We typically use aptitude and performance tests to figure out how job candidates will do their best work. They, of course, want to maximize their strengths in crafting their answers. I’ve got a better test: what happens when they screw up?

This is where the rubber really meets the road in job performance. You can vet people all you like for how well they learn and how well they fit in with your culture. What happens when the worst happens? When a valued customer threatens to jump ship or months of work are invalidated by a miscalculation?

You can design pre-hire assessment tests that ratchet up the pressure with scenarios that demonstrate behavior under stress. How candidates respond to these should be your tie-breakers. But, before you do that, what is your company policy in those situations? Your answer will put applicants’ answers into perspective.


Control or Opportunity?

What’s more important when things go wrong in your company—regaining control over the “perps” or taking the opportunity to improve? The trouble with sanctioning those who make mistakes is that honest errors are situational. You’ll always be chasing the next problem.

Using failure as a chance to regroup and find new ways to improve, however, may give you your next big breakthrough. That’s how top companies like Google look at it. They celebrate fumbles. By shining a light on the point of departure from success, they can identify what to avoid or where to turn for a better outcome.

Micromanagement in which business leaders seek to control employees’ behavior often has the opposite effect. Workers will retaliate when morale tanks. Restrictions on how they perform their work will also limit their impulses to stretch and grow with a job. Would you rather have them work within a tiny frame with less risk, or give them the chance to go above and beyond their usual orbit? Less control and greater risk enable innovation, and that’s a trade-off you can live with.


Positive or Negative?

In that vein, mistakes are seen as positives, rather than grounds for dismissal. Now, employees who err repeatedly are making habitual, not situational missteps. They really do need to go. But honest mistakes are part of the trial-and-error process of learning and innovating. We don’t need to argue over whether those are positives or negatives.

As you evaluate your candidates’ assessments, note whether they take a systematic or emotional approach to making—and making up for—mistakes. Having systems to turn to removes the emotional component that can exacerbate failure points. If they mention appreciative inquiry or even a lesser-known methodology, you know they’re on the right track.

One more thing pre-hire assessments can tell you? How you respond to employees’ response to mistakes. That may be as important to retaining great talent as it is to solving the problem at hand.


Henry-Jackson has over 7 years’ experience working across industries, planning and implementing business growth strategies for both small and medium size enterprises.Equipped with a MBA from Nagoya University of Commerce and Business. His present association with Nippon Consulting is about contributing to thoughts and sharing key insights on improving Human Resources and recruiting functions.

  • Share

leave a Comment