go back to employees' scores to remind themselves of what drives or motivates their people. “The test scores give them an unbiased snapshot of the person's personality.”

Testing Toolkit Cuts Turnover in Half
Greaves experience isn't uncommon. Another furniture franchiser on the West coast, recently added testing after realizing that gutsy instinct based on face-to-face interviews wasn't delivering good, long term candidates. Turnover was more than 100 percent and they were hiring more sales people every year then they had on the floor.

To tighten the hiring process, the store owner implemented a cognitive test and personality profiling tool to help recruiters more accurately judge sales candidates' potential.

They began with a short cognitive test to measure basic skills but found that intelligence scores were not a strong indicator of whether a candidate was “sales material.”

To gain greater insight into their performance abilities, the store added a Personal Characteristics Inventory (PCI), that measures individual characteristics, such as conscientiousness, extroversion, stability, and openness, and predicts successful job performance based on those personality traits. That test had an immediate and huge impact. In less than a year, turnover went from 120 percent to less than 60 percent and the caliber of hirees increased dramatically.

But he still thought the process could be improved by adding a productivity test that assesses individuals' willingness to perform on the job and avoid counterproductive behavior. The test also tells recruiters whether candidates have any “red flag” traits, such as low scores on conformity, which means they are unlikely to adhere to the basic selling system for the store.
The third test had a surprising outcome. As soon as it was implemented, recruiters found that they had several candidates who scored well on the first two tests, but they got all “red scores” on the third, indicating serious motivational and behavioral issues. At first they thought the test wasn't working, but further investigation showed the problem was that the people who responded to newspaper ads had consistently lower scores on the WPI than those recruited from schools and job fairs.

As a result, they completely changed their approach to recruiting, cutting newspaper advertising in half and focusing most of their recruiting efforts on local job fairs.

How To Find The Best Tests For Your Furniture Business
Adding employment tests to your sales team selection process is a low cost way to reduce turnover and improve sales - if the tests are selected carefully and used appropriately. An assessment tool is only valuable if you select the right tests and know why you are using them.

There are hundreds of tests on the market and each one addresses a different combination of skills and traits. The right test depends on the position for which you are hiring, the skills you consider the most important, and the characteristics that are relevant to the job and your work culture. For a furniture sales job, the most important attributes are strong interpersonal skills and the motivation to perform. An intelligence test can also be valuable to ensure candidates have the basic communication skills necessary to be taken seriously by customers.

Before selecting a test, consider what information will be most valuable to the recruiter based on what makes the most successful new hires. Look at past hiring decisions and consider why people succeeded or failed. Some companies adhere to the belief that everyone should have a certain level of intelligence, regardless of the position they seek because it creates a better workplace and greater opportunity for advancement. Others feel cultural fit is the most critical element of a new hire and use tests to evaluate whether candidates are team players or independently motivated.
The best choice may be a combination of tests, and you should look for guidance from peers, consultants and the test companies themselves on which tool or tools will best suit your needs.

Internal Scores Help Customize the Process
Once you've chosen a test or tests, you must define which scores or profiles correlate to success on the job in your company. Set your standards too high and you eliminate desirable candidates while choosing people who might be overqualified for the job. Set them too low, and you lose the true value of a screening tool meant to weed out low performers.

The question is, how do you know what scores are right for you? You can't use an assessment tool until you decide what role they play in hiring and establish fundamental expectations for candidates to be considered for employment. Most assessment vendors will offer guidance in the form of cut scores for intelligence tests, or personality profiles linked to particular job titles, but those guidelines may not be exactly right for your needs, especially for sales roles. The profile of a good furniture salesperson will vary wildly from a technical sales or phone sales position. Therefore, relying on generic score profiles alone puts your hiring system at risk and minimizes the effectiveness of your recruiting tools.

To get the most out of a tool, you need a profile customized to suit your workplace environment. The best way to get that is to test your existing sales team to generate profiles of your high and low performers. Compare their scores to identify what traits differentiate the best from the worst. Match the specific characteristics of your high performers to the traits measured on the profile. Are they outgoing? Aggressive? Reliable? Patient? Which of these traits is most important to success in your store, and do those traits vary from department to department? Personality profiles measure dozens of characteristics but you want to focus on the traits that most impact success.

It's important to measure your best and your worst, so that you can distinguish the differences between good and bad. For example, if all of your sales people get similar scores for reliability but the “need for approval” score is high for low performers and low for high performers you know this is a trait that impacts success. These gaps or differences in trait profiles highlight those elements of the tool that you should pay closest attention to.

Setting Intelligence Cut Scores
If you are using an intelligence test to weed out applicants, compile and chart the test results of employees to define a minimum cut score and a target score. For example, if an intelligence test has fifty questions and your best person scores 35 while your worst person scores a 20, your goal for future applicants would be a score in the 30s, with a cut score of 20-25.

Using that scenario you can assign one-to-five values to score ranges - a 30-35 score is a “one” or “ideal candidate”; a 25-29 score is a “two” or “desirable candidate” etc. then apply that system to other pieces of your hiring process, such as interviews, references, experience etc. By using a numeric system of rating, you arrive at an ideal score for every candidate, taking emotions out of the hiring equation.
Whatever type of test you use, ask your vendor to help you shape your employees’ test scores into an ideal applicant profile to ensure you gain the fullest value for the effort.

Using Tests On the Job
Once you start using the test, save the scores for candidates who are chosen and not chosen. To be sure that your profile is working and that your cut scores are accurate, compare the scores of those you hired to their longevity and success on the job every six months. You should see a decrease in turnover and increase in performance as the impact of your assessment tool takes hold. If you don't, you should reassess the scores you've established as your hiring criteria.

Profiles from those you don't hire can also be valuable to assess new problems that arise on the job, enabling you to compare data about existing employees to those you opted not to hire. Similarities you may not have initially noticed can be useful later on to further tweak your hiring process.

Charles "Charlie" Wonderlic is nationally recognized expert on employee recruiting, selection and retention. His organization, Wonderlic, Inc. (www.wonderlic.com) provides innovative telephone, Internet and PC-based employment technologies to over 50,000 employers worldwide - technologies that make it possible for even the smallest employers to hire like the Fortune 100. Mr. Wonderlic is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Test Publishers and has been featured on/in NBC's Dateline, Lifetime, CNN FN, ESPN, WGN, FOX, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Sports Illustrated and a wider variety of national and local radio and newspapers. He holds a B.Sc. in Finance from Miami University, Ohio and an M.B.A. from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. Questions can be directed to Mr. Wonderlic at wonderlic@furninfo.com.