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‘Man I just want a dishwasher job’: Why are Olive Garden and McDonald’s forcing job applicants to endure a strange personality test that turns them into blue avatars?

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Step aside, Na’vi version of Sigourney Weaver: A new blue avatar is becoming famous. If you apply to one of several large corporations today, you might see a blue guy that looks like the Walmart version of Disney’s wide-eyed style of animation. No, it’s not a company mascot; it’s actually part of your evaluation.  

The blue avatars are part of a long and confusing personality quiz in the hiring process at a handful of big companies. Many applicants find their presence not only bizarre, but also a bit insulting. 

The blue people are courtesy of Paradox.ai, which boasts several billion-dollar companies as clients, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Citizens, and more. It’s worth noting that not all of the clients of Paradox.ai use the personality test feature, as different spokespeople from Citizens, 3M, and CVS Health all confirm. Still, many have taken to social media to express their confusion as to why this extra hoop—a long, bizarre personality test—is being placed in front of applicants considering many of these same companies claim to suffer a staffing shortage.

“Getting a dishwashing job at Olive Garden now requires a personality test from an AI company where you respond to more than 60 slides featuring a blue alien called Ash,” tweets Emanual Maiberg, who first reported on said quiz in a larger piece for 404 Media. 

Already strung out and cynical about the state of work, employees and job applicants found these types of assessments to be the final nail in the coffin. Although economists maintain that we’re in a tight job market, the hunt is longer and trickier than it used to be in part because of extraneous quizzes and interviews. Just last year, the average time it took to hire an employee reached a record high of 44 days, per Josh Bersin Company and AMS

“Companies are quick to fire and then are very slow to hire,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence, comparing the current situation to the job market coming out of the 2008 recession. 

The long, winding, blue road to an Olive Garden job

Let’s say you decide to apply for a job at Olive Garden. One of the first things you’ll see is an A.I. chatbot named Olivia (named after, and using the likeness of, the Paradox’s founder’s fiancée). 

After answering a couple of screening questions, you’ll get a pop-up for the personality assessment, illustrated with weird blue humanoids. The personality quiz itself will tell you there’s “not one right answer,” but to look at the picture and either click “me” or “not me” if the depiction of the blue avatar describes how you might act, or feel. You’ll see a bunch of slides like this, featuring the blue avatars in situations like grabbing pizza before others partake, or engaging in artistic endeavors. The process culminates with the AI system telling you your Big 5 personality traits. Many have commented on Maiberg’s tweet to discuss how dystopian these tests feel. Some suggest not being honest on the tests, as answers can be used against you. 

Part of the whole process is seeing if you’ll be a willing cog in the machine or rage against it. Companies often shirk applicants that aren’t personality fits “because they don’t want this person that they’re hiring to shake things up. They really want someone to fall in line with the status quo,” says Schawbel.

Dr. Heather Myers, chief IO psychologist at Traitify by Paradox (the official name of the personality test), tells Fortune the personality test can be done in under two minutes, claiming the competition rates for their tests are “significantly higher” than other assessments and that turnover has decreased by up to 25% for Paradox’s clients. Myers says Paradox’s goal is to “simplify the hiring process and remove friction for job applicants,” and that while it’s not meant to eliminate a company’s human decision-making process, automation can help neutralize dead ends and create a more efficient job system.

But in attempting to alleviate employers’ frustration, Paradox is stirring employee frustration—it’s a bit of a paradox, if you will. The test is a way to filter out applicants, according to Schawbel. Adding that it’s a way of seeing who really wants the gig  by “put[ting] individuals through the gauntlet,”  he explains it “weeds out a lot of people.” 

“Paradox was created entirely because we were frustrated by the experience of finding and getting jobs, too,” Adam Godson, Paradox’s president and chief product officer says. “So, we fully appreciate the job seeker perspective.” He added that there’s been too much friction and obstacles in the hiring process at many companies, and that Traitify is a way to take out those obstacles and conflict. 

But if one side of the relationship is this irritated, obviously something is wrong. “The goal is, how do we make the entire hiring process good for employers and employees,” says Schawbel. “And if it’s only good for one party, then it’s a broken matchmaking system, or broken hiring system.” He adds that a long process creates more frustration, as burnt out employees are overburdened while they wait for help.

Worker shortage or picky employers? 

Despite Paradox’s asserted intentions, the personality tests seem to have struck a chord with people, and not in a good way.

A prospective software engineer for FedEx went viral after posting screenshots of Paradox’s “bizarre personality test” to Reddit, voicing their frustration about “how blatantly prejudicial this type of thing is.” The applicant said they withdrew their application, having felt unrepresented by the results and areas of the test saying they had room to grow. 

Another user posted about the same test that Olive Garden gave them. “Man I just want a dishwasher job,” they said. Someone in the comment section asserted, “this is just my opinion, but companies cant [sic] find anyone to hire anymore because they have set their standards so stupidly high that no one seems worth while.”

Indeed, companies are adding these personality tests “for a reason, because they can get away with it,” says Schawbel, explaining that, even if they cry hiring shortage wolf, they are getting enough qualified applicants to want to filter some out. It means that both within the white-collar and blue collar fields, application processes are feeling increasingly long and tiring. And that doesn’t come without consequences. These candidates who have a bad experience are also more likely to be deterred from applying again to the company, to complain about it on social media, and also avoid said company for services in their personal lives, he adds, pointing to past research and studies

Over the last couple of years, companies in the retail and hospitality sectors (the sectors in which Paradox has many clients)) have complained of staffing issues. During The Great Resignation, many workers left their jobs to find opportunities with less stressful working conditions and greater pay. 

But the companies complaining it’s hard to hire and retain right now aren’t making applicants’ lives any easier as they deliver a slew of questions, quizzes, and interviews for jobs that don’t even offer competitive wages. Interview processes have gotten longer in general, according to experts from CNBC Make It. As for the hiring managers, “maybe they’re being too picky. But they don’t think they are,” Schawbel says.

It’s just part of the process, if you ask Olive Garden. “This is one of many ways our restaurant leaders assess candidates to ensure they have the right people in the right roles — which sets our team members up for success and provides great guest experiences,” a spokesperson for Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, said in a statement to Fortune

Still, tired job applicants are understandably feeling a bit bristled by having to take the time to pretend to want to work somewhere. “Just in case you’re wondering, it’s absolute hell trying to get jobs of any kind out here, and that’s why half of America is struggling to pay rent (including me),” one person said, quote-tweeting Maiberg’s post. 

“I think we’re going to reach a breaking point in labor soon. employers have gone completely off the rails and people are exhausted,” a Twitter user claimed. Americans are feeling disenchanted by their jobs and staring down the barrel of a long job market, these personality tests are all enough to leave us feeling, well … blue.





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