Make Your Own Bozo Filter

Alan Cooper's pre-interview test.

Alan Cooper, president of cooper Software Inc. in Palo Alto, California, spends lots of time evaluating talent. He never complains about interviewing the right kind of people. But he can't stand wasting time with the wrong ones. His solution? A pre-interview test on the company's Web site (www.cooper.com).

Unlike Robert Nideffer's TAIS diagnostic, Cooper's test is specific to his company's business — designing user interfaces for companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Prodigy. But the idea behind the test applies to any industry: before you spend time figuring out whether job candidates will work, find out how their minds work. "Hiring was a black hole," Cooper says. "I don't talk to bozos anymore because 90% of them turn away when they see our test. It's a self-administering bozo filter."

Cooper points job candidates to the Web site and asks them to complete the test. One question asks prospective software engineers to design a new table-creation feature for Microsoft Word. Candidates are asked to provide pencil sketches and a description of the new user interface. A question for design communicators asks them to develop a marketing strategy for a new Touch-Tone phone — aimed at consumers from 1850! Candidates submit their entries by email, and Cooper forwards the answers around the company to solicit feedback. Only candidates with the highest marks get interviews.

Jonathan Korman, a design communicator, claims the test "told me more about real job duties than any description could." Software designer Josh Seiden is even more positive: "It was a fun puzzle — much more engaging than most of what I was doing at my previous job."

That's exactly the kind of attitude Cooper is looking for. "We get email from some people saying, 'Before I take this test, is the position still open?' I say no, because I don't want anybody who sees it as an effort," says Cooper. "People who really care take the test and love it. Other people say it's hard. We don't want those people."

Email Alan Cooper at alan@cooper.com or call 415-855-0250.

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