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10 Reasons Why Time’s XQ Article on Hiring is Based on Faulty Science

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Many years ago I took a bunch of personality-type assessments including Myers Briggs, Calipers, Predictive Index and DISC. They all came back with the same general assessment – extroverted, dominant, influencing, intuitive and creative. It also turned out I was far below average on the analytical and attention-to-detail side for any jobs these traits required. I knew this was totally backwards.

The tests all showed that given the choice I’d rather go to a party and debate all night long, which was true. But these were just preferences and in no way reflected ability. At the time, the work I had enjoyed most, and was really good at, involved mathematical modeling of complex manufacturing and business processes. None of these tests picked this up. Over the next 15 years I validated this fundamental flaw with hundreds of candidates and described the results in my first book, Hire With Your Head, in 1997.

I’m still fighting this same preferences vs. competencies battle. These tests do not predict performance. At best they confirm how the performance was achieved.

So when I saw the cover story on last week’s Time magazine, How High is Your XQ?, my personal personality assessment battle resurfaced. XQ is just another spin for the same old narrow-minded HR in-the-box thinking. Asking a bunch of preference-oriented questions and finding some statistical correlation ignores outliers, diverse candidates, non-traditional candidates, older candidates, younger candidates, high potential candidates, military veterans, people of different religions and races and anyone who thinks differently. In my opinion, Time magazine’s article sets the world of hiring back 40 years.

The big idea behind the so-called XQ factor is to use screening questionnaires to weed out weaker candidates who apply to jobs they should never have applied to. The unintended consequence of this approach is that it puts a lid on the quality of the people who do apply and ultimately get hired. This concept is shown in the infographic.

The core problem is that the XQ approach severely limits the pool of contenders to only those who are skills- and experience-qualified (“SE Q”) AND who are also willing to take a lateral transfer AND who are willing to endure the demeaning application process. This is only 1% of the the entire talent market (represented by the little “X” in the lower left of the infographic). The full talent market includes those who are performance-qualified plus all of those who didn’t apply either because they didn’t see the job posting or they weren’t interested in enduring the process to obtain a lateral transfer. It would be far better to attract the best people into the process by offering career opportunities rather than weeding out the weakest.

Here are some more reasons the XQ approach should be discarded or reengineered:

  • You can’t use a surplus of talent strategy in a scarcity of talent situation. In a talent scarcity situation, 95% of the best people – those in the talent sweet spot – will rarely directly apply to an open job. These people usually get referred to better spots short-circuiting the high volume XQ hiring processes used by most companies.
  • Preferences aren’t competences. Preferring to meet a bunch of friends for lunch over reading a book on some meaningful topic doesn’t mean you’re an extroverted team player and a technical bimbo. It means you’re hungry.
  • Confirming indicators aren’t predictive indicators. While these XQ preferences are reasonable confirming predictors of performance, they can’t be used as leading indicators. There is great value in giving these assessments after the person has been determined to be performance-qualified. Unexpected differences can then be evaluated to see if there is a fit, style or personality problem.
  • You can’t assert the consequent. A dependent variable, like competencies, can’t be converted into a independent variable. It’s illogical.
  • Skills-based job descriptions are not job descriptions, they’re person descriptions. A performance-based job description defines the job as a series of 6-8 performance objectives. People who can do this work are performance-qualified. This should be the criteria for initial consideration. This shift in thinking opens up the entire talent pool to every qualified person.

The biggest reason I oppose the XQ factor weeding out approach is that the best people tend to have less or different skills, experiences and competencies typically listed as required. The reason is obvious: They achieve better results, get promoted more quickly, are quick learners, get assigned to stretch jobs early in their careers, volunteer for jobs that are challenges or no one else wants and think differently about how to solve problems. Why would anyone want to filter these people out?

Now if I didn’t get the 10 reason count right and if I blasted this post out with bombastic and superficial thinking, maybe all of these XQ-like assessment tests are actually perfect predictors of performance.

Regardless, as far as I’m concerned these alphabet-named assessments and screening tools are anti-diversity, anti-gender, anti-race and simply wrong-headed hiring techniques. They’re lazy tools used to weed out people who should never have applied to a job in the first place. For this, they’re okay.

Now I’m going to lunch and read a book.