Get Psyched

Psychological testing doesn't have to lead to padded walls and straitjackets-it could lead to smarter hiring decisions.

" It was a $50,000 mistake," says David Sanso, CEO of Lakewood, Colorado-based medical equipment engineering firm Carsan Engineering Inc. The company was expanding quickly, and Sanso needed a high-level manager to handle the $5 million firm's "fast forward" direction. He interviewed someone who came on good recommendation and looked good on paper. Sanso had a few gut-level reservations based on the interview, but he went ahead with the hire.

But it was soon clear things weren't working out. Sanso, 42, was a high- energy entrepreneur who interacted constantly with his 26 employees; his new manager had a corporate mentality and preferred to sit aloof in his office. It was a hiring decision gone wrong on many levels. Sanso had to let the manager go, he says, because "one person can set the tone for the whole place."

Hiring is like playing with fire-just ask any entrepreneur who's been burned. While the potential salesperson you're considering may look good on paper and in the interview, will he or she really fit into your work culture and get the job done? Will that prospective administrative assistant enjoy the work and stay committed? It can be difficult to tell on the basis of a resume, a few rounds of interviewing and reference checks that limit what can be said about an applicant.

Some employers have compensated for the risks with testing. Although the practice is controversial, some experts contend it's not necessarily the evil that employee advocates make it out to be. Says Lew Maltby, president of the National Work-rights Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, "A good psychological test might not be a bad investment if a company can use it fairly and knowledgeably."

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Psyched.

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