Fitting Right In

Before landing his position as director of new product initiatives at a Maine-based company, Melvin Alexander fielded questions from as many as 15 executives at a time — including the CEO. Management solicited information about Alexander from eight former associates. Subsequently, Alexander was asked questions based on former managers’ and colleagues’ perceptions of his deportment and managerial style. Even his wife, Rayma, was interviewed — about relocating to a New England city where African Americans are scarce.

Why was Alexander researched so thoroughly? Senior management at the company, which provides veterinary diagnostic tools, wanted to make sure he was a good fit for the job — and the firm. These days, companies employ tests and tools to help identify the right employee. “Everyone [in recruitment] is talking about fit because they rightly suspect that a poor fit is responsible for much employee turnover,” says Marcus Bailey, CEO of Taming Turnover, an Atlanta-based recruitment and retention firm. He says employee turnover cost the U.S. economy $420 billion in 2004.

To guarantee that candidates are solid matches, many organizations go beyond the traditional job interview. Several hire psychologists and other experts to dig beneath the surface. “Study after study has proved that in a job setting, hiring managers cannot tell a lie from the truth,” Bailey explains.

To better predict if candidates will work out, some corporations use psychological interviews to assess their personal profile (hobbies, interests, values), work ethic, and potential for a cultural fit, says Sharon Hall, managing director at Spencer Stuart, an executive recruitment firm in Atlanta. Your next interviewer may ask questions related to your personal values, family background, and ability to handle tough situations. “A person’s ability to perform well in a job can be confirmed with the resumé and the interview,” Hall says. “However, the likelihood of success can sometimes be better projected from the psychological assessment.”

You can prepare for a standard job interview, but there’s little you can do to prep for a comprehensive psychological probe. The most important thing, stresses Hall, is having a full understanding of who you are. “If the psychological interview kills your job prospect, they’ve probably done you a favor. It’s likely you would not have succeeded there anyway.”

Employment testing firms such as Taming Turnover and Burbank, California-based PSI note that state agencies and major corporations are testing more often. Management assessments measure a candidate’s capabilities, problem-solving ability, leadership skills, team effectiveness, productivity, time management skills, and personal adjustment.

Commonly administered to executives at top managerial levels — particularly those going into the C-suite — such tests run $5,000 or more. But consultants say that cost is nothing compared with the expense of hiring employees who fail. Taming Turnover offers a screening software called Hiring ESP, which companies can use when interviewing the most promising candidates.

Paul Hannah, an executive sales manager at a major publishing company, not only administers PSI tests to workers considered for promotion and prospective employees, he’s undergone such assessments himself. He recalls spending four hours answering nearly 1,200 questions before landing his job. He