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Why don't we give our political candidates pre-employment assessments?
November 4, 2014 7:00:00 PM EST   By Mike Russiello

Why don't we give our political candidates pre-employment assessments?

Election 2014Every November, in the United States, as most Americans exercise their right to vote for their leaders, I am always struck by the contrast between how we hire employees in our organizations, and how we select our political leaders.

A recent article by the Wall Street Journal (http://online.wsj.com/articles/are-workplace-personality-tests-fair-1412044257) indicates that almost 60% of all job candidates in the US are given a pre-employment test before they are hired. The article also estimates the testing industry is growing at around 10 percent a year.

These are very high numbers. At this rate, nearly 100 percent of applicants will be tested by 2020.

So, if almost every job applicant in the US is going to be assessed, what about our political candidates? Why don't we test them? To find the answer, let's look at the different types of pre-employment testing.

Cognitive Ability - Are they smart enough to learn the job once they have it?

There's certainly an argument to be made here for testing politicians. I mean, how many newly elected leaders fail because they can't learn how to be effective once they are on the job? Half? Three quarters?

Skills / Knowledge - Can they write? Do they understand the the issues?

Once again, it's certainly not a given that a candidate can spell or write very well. Think back to a certain Vice President who couldn't spell the word potato. Or what about the President who pronounced nuclear as "nuke-ku-lar?"

Additionally, we certainly can't just assume our leaders truly understand the issues. Anyone who was around when Ronald Reagan held office can verify that!

Personality - Are they conscientious? Can they work with others? Are they too self-centered?

Hah! I don't even know where to begin here. With so many examples of politicians who have put their own interests ahead of their district, state, or region's needs, it's clear that some objective information about these factors would be of tremendous use to voters.

However, a problem with personality measures is that they can be faked, since they simply ask the test-taker to describe, or rate, themselves. Employers and test vendors will suggest that applicants answer honestly in general. But would the same hold true for politicians? Right.

Past Behaviors - Have they exhibited appropriate behavior during their career?

This is one area where we can rely on the opposing candidate to inform us and to spend his or her campaign funds lavishly to do so. No need for an extra testing instrument here.

So, why don't we insist on pre-employment assessments for our political candidates?

First, forget personality tests - any politician can fake a personality test. Next, forget past behavior inventories - they are redundant, since the opposing candidate always highlights this information for us in detail in his or her advertising.

Next, should we test for cognitive ability or skills? It might help, but perhaps a full 50 percent of politicians might fail. No campaign manager in her right mind would agree to that kind of risk. But perhaps no campaign manager in right mind should support a candidate that fails. That would require testing early in the process, before too many campaign funds are invested.

Actually, a possible solution is for party leaders and campaign managers to provide cognitive and skills tests BEFORE they back a candidate. Now there's a thought!

Perhaps we'll see the day where aspiring political leaders are subject to the same kind of selection processes that the rest of us have to endure. It might actually improve performance. But who says we need better performance within our political system?

Well. It's all food for thought!

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