Can Football’s Wonderlic Test Predict Overall Job Performance?


    The Wonderlic Personnel Test is a series of questions that gets progressively more difficult in order to test an individual’s general cognitive ability. It is widely used in the NFL and its drafting process, but it’s also used by many employers to predict how well a candidate may perform in any given job. It is the most common pre-employment aptitude test given to job applicants.

    “Consider it something like an IQ test. Since hiring applicants is time-consuming and expensive, one of the ways companies will eliminate applicants is by administering the Wonderlic test. [It] is simply meant to see if you can pick up on the strategies that will help you finish the test with the highest score,” said Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics.

    Individuals are scored based on the total number of questions they answer correctly, regardless of whether they skip questions or not. For someone who jumps around and wants to answer as many questions as possible, their score is likely to be higher. Cyndi Gave, president of The Metiss Group, is that type of person.”But what happens if the job is really for a process-oriented, high-attention-to-detail person? I’d fail,” Gave said.

    “Problem-solving-ability has been shown through years of research to be predictive of success in virtually any job, because it predicts [one’s] ability to learn, which, in turn, predicts the amount of job knowledge the employee has. The greater the job knowledge, the greater the ability to successfully perform the job,” said Fred Rafilson, Ph.D., and Wonderlic Personnel Test expert.

    Masterson added that while one’s score on the Wonderlic Test can’t predict future performance, many companies see it as indicative of one’s potential.

    That is a contested idea, however. A lot of experts say that these test results are only one factor in determining how well the candidate is likely to succeed in the job; therefore, it shouldn’t be used as the only deciding factor when hiring, mostly because some people are just inherently good test-takers.

    Rafilson notes that “While you may have an employee who has a high level of G (general cognitive ability), that person may also have a low level of integrity. Hence, a very smart, counterproductive employee is a very bad combination.”

    Because of that, it is important to screen for many different skills and personality traits before making hiring decisions. Rafilson emphasizes including other assessments in your evaluation process that measure other critical traits, like leadership, interpersonal skills, teamwork, empathy, integrity, etc.

    Michael Ferranti, CEO and founder of Endai, echoed Rafilson’s concerns about only using the results of the Wonderlic Test to prognosticate on an employee’s success – or failure – in the position.

    “In our experience, it doesn’t ‘predict’ how an employee will perform. It is not a deterministic measure. We consider it a probabilistic measure that helps improve the fit and ongoing success and satisfaction of a qualified hire,” said Ferranti.

    Ferranti stated that he uses the Wonderlic Test in his business’s hiring process to set a minimum standard under which they hire. They also use it to inform decisions about career growth and which direction an individual’s career should move in.

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