My final research project in graduate school dealt with how businesses (try) to understand the personalities of their applicants (and sometimes of their current employees). Psychological questionnaires are one way they go about it, despite having marginal reliability (a measure of consistency) at best, and entirely questionable validity…and that’s when they bother to actually try well. Some of the questionnaires are pretty damn terrible, as anyone who has encountered them will no doubt notice. I copied and sent one to a former professor of mine, with colorful commentary added, which completely made his day. The point of my commentary was purely to ridicule from a humorous point-of-view. Below I’m going to summarize everything that’s wrong with it a bit more seriously, and with less profanity.

This is a 32 question (written as statements in the first part) questionnaire, with questions 1 through 20 having a five-point scale of “Strongly Disagree; Slightly Disagree; Not sure/in between; Slightly Agree; and, Strongly Agree”, and questions 21 through 32  having a five-point scale of “0; 1; 2-3; 4-5; and, More than 5”, as provided by Bon-Ton (Younkers):

1. If I saw a friend steal something from the place where I worked, I would probably tell my supervisor.

The answer they are going for is “Strongly Agree”, of course. You’d have to be an idiot to answer anything else. Anyone dumb enough to answer otherwise wouldn’t have gotten as far as the questionnaire. It doesn’t exactly encourage honest answers, does it?

2. Most people have taken something from their employers.

I don’t know, have they? I wouldn’t know, but I do know what answer they’re going for, because if it wasn’t obvious the first time….

3. I have never lost my temper.

Never? Is there a single human in all of the history of our species that can say he or she has never lost his or her temper?

4. Sometimes it seems like I am the only one I know not stealing something.

They’re certainly obsessed over stealing, huh? For context, the position was for a part-time stock job. I don’t know if they have a different set of stupidity for other jobs.

5. As long as they are doing their jobs, employees who use illegal drugs should be left alone.

Well, I know the answer they’re going for, as do you. So why bother asking if “Strongly Disagree” is going to be answered no matter what? Now I can say, and this is true, what an employee does on their own free time is completely irrelevant if they come to the job sober and ready to go. It doesn’t matter if they smoke pot, engage in orgies, or even check out library books you find subversive. So long as they aren’t harming others, and so long as they are sober at work, it’s entirely none of their business.

6. Most employees think about stealing from their employers even if they never do it.

I’m not a mind reader. Next.

7. If I had to steal to support my family, I would definitely do it.

Had to steal? They just answered their own question.

8. I have never thought about doing something I shouldn’t.

They must be space aliens completely unfamiliar with that notorious species Homo Sapiens.

9. I have never been in a fight with another person.

Do define “fight” please. All people have had verbal fights at a bare minimum, and most have been in a physical altercation at some point whether they wanted to be or not.

10. People at school/work know not to “mess” with me.

I don’t go out of my way to project the obnoxious “bad ass” persona, no, but I’d like to think people would be smart enough to realize that, yeah, a combat arms vet might be able to hold his own if physically attacked. Perhaps they mean something else? They’re trying to see if the applicant has a certain antagonistic attitude, but unless the job being applied to is “personal body guard” I don’t think anyone’s going to reply in the affirmative here.

11. People who steal from their employers are likely to do it again.

Probably, I suppose. I don’t think many people only commit such a crime once and then never again. That’s not exactly human nature, but

12. Most people have placed an illegal wager or bet.

Um…I don’t know, but I presume that friends playing Texas Hold ‘em for small amounts of cash aren’t being counted here. If I answer that they have, am I to be viewed as being sympathetic to criminal behavior? If I answer that they haven’t, am I to be viewed as naïve and not good enough to watch over their pile of stuff?

13. Everybody has done something illegal at least once in their lives.

They do persist in asking what people other than the applicant do, don’t they? Are they counting traffic violations? Maybe a parking ticket?

14. People stealing food to eat should receive a lighter penalty than someone stealing for the thrill of it.

Of course, but if I answer in the affirmative I get the feeling I’ll be judged negatively for it. Maybe they took the side of Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin?

15. I believe that most people are completely honest all of the time.

Define “completely honest”. Are white lies being discounted? Am I going to be boxed into either a cynical of naïve mentality?

16. When growing up, I never told my parents a lie.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, they’re serious? No, of course not, never ever did I lie to my parents. What child has ever told a lie to his or her parents?

17. Most people are completely honest.

See #15.

