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When in Doubt, Generate Random Answers

My son Duncan, who's 19, is looking for a job. He recently applied on the Website of a major grocery firm -- a company that operates a variety of grocery chains around the country. The hiring manager at the local store invited him in for an interview, which was last Friday. Duncan stopped by to see me before the interview for some last-minute practice, and he was well-prepared. I wished him luck and he was on his way.

The next day, he came by the house to spend some with me before I took off for San Francisco (where I am now). I asked him how the interview went. "It was pretty strange," he said.

When Duncan applied on the Website, the only thing the Website asked him to do was to fill out a form with basic résumé-type information, which he did. It turned out there was also a personality test, but the Website didn't offer him the chance to take it. When Duncan indicated that he was done with the form and wanted to submit his information, instead of generating an error, or submitting his information with blank personality test results, apparently the site filled in random answers for the test.

Duncan said the first few minutes of the interview were straightforward, and then the manager told him that the reason he had brought him in were his personality test scores, which were the worst he had ever seen -- in terms of suitability for employment, Duncan had scored something like 8 percent on one scale and 13 percent on another. Apparently the only reason the hiring manager had invited him in for an interview was because he wanted to confirm that the test was representative of Duncan's personality, and if so, to flag him in his company's system so that he would never be hired by any of their chains.

Of course, Duncan explained that he had not, in fact, taken such a test. The hiring manager figured out what happened, asked him to take the test, and when last I heard, it looked promising that he was going to get the job after all.

I give the hiring manager a great deal of credit for actually taking the time to investigate and not simply accepting the ludicrously bad personality results, which many people might have done in his place.

The obvious question is, how many people have been flagged by how many companies for tests they never took, answers that were never theirs? How many hiring managers haven't investigated test anomalies such as Duncan's? How many companies have missed out on great employees because of poor Website design and implementation errors? How much does this sort of thing cost us?

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