Testing Really Doesn’t Work

Lisa “Robochick” Nowak

I have all kinds of anecdotal evidence that personality testing doesn’t work, but I’ve never had a case that I could talk about publicly, or that was so widely known that it would prove the point for me. Today NASA came to my rescue.

If you haven’t read my thoughts on the subject of testing of employees, please take a minute to read my FAQ article on it here. [Go ahead, I’ll wait.] The gist of the article, at least as far as personality testing is concerned, is that it simply doesn’t work. The tests are usually gamed, and the results are little better predictors than fortune tellers at the county fair.

Today, NASA (or at least one of their finest) proved me right. NASA has, for years, put their astronaut candidates through huge batteries of testing, including the obvious physical testing, drug testing, and numerous mental and psychological tests. The theory here is that they want to prevent a crisis in space where a nut case would make for a pretty interesting crisis miles from earth and the nearest shrink’s couch.

Testing Limits
To hear an extended discussion about why testing is a bad choice for selecting employees, listen to the podcast episode “Testing Limits”.

While there is little public acknowledgment of whether NASA actually makes assignments based on these tests, there is plenty of lore surrounding it. From Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff to Ron Howard’s movie Apollo 13, there are numerous dramatic cases where people were supposedly denied space flight because of these tests.

At the very least, you have to assume that NASA goes to all this trouble to test candidates with the expectation of learning something about the people. One could reasonably assume that they would, if the tests showed potential issues, gently steer the person toward non-mission critical positions. Well, today we have evidence that they “missed it by that much” (with a nod to Don Adams)…

Nowak’s Booking Photo

In case you missed it, today a NASA astronaut was caught up in a truly bizarre love triangle. Lisa Nowak (aka “Robochick”) was charged with attempted murder and kidnapping after she traveled the 900 miles from Houston to Orlando wearing a diaper. Apparently she was just barely stopped from going all wiggy all over the rival for her imagined lover (also an astronaut).

Clearly this is the kind of behavior one would hope personality tests could predict. And equally clearly, Nowak passed the battery of tests, as she rode the shuttle to the international space station last year aboard mission STS-121. But, here we are today, with her obviously not in a particularly sound mental state.

Finally I have the definitive case study. An organization that tests more rigorously than any private employer could ever hope to, has a clear and obvious failure of these silly tests. Can we all just admit it now that they are worthless and stop wasting time, energy, and future employee goodwill on them?