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Pre-Employment Tests, Interview Skills & Hiring
Hire Happy Employees
By Michael Mercer, Ph.D.
May 15, 2007, 13:39

Hiring happy, optimistic job applicants can increase your company’s productivity and lower turnover.  Plus, optimistic, confident employees are vastly more delightful to have on-board.


Methods to help companies have optimistic, positive employees include pre-employment tests, job interviews of applicants, managing being role-models, and reinforcing smiles.


What are happy, optimistic employees?  In a book I co-authored – “Spontaneous Optimism®” -- we explained optimistic people focus on solutions and not on problems, have a “can-do” mindset, and do what is needed to achieve goals despite all odds. 


In contrast, the opposite of optimism is pessimism.  Pessimists focus on problems and not on solutions.  Pessimistic people love to do three actions:  Complain, blame, and whine.. 




The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to have happy employees is to hire human beings who are optimistic and upbeat.  The most objective and customizable method to assess job applicants is pre-employment testing.  When a company tells me it wants to hire better employees, we start by customizing pre-employment tests.  How?  We conduct a “benchmarking study” by testing current employees in each job.  From this, we discover test scores of the company’s high-achieving “superstars” – that is, employees who are both highly productive and low turnover. 


Valuable finding:  Almost invariably, high-achievers score above-average or high on two scales of the pre-employment test:

1.  Optimism test scale

2.  Reactions to Pressure test scale


In contrast, underachievers in the same jobs in the same companies usually score (a) low on Optimism (i.e., they score pessimistic) and (b) low on Reaction to Pressure (i.e., they score like whiners). 


For example, one company recently did a “benchmarking study” for hiring employees into seven jobs.  On the pre-employment test, “superstar” employees in all seven jobs scored high on both (1) Optimism scale and (2) Reactions to Pressure scale.  Note:  Although these seven jobs covered a wide range of skill-levels and abilities, pre-employment test scores showed high-achievers in all jobs exuded an optimistic, ‘can-do’ personality.




A second method to assess a job applicant is job interviews.  Unfortunately, interviews prove quite subjective, and managers generally do lousy at predicting job success based on interviews.


Question:  What should managers do to assess a job applicant’s optimism?


Answer:  Ask open-ended questions about confronting problems.  Then, notice if the applicant (a) focuses on solutions – like an optimist or (b) wallows about problems – like a pessimist. 


For example, the interviewer could ask, “Tell me about the two worst situations you got into in your last job.”  Then, the interviewer needs to observe if the job applicant answers like an optimist or a pessimist.




Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely observed, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”  This quote illustrates why leaders, executives and managers must be employees’ role models for optimistic and upbeat behavior. 


Every leader can be a fabulous role model simply by focusing non-stop on

1.  Goals – measurable goals with deadlines that help the company grow and prosper

2.  Solutions – every time a problem arises, instantly focus on implementing solutions


Also, the leader or manager must not allow employees to act pessimistic by whining, moaning, and complaining.  When an employee complains or whines, the optimistic leader simply needs to say, “I can tell that bothers you.  Now, please tell me your possible solution to overcome the problem.”  Insist the employee conjure up solutions, and not wallow in moaning about problems.




Eye-opening research revealed the more an employee smiles, the happier the customer.  Harvard Business Review (5/07, page 24, reported Patricia Barger of Bowling Green State U. and Alicia Grandey of Penn State U. studied employees and customers in a coffee shop.  They found the more an employee smiled, the more the employee’s customers felt happy with their coffee shop experience. 


Leaders and managers can apply the same actions in any company.  The leader needs to smile, reinforce smiling by employees, and hire employees who readily smile.  This gels to create a positive, happy corporate culture. 




Managers and leaders are smart to create an optimistic, upbeat workplace.  My pre-employment testing research reveals high-achieving “superstar” employees overwhelmingly are optimistic and poised under pressure.  To create a workforce of happy, positive employees, leaders and managers can do the following:

1.  Hire optimistic, upbeat job applicants – predicted by pre-employment tests and interviews

2.  Be a role model – always displaying optimists’ actions

3.  Reinforce employees’ optimistic actions – e.g., focusing on solutions and smiling


By leaders using these three keys, the result is a company composed of optimistic, ‘can-do’ employees who are

A.  Highly productive

B.  Low turnover

C.  A pleasure to work with

D.  Highly profitable


© Copyright 2007 Michael Mercer, Ph.D.



Michael Mercer, Ph.D., is nationally known as an expert on pre-employment testing and how to hire the best.  His five books include “Hire the Best – & Avoid the Rest™” and also “Spontaneous Optimism®.”  The “Abilities & Behavior Forecaster™ Tests” created by Dr. Mercer are widely used to help companies hire the best.  You can obtain his free 14-page special report “Hire Productive, Profitable & Honest Employees” plus get a free subscription to

“Dr. Mercer’s Management Newsletter” at