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Employees Blaming Others vs. Blaming Themselves: External Locus of Control in Pre Employment Assessment Tests

December 13, 2011
In our assessments we often measure a psychological construct known as locus of control (LOC for short).  While it sounds pretty esoteric it’s really quite straightforward.  Essentially, people with a more internal LOC feel that they are responsible for their own actions, which means that they study harder, put in extra hours to get things done and don’t blame others for their problems.  On the other hand, people with a more external LOC feel that the future is out of their hands and that whether they work hard or not they will never get ahead.  This often leads them to be more cynical, or at least skeptical, regarding the roots of success, whether it be their own or that of others.

Recently, Select International had an opportunity to see a classic example of extreme external LOC.  A candidate who had taken at least one or more of our tests in applying to one or more of our clients wrote to us.  He explained in detail that the reason he hadn’t been hired was because firms like Select International lobbied Congress and worked “behind the scenes” with CEO’s to make sure that people like himself stayed unemployed.  He had taken “all the tests” and they were all “rigged” against him.  Never once in his three paragraph diatribe did he attribute his lack of success in finding a job to anything that he may be doing or not doing.  It was clearly our fault because companies like us were “out to get him”.

Considering that we currently conduct over 7,000 assessments per day, mostly over the internet and almost all scored automatically, it seems ridiculous to assume that we are actually targeting him, or anyone.  However, it is just this sense of helplessness and frustration, however illogical, that defines individuals with extreme levels of external LOC.  Nothing is their fault.  There’s always a hidden conspiracy in place that keeps them down.

On one hand, there is a degree of hilarity to all this.  There we are, in a humongous board room with Senators and CEO’s, conspiring to find ways to not give people jobs.  I only wish we were that important.  Further, I can tell you, in over 20+ years of doing this, NEVER ONCE has ANY employer said or did anything like that.  On the other hand, I must admit that I feel a great deal of sympathy for people like this, because he is likely to experience continued frustration in his life.  Because he doesn’t feel that he is the root, or any part, of the problem he is unwilling to take action to do anything about it, such as trying harder, learning a new trade or simply changing his perspective on life.

While I do feel bad for him I also know that individuals like this (with a high degree of external LOC) tend to create a lot of problems in the workplace.  They are associated with higher levels of tardiness, absenteeism, accidents, errors and even workplace violence.  I just wish that they could see this and do something about it.  We’d all be much better off.

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.