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Can Football's Wonderlic Test Predict Overall Job Performance?

image for smolaw/Shutterstock
smolaw/Shutterstock
  • The Wonderlic test helps to determine a person's cognitive ability.
  • Knowing employees' cognitive ability can help improve their performance.
  • The test can detect, rather than predict, performance.

The Wonderlic 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.

For the NFL, this test helps to determine how well a person will respond to coaching, how well they understand the game and how well they think on their feet. In some cases, these same principles can be applied to a workplace, but there are other factors to take into account.

"Consider it something like an IQ test," said Nate Masterson, marketing manager for Maple Holistics. "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."

In some ways, this test can be used as a problem-solving assessment.

Individuals are scored based on the total number of questions they answer correctly, regardless of whether they skip questions. If someone jumps around 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.

That's why it's important to keep in mind that this is a problem-solving test.

"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," said Fred Rafilson, Ph.D., a Wonderlic test expert. "The greater the job knowledge, the greater the ability to successfully perform the job."

Although a person's score on the Wonderlic test can't predict their future performance, many companies see the assessment as indicative of the person's potential, Masterson said. In most cases, this is a one-time test, so many employers use it to weed out candidates; they do not repeat the test or evaluate how the employee has grown or changed. The scoring scale ranges from 10 to 50. The average score is 20-21, which equates to a 100 IQ.

However, many experts say 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 the only deciding factor when hiring.

"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," Rafilson said. "Hence, a very smart, counterproductive employee is a very bad combination."

That's why it's important to screen for many different skills and personality traits before making hiring decisions. For example, Rafilson suggested, in your evaluation process, include other assessments that measure additional traits, like leadership, interpersonal skills, teamwork, empathy and integrity.

Michael Ferranti, CEO and founder of Endai, echoed Rafilson's concerns about using only the results of the Wonderlic test to predict an employee's success or failure in the position.

"In our experience, it doesn't 'predict' how an employee will perform," he said. "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."

Ferranti said he uses the Wonderlic test in his business's hiring process to set a minimum standard and to inform decisions about career growth and which direction an individual's career should move in.

It is a great test to get an initial idea of employees' capabilities and problem-solving skills. However, in the end, employees determine how well they perform, so a test will not definitively show whether they are qualified for the role.

Here are some examples of questions you might find on the Wonderlic test:

  1. Unscramble the letters below to form an English word:

         D R O H H C R P I S A

  1. The number "three thousand, eight hundred, sixty-eight," when written backward, is read as "eight thousand, six hundred, eighty-three."
    1. True
    2. False
  2. Counting from 1 to 100, how many 6's will you encounter?
    1. 10
    2. 11
    3. 18
    4. 19
    5. 20
Business News Daily Editor

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