On Screening Job Applicants

Acer rubrum To Zyzyphus jujuba

Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


On Screening Job Applicants   



Filling vacant jobs sometimes employs screening procedures that go beyond just filling out employment forms and answering a few interview questions.  Sometimes the employers want to know how an applicant thinks.  


One question on an actual job screening exam for a job as a shipping inspector was “ what do you see on the sheet of paper before you?”  Describe it.



On the sheet of plain white paper was a short yellow pencil.  Of the several applicants for the job of inspector, some of them may have written the following, or similar response:





I see a sharpened yellow pencil.  It is short.   



Other applicants may have written the following, or similar:





The short, round yellow pencil resting on the sheet of white paper is approximately 3 ½ inches long, is freshly sharpened with a knife or blade, based on the clean appearance of its shaved surfaces.  The person who sharpened it did not use uniform pressure because two sides are unequally deep, and the other sides did not get sharpened, based on their more weathered color.  There is a KOA logo printed on one side that indicates that the pencil was manufactured for advertising purposes.  Other printed information indicates that it is a No. 2 pencil, a reference to the hardness of the graphite used for its core.  The two pieces of milled wood that surround the graphite (lead) core appear to be made of cedar.  Most, but not all, pencils are manufactured with Western Red Cedar, thus the raw material probably originated in the United States where Western Red Cedar is a native tree.

There is an pink rubber eraser at one end that has apparently never been used to erase anything because there are no signs of abrasion. That suggests that the pencil was designed to be short; or had been broken before attaining its present length, or may have been used in the past without the need to erase its own pencil marks or anything else.  The short yellow pencil is presumed to weigh a few grams, equal to similar pencils that have been put into consumer service without evidence that is has been affected by immersion in water, or discolored by staining chemicals.

Applicant #1 who described the short pencil in a general way might be labeled as a lumper, a person who sees and describes things in broad terms.  He/she would not be incorrect in their description, but there is much more to any description.  Splitters relish the opportunity to provide details.


Splitters often feel a need and a responsibility to describe things in some detail because they usually see the world  and physical objects as being composed of various layers of complexity.  Applicant #2 is probably a splitter.  And although the persons administering the screening test to the applicants probably did not suggest how they should describe the pencil, they are interested in the content of the answers.  

If you were interviewing candidates for a job as an inspector, who would you choose?  A lumper who was inclined to give an accurate but simple description?  Or a splitter who provided information that may be useful in describing things that have many, sometimes important attributes?  
The French Connection
Carrie Ellen Dart


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