Eenie meenie miney mo?

by 01 Apr 2008

Selection testing has been around for decades and the range of instruments and providers seem endless. Teresa Russell looks at some offerings in the market and looks at how companies use different tailored testing instruments to great effect

Pre-employment selection testing helps organisations of all sizes and across all industries to recruit people who are not only the best fit for a position but also a good fit for the organisation.

Selection testing is often used in high-volume recruitment such as graduate programs, or for other positions with a strong short list. It is often helpful for roles that experience high turnover by exposing candidate work preferences and levels of commitment. Providers and employers alike stress that psychometric testing provides just one piece of the puzzle and should never be used in isolation.

Even when there is only one candidate for a role, test providers argue the long-term advantages of testing these people, based on the premise that the more an employer really knows about their employees, the better equipped they will be to retain them.

Who to test?

“The use of selection testing grew as our business grew. It eventually became mandatory in areas where management believed in it, which were sales and customer-facing roles,” says Justin Diamond, former L&D manager for Allphones, Australia’s fastest growing mobile phone retailer. The company has around 600 staff employed through both company-owned and franchised stores.

Alec Gardner, HR and training manager for HPM Legrand says he has been using psychometric testing to aid in the recruitment and development process starting the 1980s and all through his career. The company is a French-based multinational and the world’s leading manufacturer of wiring devices and other electrical equipment. It now employs around 850 people in Australia and New Zealand, after Legrand acquired HPM in 2007.

Gardner introduced selection testing into the sales and marketing recruitment process in August 2006, extending it to existing staff as part of the development process. “We increased our [recruitment] hit rate because we were finding people who were the best fit for a role. Retention rates, productivity and effectiveness all increased. It helped us to change the culture of the company,” he says.

During the last 25 years, Gardner says he has seen candidates who have a fear of testing. “The two most important things about testing are to first understand the validity of the tool and to then ensure that skilled users provide a valid interpretation of the tests. People afraid of testing have often seen unskilled people use testing for nefarious processes such as culling staff,” he says.

Clare Valentine, HR consultant at BDO Kendalls’Melbourne office says her company has always used some form of psychometric testing when recruiting partners and associates, but usage has recently expanded into its graduate recruitment program. BDO Kendalls is the fifth largest chartered accounting firm in the world. Its Melbourne office employs 300 people and has recently experienced 30 per cent annual growth.

“Graduates come to us from different institutions. Their results are not easy to compare because they study different subjects with different lecturers and assessment criteria,” says Valentine. “We test for problem solving ability, processing skills and look for well-rounded individuals who will fit well into our firm environment.”

Choosing the right instrument

All three companies use different instruments from their providers – each tailored to their specific needs. Allphones employed a battery of tests developed by RightPeople’s team of researchers. “We tested for problem-solving ability and other behavioural measures. We were able to gather information around integrity, risk management and values that we benchmarked against those who were already successful in our own organisation,” says Diamond.

Allphones candidates sit the test between first and second interviews. RightPeople provided the company with tailored interview questions off the back of the assessment results. “RightPeople’s test results provided information that wouldn’t have obtained from interviews or reference checking – sometimes about their history of work-related problems, which always surprised me,” says Diamond.

HPM Legrand uses the McQuaig profile provided by The Rogers Group. “This is the best sales profiler around, giving a lot of information around team development, motivation, leadership, management skills and selling skills. It gives a temperament profile report that is easy for line managers to understand,” says Gardner, who also employs HBDI for coaching and development purposes.

BDO Kendalls uses a specifically tailored online test provided by Onetest for its graduate recruitment, because the results are benchmarked against the results of other large accounting firms. “We wanted national coverage and online testing from a provider that gave our candidates excellent customer service,” says Valentine. “We’re moving to a more tailored approach to graduate recruitment, so comparing results with those from other large accounting firms made sense. It has also played a part in streamlining our graduate recruitment process.”

Testing issues

One of the issues faced by those using online testing is whether the person sitting the test is actually the candidate applying for the job. Online testing provides a fast, easy-to-access service, but it must be validated. Gardner says that many organisations get around this issue by doing supervised online testing, where the link to the test is sent to a computer within the hiring company. At Allphones, candidates are told that if successful, they will be required to do a short, supervised re-test to ensure consistency prior to being offered the role.

All three companies agree that price comes into the equation when choosing a psychometric testing provider. Valentine says it is too early to do an ROI on the value of its testing, because they’d need at least two years of graduate data history to reflect the changed practices.

Gardner believes it is almost impossible to isolate the value of testing in modern organisations because many things contribute to corporate culture, which he argues is what successful recruitment processes are designed to impact. “Retention rates and churn rates may not reflect poor recruitment processes. If you have a good, stable environment, you may be able to do a valid ROI on testing practices, but most organisations these days operate in dynamic environments,” says Gardner.

Diamond says that compared to the entire cost of recruitment, the cost per test is almost insignificant. “Testing provides objective information that helped us find better quality employees. What is important however is that feedback given to all candidates should be done well. People have to know that there is no pass or fail. Those interpreting the reports must understand which tests are more or less important, because of the specific key competencies they are linked to,” he says.

Some candidates have issues with testing because of past experience but, according to Gardner, many of the younger applicants feel at ease with the process. “More often it is the middle aged candidates who feel daunted. You must explain that you are testing to find the right fit for the role,” he says.

In contrast to this, Valentine says: “The accountancy profession has a strong learning and development culture. We have found that most people are interested in self assessment and would expect this to continue throughout their career, so they are not surprised by testing during the recruitment process.”

Each HR professional has sound advice about choosing providers and testing instruments (see box). In the end, each organisation must understand its objectives for testing and ensure that both the tests administered and the test providers will meet these goals.

Tips from the experienced

Justin Diamond, former L&D manager, Allphones, says:

• Use tests designed in Australia for occupational populations - not clinical

• Always use problem-solving measures to identify people who will respond well to training

• Use online testing for fast turnaround

• Check credentials and qualifications of test provider

• Buy tests direct from the publisher

Alec Gardner, HR and training manager for HPM Legrand, says:

• Know your objective for testing the candidate

• Search the market for an appropriate instrument

• Ask providers about the validity of the instrument

• Research past users of the instrument and provider

Clare Valentine, HR consultant at BDO Kendalls' Melbourne office, says:

• Ensure test is not a burden on the applicant as it reflects on the organisation

• Make sure the tests suit your particular business needs across all areas

• Reference check providers

• Ensure high levels of customer service is provided to candidates and your organisation