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Putting my judgment to the test

I took the rescheduled Situational Judgment Test for that government job this morning.

I’m not allowed to tell anyone the questions. But let’s just say it’s comprised of 51 hypothetical work-related scenarios (problems, interpersonal conflicts, ethical dilemmas, hierarchical conundrums, and so on), and for each of these you have to select the most effective solution and the least effective solution from a set of five proposed solutions.

I can tell you the example question. It goes something like this:

One of your co-workers gets many more letters of commendation for good customer service than you do. Your manager is always praising her for this. One day you overhear her on the phone with a client, and she says “If you like my customer service, you can contact my manager and let him know.”

Choose the MOST effective solution and the LEAST effective solution from the following alternatives.

a) Tell your co-worker this is unprofessional and inappropriate conduct
b) Inform your manager
c) Do nothing
d) Start suggesting to your clients that they contact your boss to praise your customer service
e) Tell your co-worker that if she doesn’t stop doing this, you’ll inform your manager.

What do you think? What’s the best and worst answer?

I found the test difficult. In very few of the scenarios was it obvious to me what the most and least effective solutions were. Sometimes they all seemed like good solutions; sometimes they all seemed like bad solutions. Usually at least two answers could have been right. Rarely was it clear cut.

I went through the test a second time, and changed a lot of my answers, which is never a good sign.

On my way home it occurred to me that it’s all about working within hierarchies – what do you do in a scenario involving a peer, a team leader, a supervisor, a manager, a manager’s manager? What should you handle on your own, and when should you go over someone’s head?

Where I worked for the past 18 years, we had plenty of managers, but we weren’t very hierarchical, because for the most part they didn’t really manage us. They managed projects and information and money (or lack thereof) and so on. But they didn’t really manage people. When they did, it tended to be more of an intuitive, flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants sort of thing. Generally they got to be managers by being good at something else; they got promoted to management but didn’t receive any management training. Mostly they just muddled through and did their best. And mostly we just managed ourselves. So I really have no idea what the “right” answers are to those kinds of questions.

As I read through all these scenarios, I felt a sense of dread creeping through me. Dread of office politics. Dread of working anywhere where there’s black and white answers to grey questions, and where people go around telling each other their behaviour is inappropriate or going over their heads and so on.

Me, I’m pretty laid back. I mostly just shrug things off, either because it’s none of my business, or I don’t see it as a problem, or it’s just a little problem and not worth the confrontation, or I’m chicken, or whatever. “Do nothing” was an option in many of the scenarios, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t the right answer, so I didn’t pick it. In other words, I didn’t pick what I would have done in real life; I picked what I thought the government would think I should hypothetically do.

I don’t know if that was a good strategy or not…I should find out in a few weeks.

14 comments to Putting my judgment to the test

  • Ooh – tough test, but I’m sure you did better than you think. Re office politics, there is some everywhere. I tend to ignore it because I’m not interested in being promoted and I’m not likely to be fired. Ideally, managers *should* manage projects instead of people because we all should be mature enough to want our projects to succeed. But the best managers know how to deal with the people problems as well. I’m not good with people skills, but I sure appreciate those who are.

  • Often, it is mandatory to lie on government ethics tests. They ask you what you would do in Situation X, and rather than saying what everybody actually does (and the only way to get the work done), you have to describe Imaginary Behaviour A which is what you are officially meant to do.

  • megan

    Eesh, this makes me nervous. I might be in a position to do this test in the near future. Maybe by then they’ll have changed the “do nothing” to “decide not to meddle in other people’s business”? One can hope.

    But I am interested in hearing how this turns out for you, so keep us updated!

  • S. April

    I took the same test a while ago and did reasonably well on it, but not high enough for the job I wanted. The whole way through the test, I would pick A, my (passive, mild-mannered) answer, and then notice that my favourite coworker ever (proactive, positive, friendly) would have picked answer B, and chose that instead. I also had to sort of imagine a cardboard cutout boss, because I’ve had a limited number of bosses, none of them government workers, and I’m pretty sure the best way to handle them wouldn’t have matched up with the government’s expectations!

