Importance of psychological assessments

by 08 Jul 2008

Q. We are reviewing our recruitment and selection process for executives and would like to know how important psychological assessments are. How much weight should be placed on them and how accurate are they in depicting one’s ability?

A. Psychological assessments are not magic, but when administered and interpreted correctly they can assist in the selection and retention of top talent. With a plethora of tests to choose from, it can often become an expensive and time-consuming exercise in determining the best assessment tools for your organisation. In an employment setting, however, tests that measure ability and personality are what you should be looking for to assist you in determining the best person-environment fit when selecting executives and staff.

More specifically, ability tests are tests designed to assess one’s innate abilities (for example, verbal reasoning, numeracy, spatial awareness), and are usually performed against the clock. They consist of a number of questions with multiple choice answers, only one of which is right. As a test progresses, the questions may become more difficult, and there are frequently more questions than can comfortably be completed in the time.

These tests are designed so that very few people finish the test in the time allowed. The participant’s score is then compared with how other people have done on the test in the past. This enables the selectors to assess reasoning skills in relation to others, and to make judgments about ability to cope with tasks involved in the job.

On the flip side, personality inventories are used in order to determine one’s typical reactions and attitudes to a variety of situations. They could be trying to identify how well an individual can get on with others or their normal reaction to stressful situations – or simply their feelings about the kind of people they like to work with.

It is unlikely that these questionnaires will be timed or have right or wrong answers. Do not, however, let the lack of exam conditions fool you, as most employers will know precisely what they are looking for in terms of an ideal personality profile and it is up to the candidate to meet their expectations. It is unwise to try to fake the answers. These questionnaires usually have some type of internal checking mechanism, where the same question is asked with slightly different wording early and late in the test to try to detect dishonest answers.

Traditional selection methods do not always capture and extract the level of one’s competencies and preferences. Psychological testing can, therefore, add further value to an organisation’s existing recruitment process by identifying technical strengths and weaknesses, and cultural and personality preferences that are often hidden or difficult to extract during conventional recruitment and selection methods.

In addition to assisting in the hiring of new staff, they can also assist in the development of existing personnel.

Perhaps the biggest challenge related to the use of assessment tools is determining when to use the information obtained to remove an applicant from consideration. This is a big decision. While it is relatively easy to justify, based on above-the-surface credentials such as qualifications, years of experience, and so on, it gets a little trickier and fuzzier when a set of personality traits are being measured.

During these situations it is critical that organisations and hiring managers take the time to clearly document the requirements of the job and the most critical factors that contribute to the role. This will allow them to fairly justify their decision to omit a candidate from a process by tying the assessment results directly to the job performance requirements.

While there continue to be many complexities associated with the use of psychometric assessment tools, their basic purpose is very easy to understand. These tools are to be used as a decision-making aid in the overall recruitment and selection process. They complement a process and allow organisations to delve deeper into one’s suitability and ability to perform a role – however, they should never be used in isolation as the sole decision-making tool.

The degree to which they should be relied on depends upon the way they are woven into a selection process and the degree to which those making decisions rely on this process to make effective ones.