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The Lake Webegone Syndrome

Today's Washington Post features an article about personality testing:

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The eternal desire to hire only the best person for the job results in what psychologists call The Lake Webegone Syndrome, after Garrison Keelor's mythical Midwestern town where "all the women and strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." Of course, no population can be so skewed, yet the practice persists. The ldea being that if only one could successfully screen for traits, we'd have the best of all possible workforces.

This notion ignores at least two critical facts. First, in any population, no matter how carefully chosen, you tend to get a bell-curve-shaped distribution around some mean. Not every one will float above average. Second, these "tests" are tests for preference, not capability. I can do many things I'd prefer not to do, and even do them very well. Tests for preference never define capability.

The best of the companies publishing these "exams" fully acknowledge these facts, but support this with reams of validations. This seems only to encourage their misuse.

This I know: If the company you aspire to work for assaults you with one or more of these "tests," and uses the results in their selection decision, they tell you all you might need to know about their ethics and their judgment.

Our similarities attract us, as Virginia Satir said, but our differences make us strong. Those who pursue homogeniety achieve only mediocrity.

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