  • Someone I know with Aspergers did this test and scored extremely high. He picked the exact opposite of what he observed happened in his office in similar scenarios.

  • I took this test a while ago and was subsequently hired. I found it equally puzzling. I had to learn the logic they wanted from the practice test. Basically, I think the message was, don’t cause a fuss, and oh, don’t work overtime.

    Looking back, it wasn’t really representative of office dynamics in the government. It’s not the end of the world if you go to your manager’s manager with a problem (gasp!) like the test wants you to think.

    Personally I found the test very culturally biased. Someone could easily come from another country where workplace dynamics are very different, and fail horribly. I think this is unfair because it doesn’t indicate what kind of worker they are.

  • deb

    good luck with it

  • I totally would have picked do nothing too. But I also thought that was wrong, since the test tells you to pick the most and least effective SOLUTIONS — a word that suggest there must be a problem. Why is the sample situation a problem? The coworker is clearly insecure and needs a lot of external validation to feel good about him/herself. Why does that have anything to do with me? Hint: the provincial government doesn’t have these kinds of tests. Are there any provincial government offices in Ottawa?

  • I also took this test before and passed, though I found it difficult too. I answered the way I thought they wanted me to answer, and not the way I would really behave in the particular situation. It’s just part of the game of getting a government job, and doesn’t reflect the environment when you actually land the job.

    I’m sure you did well. You strike me as someone with just fine judgment.

    And in the case above, for most effective I would choose A) to tell the person that their behaviour is inapproprate, and for least effective I would choose C) do nothing.
    Am I right? I honestly don’t know.
    But in reality I myself would probably choose to do nothing. Why do I need to worry about what others are doing?

  • I work in a community mental health center and you’d think (as mental health professionals) we’d be immune to office politics. You would be wrong. It’s hard to make decisions sometimes because there are so many variables to be considered and so many levels of management and connections between coworkers. I will never be promoted because I don’t play the game. I keep my head down and try to fly below the radar.

    And as for the sample question? If my office prized letters of recommendation, I’d admire my coworker for figuring out a way to get noticed. And I’d do the same thing. It’s not unethical to ask someone to make a phone call or write a letter as long as you have indeed provided excellent service.

  • deb

    my office is also one of those that sends out surveys asking clients to rate our services. The annual “customer service award” is based on these surveys. It is a way of determining what we do right and wrong.

    I am not sure whether the government sends out these surveys, but I see a lot more industry surveys done…i.e. car sales, real estate, even at the Bay etc…they encourage you to go online and rate their service.

    Having said this, I still dont know what the most effective
    answer is…but I would assume complaining to the boss would be least effective.

  • XUP

    If doing nothing is your fall-back position, you’ll do very well in the government. The right answers to almost all of these situational government questions is to sort things out with your team-mates first of all; then to escalate it up the ladder until something is accomplished. So I would go with E for your example question. Of course in real life, you actually have to live with these people every day and get along with them and not act like a tattle-tale prick, so doing nothing is usually the best course of action and the one most often followed.

  • I did this test last year, and I decided to answer with what I would actually do (and not what I thought I SHOULD do). I knew that wasn’t really what they wanted, but I figured that if my values & the values they were looking for were that far off, I didn’t want to work there anyway. (I don’t remember what I got – I think it was OK, but not spectacular.)

  • Simon

    The most effective choice is A. While C – do nothing – is usually the least choice for this kind of question, it isn’t in this case. Let me explain:

    a) E is not the most effective response because the coworker would take it as a threat and the workplace relationship is going to go down hill.

    b) C is not the least effective response because it will result in no change only.

    The least effective response is in fact D. By copying the coworker’s inappropriate behavior, you’re making the situation worse. If the problem is, say, about unpunctuality, then instead of one, now there’re two latecomers.

    As a former executive (now semi-retired and no longer working in the management field), I agree with some of the comments made that in real life, the more effective choices may not necessarily be the preferred choices we would pick.