Is Employee Selection Stuck on Stupid, or What?


In the far-away Land of Dum-Dum, all applicants for a driver’s license are treated alike. Whether they drive little cars or big trucks, motorcycles or buses, all applicants must pass the same test – they must drive a golf cart around the block.

To sophisticated Angelenos, giving all applicants the same driving test may appear to be, well, dumb. And requiring them all to drive a golf cart may seem even dumber. Yet, Dum-Dum’s licensing procedure isn’t really so different from the way Los Angeles hires civil service employees.

Consider. The city maintains a workforce of over 30,000 civilian employees. Those employees may represent as many as 1,000, separate job classes. They are clerks and carpenters, managers and mechanics, welders and water biologists. But as probationers, all those employees were subjected to the same, phony working test.

Instead of evaluating what probationers actually do on the job, city departments rate all their new-hires on a universal trait-list. Such ratings violate civil service rules; they violate federal EEO guidelines; and they violate civil service common sense. Moreover, based on a comprehensive review of court cases, probationary ratings used in city departments would not survive legal challenge.

In city service, the probationary period is not used as a working test. The job performance of newly appointed employees is not measured against established, job-related standards. Employees routinely pass probation, achieve permanent status and gain property rights to city jobs – all without having been fully tested. That dumbs-down the civil service system and wastes tax dollars.

The enclosed pie charts suggest the potential magnitude of that waste. If city leaders don’t understand the need to install modern selection practices – if they don’t understand the need to adopt a “productivity through participation” approach to performance management – heaven help those leaders! And if Angelenos don’t understand they need to send City Hall a message demanding these changes, heaven help us all!

Contact Samuel Sperling at

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