18. Everyone wants to take revenge on their enemies.

Define “revenge”. I can refer them to Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene in which he discusses, among other things, Evolutionary Stable Strategies. He does this in part by using the Prisoner’s Dilemma as an example. The Prisoner’s Dilemma actually changes, according to the rules of game theory, when the game is played an indefinite amount of times (meaning, the consequences of the previous game carry forward). Thus, it becomes advantageous to cooperate. Anyone trying to cheat is punished by the other person…unless that person is too forgiving, in which case the other player will abuse that tendency for their own gain. The sucker will be weeded out by natural selection. So, yes, game theory dictates that people not only want to take revenge, if you want to define it as “revenge”, but they are likely to act on it out of both their own good and the greater social good. However, I get the feeling they’re not looking for a scientifically accurate answer, but more the “I’m going to be a complete dick over any and all slights, real or perceived”. They’re also probably looking for me to think that everyone else isn’t a complete dick either. So, the point in asking the question when I already know what answer they’re looking for is…? (can I stress that last point enough on here?)

19. Most people have purchased stolen property.

They mean on purpose, and not out of (for example) naïvety? The only people who would know are the former, and I have no idea how I’m supposed to know the answer when limited to even just them.

20. Buying stolen property is not as bad as stealing it in the first place.

Knowingly? Then it’s just as bad. Has the company stolen something, perhaps from its employees, and it’s wondering how I might judge its actions? No, no, they want me to say that it’s just as bad because, if I answer otherwise, I might be more likely to steal from them, or not care if someone else does.

21. In the past 24 months, how many times have you borrowed something and not returned it?

I never do this. Are they going to believe me? Should they believe me?

22. In the past 24 months, how many times have you let someone else take the blame for something you did?

See my answer to #21

23. In the past 24 month, how many times have you told a white lie?

Twenty-four months is the key for all understanding, is it? I recall reading somewhere that people tell more than five in a single day, whether consciously or unconsciously. This is one of those questions that makes me (and probably you) think whoever wrote it is a completely clueless buffoon.

24. In the past 24 months, how many times have you been convicted of traffic violations?

“Convicted? No, no, never convicted.” (for those of you who like the movie Stripes). Not at all, but again, why should they believe me? In this case, they probably wouldn’t, even though it’s true. They aren’t getting a handle on anyone’s personality, but I’m certainly getting a handle on the intellect of some of the people they seem to have working for them already.

25. In the past 24 months, how many times have you falsified a receipt to get reimbursed for more money than you spent on business expenses?

N/A, but I wouldn’t do that anyway. Is anyone who’s ripped off his or her employer really going to admit that they did?

26. In the past 24 months, how many times have you exaggerated your qualifications to get a job?

Exactly the square root of 1 times.

27. In the past 24 months, how many times have you done something you believed was wrong?

Uh…I don’t know? What grade of wrong are we talking about here? I’m not that type of person, but I’m sure there was something trivial I did along those lines. Jaywalking perhaps?

28. In the past 24 months, how many times have you dragged out work in order to get overtime?

The exact same number of times I’ve been given the opportunity to work overtime…zero. If I say “zero”, maybe they’ll think I’m the kind of guy who’s always in a rush to leave, and I won’t do a proper job, rather than the apparent “good worker” view?

29. In the past 24 months, how many times have you cheated on a test or exam?

Why would anyone admit any such thing to them? How stupid are they? If I tell them that I never have, which I haven’t, they have no reason to take my word for it.

30. In the past 24 months, how many times have you done something you weren’t supposed to do?

Well, there was that time where I had sex with (the significant other of whomever wrote this questionnaire)…does that count?

31. In the past 24 months, how many times have you publicly embarrassed someone at work?

I mentioned the answer to #30 in front of said person’s coworkers. That was a riot.

32. In the past 24 months, how many times have you skipped out on a check at a restaurant?

Finally, the last one. I’ve never done this…but for someone so obsessed with stealing and such, how many times has the author of this obnoxious questionnaire dined and dashed? I mean, the whole thing is so silly, and so paranoid, that one has to immediately suspect the motives of the person who wrote it.

Bon-Ton (Younkers), you’ve wasted time and money on something that isn’t telling you anything worthwhile. You put someone in charge of a project who reeks of incompetence. I hold you responsible insofar as those in charge must always take ultimate responsibility. You probably weren’t even aware that such a poor job was done on your dime. All businesses hire people that don’t work out as they imagine they will, who turn out to be nothing more than a waste. For that I don’t blame you, because it happens to all. Nobody’s perfect, right? I recommend you get some new people into your HR department (I am available, but that’s not why I’m writing this). It will only be a matter of time before your hiring practices improve, and you get the employees you really want.