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Use of Psychological Tests

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Effective Use of Psychological Tests for Recruitment and Selection

By Roberta Neault, PhD, CCC and Deirdre Pickerell, MEd, CHRP

A Google search on “employee recruitment testing” results in more than 2,000,000 hits. Many of the top results focus on the types of tests employers might use – thousands of services “promise” a good employee/employer match through some form of psychological testing.

Identifying potential employees that will fulfill position requirements and fit within your organizational culture, however, is a complex process. The “test and tell” approach is inadequate…and, in some cases, unethical. Here are six important factors to consider when incorporating psychological testing into your recruitment and selection strategy.

1. Begin with proper test selection. Tests are developed for specific purposes, so it is essential to begin with the end in mind. Identify a specific assessment outcome (e.g., stress tolerance, personal style/personality type, leadership potential, values, or skills) and select a test that is designed to measure that characteristic.

2. Assess the quality of the test. Don’t be wooed by a slick marketing campaign. Read independent test reviews (e.g., Buros Institute of Mental Measurements at http://buros.unl.edu/buros/jsp/search.jsp). Specifically consider validity (Does the test measure what it says it does?), reliability (Are assessment results trustworthy and consistent?), and appropriateness for your client group (Was all of the research conducted on first year psychology students from a different country?).

3. Identify the potential for results to be manipulated. Some assessments are fairly transparent (i.e., it’s easy to figure out what a specific question is measuring). If candidates have a good idea about the characteristics that you are looking for, they may be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear. More sophisticated assessment tools have built in “lie detectors” that can identify potentially skewed results – particularly if the candidate’s response pattern appears to be overly socially desirable or positive.

4. Calculate costs and benefits to ensure a solid Return on Investment (ROI). This is another place to begin with the end in mind. HR professionals know that recruiting is expensive, and that inappropriate hires can be costly mistakes to rectify. However, expensive tests do not necessarily offer the best ROI – in fact, test prices can more closely related to perception of what the market will bear than to the value of the tool. On the other hand, inexpensive tests may not save money in the long run, if they don’t accurately measure what you need to assess.

5. Clarify how the results will be used and who will “own” them. Most assessment results are more accurate and meaningful if interpreted with input from the candidate. However, when used for recruiting and selection purposes, test results are often not shared with the test-taker – hiring decisions are made without verifying the results and the assessment summary may form part of an employee’s permanent file. Ethical use of assessments requires clarity about who will have access to the results and how those results will be used.

6. Ensure that tests are being administered and interpreted by qualified professionals. Many psychological tests are only available for purchase by professionals with specialized training to administer, score, and interpret the results. This responsibility extends beyond the “testing day.” If assessment results form part of employee files, it is essential to ensure that only those qualified to interpret those results have access to them. There are several training options available to HR professionals – many are designed to qualify individuals to use specific tests (e.g., the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory, Leadership Skills Profile). Some Masters level programs qualify individuals to purchase a range of “B Level” tools (e.g., Yorkville University’s online courses at: https://www.yorkvilleu.ca/faculties/cpe/psychology/index.php#Psychometric)

Psychological testing can be a valuable tool for many organizations. Beyond using it within a recruitment and selection strategy, assessments can support teambuilding, leadership development, career development, and work-life balance initiatives. The challenge is to ensure that selected tests are effective and used appropriately. HR professionals have an ethical responsibility to identify and recommend appropriate tests and to oversee the administration of those tests and the interpretation of their results.

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