NFL Interview Tweet

When you work in a field responsible for the science behind employee selection and you’re a sports fan who reads about activities like the NFL combine, you can’t help but do a double-take seeing headlines like, “15 Weirdest Questions Asked at the 2018 NFL Combine.”

In case you haven’t heard (and don’t want to be sidetracked clicking the link to one of the many stories on this), recently some NFL teams tested their candidates on more than 40-yard dash and the three-cone drill. For years, many teams have used one of the staples of organizational psychology, the Wonderlic test, a measure of cognitive ability. In the field of organizational psychology, we know that general mental ability is a good predictor of success on most jobs. Emphasis on most. We also know that jobs like running back and offensive tackle require many physical skills which can never be measured by a cognitive ability test.

NFL Interview TweetSo, some NFL teams have added unusual interview questions to their arsenal. Unusual as in, “Do you find your mother attractive?” and “What’s your murder weapon of choice?” I think most of us have a gut reaction that these questions are irrelevant and have no place in the selection process. I mostly agree. Interview questions are most effective at predicting success when they are behaviorally-based, meaning they ask the candidate to share stories from the past that demonstrate whichever competency you are concerned about. So, for football it might be, “tell me about a time you suspected a blitz was headed your way. What did you do? How did you know?” or something similar. In the workplace it might be, “tell me about the most complex project you have managed. How did you approach it? What were the results?”

NFL Interview TweetI did say I mostly agree that the NFL questions are irrelevant. Mostly, you ask? Shocking nature aside, NFL teams who use the unusual questions may be trying to create a small job simulation. That is, they are likely thinking about the time on the job when a reporter shoves a microphone in a player’s face and asks a question that can be startling and trigger someone to rant defensively. They want to know that their potential player will react with poise and not take the bait of an antagonistic question. They are looking to elicit and evaluate behavior. If that is the goal, I understand on some level their tactic.

Job simulations are very effective ways to elicit and evaluate behavior… if designed scientifically by organizational psychologists. We use them often with our clients, particularly for high stakes roles like executive positions. Candidates act as leaders in a simulated work environment—responding to emails about project timing, dealing with angry customers, coaching employees, creating business plans, and even answering a reporter’s questions. However, just like you can’t build a car because you’ve seen many before and you’ve been in several, you can’t just make up your own job simulation. Or, for that matter, your own interview questions. To measure all the constructs important to a job—and to be sure NOT to accidentally measure things not important to a job—you need to involve a professional. In this case, not a professional athlete or professional sports team owner, but rather, a professional industrial/organizational psychologist.

Interested in job simulations, testing, or behavioral interviews for your team? Give us a call.

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