Last week one of my friends applied for a job with the NJ Transit Authority. Long story short, he didn’t get the job.

Before I continue – let me tell you a little bit about my friend (I’ll call him Greg; not his real name). Greg is probably one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. His energy and enthusiasm are infectious and everyone around him is uplifted by his larger than life personality. He would be the perfect candidate for the transit authority because he would make everyone around him happier. Having him work on a bus or train would meaningfully improve the commute for thousands of people every day who would get to spend time with him. When he originally told me he was applying to work at the transit authority – I thought: that is the absolute perfect job for Greg.

There was only one thing standing between him and the job: the entrance exam. I believe the exam is a written test that covers many parts of the transit job. Here’s the thing – Greg blanked on one of the questions on the test about brake pressure. He’d never driven a train before, so the muscle memory just wasn’t there. When he looked at the words on the page about how to maintain proper brake pressure, he just blanked. Greg had experience driving big rig trucks and knew about brakes, he just didn’t know the answer to the specific question they were asking.

The result: he failed the test and now has to wait six months to re-apply for the job.

Sure, brake pressure is important, but how important is it that he know, hypothetically, how to manage brake pressure before even driving a train?

That’s like teaching someone to drive a car with a manual transmission and upfront, before they even get into the car, requiring them to memorize the exact RPM’s required to shift into each gear. Not only is this information difficult to remember, it’s actually largely irrelevant to performing the task. When you’re behind the wheel and on the road, it doesn’t matter if you have the RPM’s memorized, it’s far more important to feel how the car is responding to your controls and develop the coordination and muscle memory for completing each gear shift.

So now, because Greg got this question wrong, the job at the transit authority is probably going to go to someone who is far less engaging and charismatic. Thousands of people will be robbed of his magnetic personality because the organization relies on an entrance exam – a terrible way to measure true qualification.

Just think about all of the people out there who didn’t get their dream job, even though they would be excellent at it, just because they aren’t any good at taking written tests. There has to be a better way.

Qualification Tests: A Terrible Way to Measure Qualification
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