An Absurd Snowflake Test

Recent publicity surrounding one US company has focused on a controversial new “test” intended to weed out what they refer to as entitled, whiny millennial job applicants. The snowflake test is a collection of cherry-picked questions used to determine if a job applicant is politically and culturally aligned with other employees. A few of the questions include:

  • Should there be a national minimum wage?
  • What are your feelings about guns?
  • What do you think of the police?
  • What did you cry about last time?
  • Why is faith important to you?
  • How would you describe America?

There are several reasons why asking such questions is questionable on a legal and ethical level-as many HR professionals ought to be aware of.  This test has no way to validate the results of actual performance on the job. That is the most obvious problem, besides its political implications. As such, it is ill-conceived and an attempt to unearth “culture fit,” a vague word that is sometimes misused, though not as blatantly as in this case, as an excuse for not hiring people who look, act, or think differently from existing employees.

A test such as the “snowflake test” could give a bad name to professionally developed assessments. An employee’s performance on the job is predicted by pre-employment tests. Almost all companies use pre-employment tests to identify high potential employees, and, like any other factor used in the selection process, the use of pre-employment tests is governed by a set of guidelines set by the EEOC.

In order to be valid and legally compliant, a pre-employment test must measure qualities that are clearly associated with the job. For instance, companies that are trying to hire salespeople may assess their personalities for traits such as self-confidence and motivation.

Snowflake testers may declare that their test is just another type of personality test, but most companies today use pre-employment tests that have been rigorously validated throughout decades of psychological research. Scientists disagree with the Snowflake Test’s predictive validity, and it appears to most reflect the owner’s political preferences and sentiments. People who are pro-gun, or profess great love for America, or seldom cry have no evidence (that we can find) that indicates they will perform in the workplace better, so this poses a serious problem if these traits are used as hiring criteria.

The snowflake test is an extreme example of a trend that some businesses fall into for a variety of understandable reasons. At a pre-employment testing agency, we help companies implement scientifically valid and legally compliant testing procedures. You are generally better off not building a personality test that simply measures values an employer claims to embody unless you prove they directly correlate with job performance. Unless you have evidence linking these particular qualities to company success, assessing them for qualities such as “team player” and “intellectually curious” is not a good idea.

Unless this understanding exists, you cannot select for traits or attitudes the CEO deems desirable, and you will not achieve the business results you expect. If that is the case, the company would become very homogeneous with people who have similar views. Diversity is an asset for companies when study after study shows it. So why wouldn’t you want it?

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