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The Absurdity of the "Snowflake Test"

Written by Josh Millet

One US company received significant publicity recently when it introduced a controversial new “test” designed to weed out what they call whiney, entitled, millennial job candidates. The “snowflake test,” as it’s called, features a series of cherrypicked questions designed to determine if a job applicant has the same political and cultural viewpoints as everyone else at the company. Some of the questions include:

  • What should the national minimum wage be?
  • How do you feel about guns?
  • How do you feel about the police?
  • When was the last time you cried and why?
  • What does faith mean to you?
  • What does America mean to you?

These invasive questions are—for reasons that should be fairly obvious to many HR people questionable on both an ethical and legal level.  Aside from the obvious political implications of asking such leading questions, the most glaring problem with this test is that it doesn’t appear to be validated in any way to predict actual performance on the job. It is instead an ill-conceived attempt to uncover “culture fit,” an amorphous term that is sometimes misused—though seldom as blatantly as in this case—as a justification for not hiring people who don’t look, act, or think like most of the incumbent employees at an organization.

It is things like the “snowflake test” that have the potential to give professionally developed tests a bad name. The purpose of pre-employment tests is to predict performance on the job, period. Many companies use tests in the pre-hire process to identify high potential candidates, and just like any other factor used in the hiring process, the use of pre-employment tests is governed by a set of guidelines established by the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

These guidelines clearly state that in order for a pre-employment test to be valid and legally compliant, it must measure qualities that are “job-related.” Companies looking to hire people who will succeed in sales, for instance, might administer a personality test that measures traits like self-confidence and motivation because these have been linked to success in that field.

The creators of the snowflake test may claim that it’s simply another type of personality test, but the rigorously validated pre-employment tests that many companies use today were developed based on decades worth of psychological research. The snowflake test has no scientific data to back up its predictive validity, and it likely reflects the sentiments and political predilections of the company’s owner more than anything else. For example, there’s no evidence (that we know of) to indicate that people who are pro-gun, or profess great love for America, or who rarely cry are more likely to perform well on the job, and that’s a major problem if these questions are used to make hiring decisions.

As a pre-employment testing company that helps businesses implement scientifically valid and legally compliant testing procedures, the snowflake test is an extreme example of a trend that some companies fall into for somewhat understandable reasons. Slapping together a personality test to simply measure things that an employer feels characterize its culture is generally a bad idea, unless you can show that the values your company professes to embody are linked to job performance. Assessing people to determine if they are “team players” who are “intellectually curious” is not generally a good idea unless you have evidence that those particular qualities are linked to success in your organization. 

Absent this, selecting for traits or attitudes that the CEO personally deems desirable is bad science, and won’t get you the business outcomes that you actually want. It will only lead to a very homogeneous company full of people with similar views. And with study after study demonstrating that diversity in the workplace is a good thing for companies, why would you want that?
Josh Millet

Written by Josh Millet



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