Testing for promotion? Make sure the test is specific for the job

Three aspirants applied for a Carpenter Grade I vacancy. When Mal Roth was selected by Maintenance Supervisor Harry Greer, Bill Parker protested. "I do just as good a job as Roth, and I certainly have longer seniority here.
By Raymond Dreyfack October 1, 1998

Three aspirants applied for a Carpenter Grade I vacancy. When Mal Roth was selected by Maintenance Supervisor Harry Greer, Bill Parker protested.

“I do just as good a job as Roth, and I certainly have longer seniority here.”

“First,” Greer replied, “when it comes to judging performance, it’s my word that counts, not yours. What’s more, you were both given aptitude tests. Roth scored higher than you.”

“That test wasn’t fair,” Parker claimed. “It doesn’t mean that Roth’s a better carpenter than I am.”

Greer was growing impatient. “That’s your opinion, not mine. If you don’t like it, file a grievance.”

“That’s exactly what I intend to do.”

Question : If Parker follows through on his threat, what do you think his chances of winning might be?

Expert’s opinion: When Greer reported Parker’s beef to his boss, Plant Engineer Harold Michelson asked the supervisor to accompany him to Corporate Attorney Ruth Holland’s office.

The lawyer addressed Greer. “I have two questions: One, is Roth’s ability to handle the Grade I job clearly and unmistakably better than Parker’s?”

Greer frowned. “I couldn’t say that for sure. It may be marginally better.”

“Question two: Was the aptitude test the only test you gave in making your decision?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’m afraid Parker may have a good case based on his longer seniority. Promotion policy calls for giving preference to the senior employee unless the performance of the person you bypass him for is clearly superior.”

“But the test score shows — “

“The score isn’t relevant in this case,” Holland said. “For a test to qualify as a promotion factor, it must be directly applicable to the job in question. Aptitude tests are too vague and general.”