Despite recent research suggesting that a cursory glance over a candidates Facebook profile is more effective at predicting future career success than an online recruitment test, such test still remain enduringly popular with HR departments.
Online tests for recruitment are widely used and routinely result in specific feedback to applicants in order to communicate decisions, emphasise the pedigree of the process to forestall complaints and to benefit the candidate. But does it deliver on these fronts, particularly when candidates have failed to meet the required threshold?
Sonja Schinkel and colleagues explored the efficacy of these test through two studies. The first asked 81 university students to put themselves into a hypothetical job application process and to attempt two ability tests drawn from a well-established measure of general mental ability. All participants were then told they were ‘rejected’ due to scoring that was below the top 20% of test-takers. They then answered questions about how fair they felt the outcome was and provided a second set of well-being evaluations – the first taken before the test as a control variable for analyses. So how did appearing to fail the test make them feel?
Participants responded that they were happier when they felt the outcome was ultimately fair … unless they possessed an “optimistic attributional style,” which was measured before the ability test with queries like “What do you think when bad things happen to you?” Why was this the case? This particular perceptive style involves attributing negative events to external, impermanent factors, and that attitude can help you dismiss a disappointment as just bad luck. This buffer to well-being, however, is eroded if you accept that an outcome is fair, owing something to internal and more enduring factors.
A second experiment with 244 participants replicated this finding, as well as expanding it by contrasting the non-specific test feedback (you didn’t make the cut-off) with false, specific feedback (this is where you scored). Such specific feedback was worse for the well-being of all participants. Moreover, optimists in this condition didn’t enjoy the well-being buffer when they perceived the outcome as unfair. It’s as if the specific feedback unavoidably presents a jarring internal attribution that can’t be explained away.
Experiencing a negative event, such as rejection, is unwelcome. Being able to attribute the event to external causes can lighten its emotional impact, but these studies demonstrate how many of the features of ability test feedback – emphasising the fairness of outcome through reference to psychometric properties and the specificity of feedback including ranges of performance – impose internal attributions and lead well-being to suffer, at least in the short term.
However, whether the self-insight gained outweighs the self-efficacy lost is a calculation left to another day.