Testing To Ensure Technical Employment Excellence

Recently, ETS (Educational Testing Service) launched a new exam called the Personal Potential Index to better assess graduate student’s propensity to complete graduate programs. This was motivated by the caveat that nearly half of those who begin do not complete doctoral programs. As a result, ETS developed and will launch this supplement test next month to better predict a student’s likelihood of completing rigorous advanced studies.

This will be a companion test to the widely used four-hour GRE exam that more than 600,000 students annually pay $150 each to take. As part of the GRE, this new supplement will allow applicants to submit names and e-mails of professors to better evaluate their internal “drive”. Then ETS will ask the faculty to fill out the online evaluations and add written comments. This will not replace recommendation letters or other evaluation letters that universities require. Instead, it will provide 24 standardized questions rated on a 1-5 scale including communication skills, teamwork, resilience, organization and integrity. These are intended to measure whether the candidate: 1) produces novel ideas 2) meets deadlines 3) works well under stress and 4) is worthy of trust from others. All of which ETS believes will better predict whether this candidate will eventually complete the rigorous graduate program for which they are applying.

This new ETS test is intriguing to me because measuring internal drive has always been a major interest of mine. During my MBA work at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, I designed an experiment in Dr. Petersen’s Quantitative Analysis class to better predict whether an NBA (National Basketball Association) draftee would be a success or not. Though I received the highest grade in this very, very difficult data analysis and experiment design class, this was not my only foray into predictive testing. In fact, I continued to explore test development after graduation. Then eleven years after graduation in 1993, I teamed up with a venture capitalist and one of my other professors to attempt to develop an expert system to better predict a candidate’s “heart” and “drive” in employment and staffing situations. This was based upon the age-old finding that many candidates succeed despite a lack of desired skills and many very talented candidates fail despite an abundance of them! The key was uncovering their illusive, internal motivation in order to increase the probability of recruiting success. Unfortunately, my professor died, but my interest in this subject still continues today!

Internal drive has very profound meanings for technical recruiting since many hiring companies complain that despite a very thorough job of screening potential engineers, scientists and other technical talent in the recruitment process, the hired candidate does not produce a plethora of patents, new product developments or breakthroughs. As a result, one needs to do more to determine this during the recruitment process. I am curious what you and others are doing to test this trait. I welcome your thoughts.