Can intelligence tests really help you to choose smart candidates?

by John Maguire14 Oct 2015
New research from the University of Sydney Business School (USBS) has shown that candidates who perform well in intelligence tests used for pre-employment screening are not necessarily the best choice to fill a vacant position.
Researchers found that traditional tests – which are typically carried out in “artificial environments” – only measure ‘intelligence capacity’ and fail to establish ‘realised intelligence’.
The latter refers to the level of intelligence that can be achieved when the candidate is faced with multiple demands in a real-world setting.
“Firms often hire people who have a high intelligence capacity and perform best in traditional intelligence tests but ignore those who might not perform as well in these kinds of tests but have a high realised intelligence and are better in the real-world,” said Dr Stefan Volk, senior lecturer at USBS.
Speaking to HC, Volk explained that his research applied neuroscience to problems faced within the world of business.
“We used these findings to try to understand how we can conceptualise and measure intelligence in the workplace,” he said.

The researchers studied a specific brain system that’s depleted when individuals engage in multiple tasks at same time.

According to Volk, there were two clear types of intelligence:
  1. Intelligence capacity – This is the maximum intelligence an individual can achieve in an “ideal setting”. Intelligence capacity is what is generally measured by most organisations’ testing methods.
  2. Realised intelligence – This is the intelligence that can be realised when coping with multiple demands at same time.
“Those who perform well in classic intelligence tests are not the same people who perform well in realised intelligence scenarios,” Volk explained. “Organisations need to be aware of the difference.”

He continued that the nature of the role a candidate is being tested for should dictate which intelligence category the employer measures.

“For positions in restricted environments, such as researchers, it’s perfectly fine to use traditional tests to measure intelligence capacity,” Volk said.

“But for positions where the employee has to engage in multiple tasks at same time, we are proposing other tests.”

Volk explained that classic intelligence tests typically involve the candidate sitting at a computer answering questions focused on one specific task.

“Our proposed tests measure how people are affected when being faced with multiple tasks at same time,” he said.

Participants in the proposed tests are instructed to perform a simple cognitive task such as reading out a passage, or making a calculation.

“They are then given pictures, letters or numbers to memorise while they do this, so they have to keep that information in mind while they complete the original task.”

Volk explained that these tests can be completed at various levels of difficulty.

“They allow you to see the degree to which people are able to retain their intelligence capacity,” he said.

“This allows you to measure how their level of realised intelligence drops when multitasking.”


  • by 14/10/2015 12:55:00 PM

    It's very interesting research and is in line with other psychometric testing research conducted in Australia. A multi-tasks test developed by Rightpeople in Australia showed that multi-task tests offer benefits over and above traditional cognitive ability tests in candidate selection. In this multi-tasks test, the candidate must complete two tasks together (such as remembering a list of words while completing another cognitive task). Multi-task tests have also been shown to better predict management performance when compared to traditional problem solving measures. Simple versions can be applied to areas like contact centres. These basic versions are known as attention switching tests. The benefits of multi-task tests over traditional cognitive ability tests seem to lie in the way they assess a person's attentional capacity ( the ability to attend to multiple tasks).

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