HR testing in the apparel industry

In response to all the debate going on over in the comment section of How do you grow before you grow, a friend sent me a funny story regarding her experiences of being tested when she applied for various jobs in the industry. You have been warned or more likely, have similar or worse stories to tell. Here’s hers:

I have an entertaining (in hindsight, anyway) story about pre-employment testing. You and Eric should have a laugh.

In 2002, I resigned from my position at LL Bean to stay home full-time with my one and only daughter (mostly frustrated at having to pump breast milk in a “sick” room or broom closet). My plan, all along, was to return to work full-time when my daughter started Kindergarten. So…6 months prior to kindergarten starting, I updated my resume, read through my work literature, bla bla. I selected some companies to “practice” my interviewing skills. One of these companies was Target. In 2006, I sent a resume in response to a Sr. TD position, had a phone interview with HR and was invited to MN. HR rep. told me that in addition to a fit test, there were a series of skill assessment tests and a psychological evaluation. Sears also had a test, but it was pretty straightforward. Questions like, “Do you think it’s ok to steal from your employer?” Based on the Sears’ test, I wasn’t concerned about Target’s. HR sent me approximately 8 hours of pre-interview paperwork to complete. This consisted of fill in the blanks (People assume (blank) about me at a first meeting. Later, they may be surprised to discover (blank) about me.) On and on in this vein. Ugh, is this what interviewing had come to, I wondered.

I dutifully completed the paperwork (this is practice, I kept telling myself). Soon after, I flew to MN for my interview. Target put me in a hip hotel; Graves 601 I think is the name. Dim lighting, interesting art that looked like it had been created from fox dung, Sylvester Stallone type staff, etc. This is my least favorite type of hotel, by the way. On the morning of the interview, I awoke early. My plan was to have breakfast, walk around the city a bit and then press on to the interview. Everything was going according to plan, until the hotel hair dryer would not turn off. It quickly began to smoke and smelled horrible. I was considering how best to unplug it when it started to melt (imagine Dali’s watch). Smoke and stench were filling the small bathroom. I grabbed a towel and unplugged it. After dressing, I called the front desk and explained the situation. A Sly impersonator leisurely made his way to my room with a replacement hair dryer (at this point my hair, and I, was frazzled). I missed breakfast and my walk, but did meet HR in the lobby on-time.

I had a fit test (they gave me 3 garments on dress forms and 15 minutes alone to evaluate fit and construction). Then, a panel of 8 or so TD Managers came and I presented my findings to them. This fit test was very simple – most of the problem areas were marked with pencil or pinned! I couldn’t believe how easy it was (my first clue to their approach to fit/quality). The rest of the day – hours upon hours – was spent in a small room taking timed math, vocabulary and “tell me about your childhood” type tests. An example of the math test: Mr. Blue has a sail boat which he can sail on Tues, Thurs and Sat. Mr. Green has a canoe and he’s allowed to paddle it Mon., Fri. Other water craft is allowed to use the facility at odd hours only on Sun. How many gallons of fuel will the marina sell on Tues and Sundays? You get the idea. I’m an avid reader, so felt very comfortable with the vocabulary portion. The only word I couldn’t define was Minuend (yes, most words were obscure). After the timed tests, I met with the psychologist who REALLY and TRULY asked me about my childhood! Keep in mind, all this for a Sr. TD position!

In my experience, Target’s approach is extreme. I also can’t imagine it’s useful in selecting candidates.

One other company that I, in earnest, interviewed at didn’t have ANY fit/patternmaking or psych tests. The TD Manager brought me a sweater (I had applied for the denim position) to evaluate (no dress form, spec, computer…). When I explained that I was interviewing for Denim, she nonchalantly said, “Oh, we filled that position. Now we need sweaters.” I had a pencil, paper and a sweater. They had flown me to OH, put me in a nice hotel, and rented a car…only to act as if I’d just turned up on their doorstep demanding an interview. To prepare for the interview, I had read my Avondale denim book, gone to their store and evaluated make/fit and country of origin on all of the denim product…..After I evaluated the sweater (?!), I met with HR. I asked about the corporate philosophy. She said that it’s based “on the fish market”. My research indicated this was a family friendly company with on-site daycare, etc. I’m a middle-aged Mom. Instead of highlighting benefits that would appeal to me, she told me that there were cut out goldfish. If a co-worker does something especially helpful, you write their name on the goldfish and put it in an “actual fish bowl”. Once a quarter, a name is pulled from the fish bowl and prizes are awarded. Wide eyed, she said, “Last quarter the prize was a DIGITAL camera”. Although I can’t say for certain that she was snapping gum during the interview, whenever I think about our conversation, I hear “snap, snap, snap”.

Needless to say, I’ve decided to start my own small company and vowed NEVER to let HR run amok!

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  1. Darby says:

    I think there’s an entire industry devoted to assisting corporations with psychological evaluations of their employees. I never heard of this stuff 20 years ago… now I’m hearing about it all the time. This industry must have quite the marketing saavy! Anyway, that lady should write a book… very funny.

  2. J C Sprowls says:

    I second Thomas’s notion. The world, at least for the job-seeker, has gone crazy – in every industry!

    I am pleased that Kathleen’s friend opted to open her own business. In my mind, she was subjected to white-collar torture; and, it was only uphill from there. Her decision to put that part of her life behind her was spot-on!

    Don’t get me wrong, when learning, working for someone else is a great way to gain experience and ply one’s trade. There’s a lot of synergy to be leveraged, there. But, when you start to see the foibles and faults within an organization (or, their character), it’s time to move onward and upward, yourself, whether to gain more skill or make the investment in yourself. In the case of Kathleen’s friend, she is ready to take the next step because she recognizes she “can do better”.

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