Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

What Are The Best Tests For Hiring and Promotion?

None of these are photos of me. They are also not effective for evaluating the potential performance or behavior of an employee.

Can you tell by looking?

In 1917, William F. Kemble, an engineer who was engaged in introducing standardized hiring and promotional tests for business and industry, wrote Choosing Employees By Test. (Industrial Management Library, The Engineering Magazine Company. New York.) Kemble was a strong advocate of the scientific and mathematical approach to business and industry. This was at a time when large businesses were using efficiency experts, vocationalists and labor standardizers--early versions of Human Resources staff.

Mr. Kemble believed that almost all knowledge, skills and aptitudes could be determined by a series of written and physical tests which could be administered in a relatively short amount of time and used as a basis for hiring and promotion.  Some of his ideas will sound familiar:

If employers so desire, the initial record found by the tests given to each applicant may be followed up by monthly reports of work accomplishments, all reduced to a card system. Upon these records can be based many decisions about employment, raises or promotions which would otherwise be done by guesswork or favoritism.

Unfortunately he mixed science and his personal opinions a great deal.  One of his tests involved having candidates for an executive position answer questions about the potential of scientific and engineering accomplishments. (Could there be a building ten times taller than the Woolworth Building? Will man ever be able to tunnel from Alaska to Asia? Will wireless power ever be developed for areoplanes? Will gold ever be transmuted from base metal?) The results of the tests as well as the way candidates acted as they were taking it, were ranked in this way: Idiot, Chaotic, Normal, Intelligent, Executive. (Which would you be?)

One of Kemble’s supposedly scientific tests involved comparing a photograph of a potential employee to lists of “common physical manifestations of mental and moral characteristics.” In this way he believed he could tell if a person was intelligent, a drunkard, petulant, lazy, moral, in good health, good with mathematics or any of dozens of other traits. He assigned points to each facial characterisic so the overall intelligence or morality of an applicant could be given a numerical rating.

The full-face and profile photos at the top of this article are part of such a test. He knew the people in the photographs and had a sample of one hundred good salesmen guess the answers to his questions. They had a 66% to 79% correct response rate. Thus, he reasoned, a potential salesperson should have a similarly correct rate of response.

These were the characteristics applicants matched to the photographs:

  • Quick in action.
  • Irritable.
  • Healthy.
  • Very temperate in drink.
  • Constant church goer.
  • Business person.
  • Artistic.
  • Saves money.
  • Highly educated.
  • Industrious worker.

Sadly for me, the correct answers weren’t provided! What do you think?

Kemble’s book has recently been scanned and published by Nabu Press, as having historical significance. However, I have an original edition, which I found in one of my old-book hunts years ago. It has 333 pages of small print, all focused on what he was sure was the future of employment testing. Some of it was logical and accurate and much of it was not.  He apparently did not write another book and also did not make enough of a mark on the world of business that he is cited in other sources. I feel badly about that because he sounded so earnest, dedicated and convinced. As a result, I wanted to honor him here by sharing his photo and a little bit about his work.  I hope he had a happy life, contributed to the happiness of the lives of others and felt he was successful. I wish that for you, too!

William Fretz Kemble (1874-?)

William Fretz Kemble

June 26th, 2010 Posted by | Assessment Centers and Interviews, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management, Training, Technology, Blogs, A/V etc. | 7 comments