Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Test for Dwindling Retail Jobs Spawns a Culture of Cheating

The Wall Street Journal - When Anton Smith applied for hourly work at a Finish Line sneaker store in Charlotte, N.C., his first hurdle was showing he had the temperament for the job.

Finish Line Inc., like many other retailers, makes applicants take a personality test before it will consider interviewing them. The test asks whether they agree or disagree, and how strongly, with 130 statements.

But thanks to a little digging on the Internet by a friend, which turned up an unauthorized answer key, when Mr. Smith took the test in late 2007 he had a good idea what the employer wanted to hear.Statement: "You have to give up on some things that you start." Suggested response from the cheat sheet: "Strongly disagree."

Another statement: "Any trouble you have is your own fault." Suggested response: "Strongly agree."

The store hired Mr. Smith, 23 years old, for a part-time job, although the parent company later closed that outlet and Mr. Smith has moved on. His view of the pre-employment test: "It isn't useful. People are hip to it."

Many retailers have largely automated the hiring process with online personality tests such as Mr. Smith took. The system cuts the time store managers must spend in interviewing applicants. But the test also is creating a culture of cheating and raising questions for applicants about its fairness -- even as it becomes a critical determinant of who gets a job and who doesn't in a stressful era of rising unemployment.

Today, many retailers are cutting their work forces, but that just makes the test even more critical. So many people now are seeking what jobs remain in retail that the test's maker says it processed about 29 applications for every opening in 2008, up from 22 in 2007. Meanwhile, for the retailers, it has become doubly important now to employ only the most productive people.

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