Why the 'Snowflake Test' is a Big, Big Hiring Mistake (and What to Do Instead)
You should be figuring out how job candidates think and problem-solve, not where their political beliefs lie.
After receiving hundreds of applications, Kyle Reyes, CEO of The Silent Partner Marketing, in Manchester, Conn., designed the snowflake test to weed out candidates he deemed “whiny, needy, entitled little brats.”
Related: 3 Important Tips for Hiring the Best Employees
The test, which attracted considerable media coverage, is named for the notion that some people think they're absolutely unique -- the way snowflakes are -- and therefore suspect. In the hiring context, Reyes's test involves a series of questions to determine whether a candidate is too delicate to work for his company. Some of the questions are:
How do you feel about guns?
What do you think about the police?
What does the world “entitled” mean to you?
But the problem is that while Reyes was honestly trying to find candidates who would fit his company culture, the test he designed has some inherent problems.
Political beliefs are not a culture.
Reyes is confusing culture with political beliefs. Instead of finding candidates who align with his company culture, he’s getting candidates who think the same way he does.
“These very pointed questions are discriminatory in nature,” Lisa Dawsey Smith, president of the board of directors at Downtown Whitewater, Inc., in Whitewater, Wis., told me. “This prospective employer is attempting to hire individuals who only align with his political inclinations.”
What to do instead: Matt Paddock, the general manager of Grow in Norfolk, Va., said he spends extended time with candidates outside the office. Eat a meal or go on a trip with them to uncover who they really are and if they’ll fit the culture, Paddock advises.
Group think is real, and dangerous.
When a company focuses on beliefs and not perspectives, it may end up hiring the same type of person over and over. This hurts diversity and can lead to a communication gap that makes it difficult to reach all types of customers.
Mollie Delp, a human resources specialist at Workshop Digital, in Richmond, Va., shared an example with me: “Let's say, in a service-based company, that hiring managers might be looking strictly for extroverts, and feel that anyone who is shy, quiet or introverted should be eliminated from the pool," she said.
"Now, you have a roomful of similar people that all have assigned clients they are responsible for communicating with and [for] solving their problems. It is extremely unlikely that every customer and contact they interact with will also be extroverts. That leaves the potential for a huge gap in communication styles and understanding how either personality type solves problems.”
What to do instead: Figure out how candidates think and problem-solve. Samar Birwadke, founder and CEO of Good&Co, in San Francisco, told me he focuses his questions on learning whether candidates can bring new perspectives and ideas to the table when faced with a difficult situation.
“I completely disagree with the snowflake test,” Emily Lyons, CEO of Femme Fatale Media Group, in New York City, told me. “The type of candidates that ‘pass’ this test are pretty much the exact opposite of what we look for.”
While all the publicity around the snowflake test has gotten Reyes’s company a lot of applicants, they also all know what type of answers he’s looking for now.
“Now that they know the answers that are 'correct' for this test, that's exactly what they will say,” Lyons said.
What to do instead: Offer final choices a trial period. Grayson Lafrenz, CEO of Power Digital Marketing, in San Diego, says he does this so the company can be sure that the candidate who was seen during the interview will be the same person who becomes the employee.
The test is built on fear.
“The point is, the snowflake test only serves to determine surface value while simultaneously potentially degrading people,” Todd Mitchem, whose title is managing disruptor at the executive coaching firm, Todd Mitchem Companies, in Denver, told me. “A leader’s job is to motivate, inspire and uplift a team to combined success. [Reyes] seems to do the opposite right from the start, and, more importantly, builds a culture of fear.”
Using the snowflake test tells employees that from day one, they are being judged for their personal beliefs or opinions. If they ever have a new idea, they’ll be scared to voice it out of fear of punishment for being different.
What to do instead: Take the action advocated by Dr. Steven Stein, a clinical psychologist and CEO of Multi-Health Systems Inc., in Toronto: Focus on emotional intelligence. This will allow your organization to build a workforce that is open and understanding of all points of views and opinions.
Hiring is a science.
The snowflake test ignores important aspects of the hiring process, like job fit. Plus, it doesn’t necessarily give reliable results.
“Who knows if the people he’s hiring are even capable of doing the work?” Kris Boesch, founder and CEO of Choose People, in Denver, said tod me. “Based on his snowflake test, he doesn’t evaluate performance. They just need to be ‘followers.’”
Stein added, “There is no real validity or reliability behind the test. While some of the underlying attributes are fine, such as the ability to work within specific groups or cultures, the way they assess for it is shaky, at best. Also, having an organization where everyone has the same attitudes and beliefs does not make a healthy work culture.”
What to do instead: Rather than political beliefs, qualities you should prioritize in an interview include interpersonal skills, attention to detail and hard skills related to the role's responsibilities. To accomplish this, use data-driven hiring tools, like Caliper, Traitify or sixQ software. These platforms allow hiring managers to identify candidates who fit the role based on personality and skills assessments -- the criteria they should be using.
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