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Psychometrics - now affordable for everyone and not just about recruitment. Onrec Magazine research

Psychometric tests are no longer beyond the reach of most businesses. Whether you require a standard questionnaire or a top of the range bespoke assessment, they can inform and improve your decision making.

In the past, psychometric testing was considered too expensive for volume recruitment and only senior managers and above warranted the investment in profiling, says Jason Pierce, MD of Skillsarena. He says this has now changed, due to general awareness coupled with more sophisticated online tools that have ensured that psychometric assessment is now readily accessible to all, both from a cost perspective as well as interpretation. He continues: “The benefit to recruiters and trainers alike is immeasurable, in terms of cost savings and talent retention. The sceptical recruiter may say that they prefer to look at a CV, past experience and then trust gut instinct at a face to face interview. However, in so doing they are missing out on possibly the most important opportunity to get the recruitment right first time. An unstructured interview is more detrimental than useful. Over the last year, the recruitment market has changed dramatically; there are now far more candidates applying for every role, many of whom are substantially over qualified. When faced with graduates, or hundreds of applications with excellent ability qualifications and relevant job experience, the smart employer needs a further differentiator, which is where psychometric evaluation can make the difference.” Rob Bailey, managing consultant at business psychologists OPP states:“Psychometrics are proven tools that help organisations manage people better and thus drive better business performance. Well established psychometrics really have stood the test of time; so much so that the 16PF questionnaire is celebrating its 60th year in 2010 and is now available in over 25 different languages worldwide. In fact, the multinational application of psychometrics is currently an area of huge interest with our clients as the workforce become truly global. Picking out those with the most potential from a saturated, global pool of candidates is a challenge psychometrics is helping to answer.”

The big news at the end of last year, according to Stephen Sharp, Director of PeopleMaps was the inevitable evolution of online psychometric profiling being offered via the ‘freemium’ model – i.e. providing professional testing at no cost to companies. He also says offline test providers were also celebrating their own ‘breakthroughs’ with some producing questionnaires that could be completed in under an hour. Dr. Tyler, a registered psychologist and Executive Director with PsyAsia International, agrees last year was an exciting year in psychometrics, but from another perspective. He says: “Scientific research results were published that showed a relatively new personality assessment on the market was a better predictor of job performance, leadership potential and success than other well known tests. The results were incredible and shook up the high end of the market, leading another well known provider to review their signature test and make changes to it. At the same time, test providers from the mid and low ends of the market appeared to rest on their laurels and attempted various marketing techniques including an unlimited free test gimmick to try to woo purchasers. This was seemingly easier for them than to review their tests and challenge the degree to which their established tests were relevant in a changing organisational landscape that is the 21st century!” Ron Eldridge, MD of FindingPotential is not impressed with the latest generation of tests, however. He comments that: “In the past year, we’ve seen psychometric test providers trying to convince the world that they’ve made great strides in the development of their tests. Naturally, they want you to upgrade to their latest model. But in reality, the ‘great strides’ are usually only a minor tweak or a cosmetic improvement that doesn’t make a great deal of difference. A good questionnaire is still a good questionnaire. The real change over the past year has been the shift in the commercial model adopted by providers. Good quality questionnaires are becoming much cheaper to use and even, in the case of FindingPotential, free of charge. This has significant implications for organisations.”

Indeed, businesses are increasingly realising this. According to Jason Pierce, by the end of next year, 85% of all applications will embrace some form of psychometric evaluation.” He says: “The tools available are so varied that there is an accessible affordable resource for every organisation and industry. The starting point is identification of the key competencies associated with the role under consideration. Once established, some of these competencies can be measured with the minimum amount of guidance, typically general intelligence, attention skills, reaction times, initiative and self confidence. In a sales environment, for example, cold calling, sales closing and competitiveness would be especially meaningful to varying degrees.” As job applications increase, Claire Parkin Head of Assessment Services at TMP Worldwide cites an example of how psychometrics can help: “A local government client we worked with received over 150 applicants for one administrative position. Sifting through such a volume of applications can become very time consuming and expensive, and employers continue to turn to automated sifting tools such as psychometric tests to whittle down numbers prior to a face to face assessment.” Pre-hire, tests can determine if candidates meet job requirements and how strongly work preferences match work environment realities, says Matthew Such Ph.D, Chief Scientist at First Advantage. He says simulations provide additional information, such as measurement of how candidates are likely to act on the job. Claire Parkin sees a continuing trend for online numerical / verbal / logical ability tests for large volume campaigns and a range of personality questionnaires for (typically) higher end roles. She says: “However, interestingly, the use of situational judgement tests continues to rise and, whilst not strictly psychometric tests, they are considered semi-psychometric and do compete with ability tests as a choice for a screening tool. These are a move away from measuring IQ or ‘intelligence’ via ability tests (numerical, verbal, logical reasoning etc.) and a move towards measuring ‘judgement’ also known as practical intelligence (Sternberg 2003).”

The next big thing in psychometrics is ‘Strength Based Testing’, according to Olivia Wallis the in-house Occupational Psychologist for Omni Resource Management Solutions. She says, “These are a measure of what someone enjoys doing rather than what they are good at - the two are not necessarily always the same! This is different from traditional psychometric tests which only measure existing competencies. Most employers have experienced working with someone who is competent, but not necessarily a top performer in that role. However, people who use their strengths at work are more likely to be at their best, not only enjoying what they do but also working harder. See Martin Seligman’s website: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx for an example of a strength based questionnaire. Strength Based Tests should be used to identify what ‘Strengths’ single out top performing existing employees. Their profiles should then be used to benchmark new recruits and develop current employees who have the potential to excel in their role.”

Not just about recruitment

Not just the content of tests, but the way they are taken is set to change radically. Sean Keeley, Director of Psychometrics (EMEA) at Kenexa reports greater use of technological and scientific advances. He says: “This will include different ways of assessing individuals or groups such as completing assessments on PDAs, mobile phones and gaming consoles, or the increased use of online simulations and personalised avatars. The scientific advances will involve using more sophisticated mathematical methods (such as CAT “Computer Adaptive Testing”) to improve the administration of tests and make more efficient use of the time available for testing, and to enhance the scoring of assessments using IRT (Item Response Theory) methods.” He predicts the other more important area of development is making more relevant psychometric assessments available to the HR community, providing them with tools that meet their needs. For many organisations, he feels this will mean moving from generic assessments to customised assessments which might look at areas such as organisational culture fit or situational judgement. Peter Humphreys, VP Sales UK & Ireland, SHL also recognises this, saying: “The current employment market means that it is more important than ever for organisations to get someone who really ‘fits’, not only making sure they have the right skills and experience but also making sure they fit with their company’s values and culture. Psychometrics are moving from providing simply ability tests or personality assessments to offering organisations solutions to business problems – e.g. succession planning or micro-engagement. Assessments also support the job seeker or employee understanding their suitability for role, future career potential and areas for further development.”

Rob Bailey sees two key themes emerging; that of greater integration and greater availability of information saying, “Greater integration is about integrating online platforms so that delivery of psychometric information becomes seamless for the end-user. For example, using an existing front end HR management tool or intranet and linking it to personality questionnaires through our web-servicing technology. But it’s not only about technology – it’s also about better integration of elements of learning – integrating psychometrics into an organisation’s personal development planning process or an organisation’s competency models. Greater availability of information is another current trend, where experts within organisations want greater depth of information whilst untrained users want non-technical information to help them make people decisions or manage their people better.”

Psychometrics for the next decade

What will happen to psychometrics in the next decade? Moving on from purely recruitment, there is much more they can facilitate. Claire Parkin thinks that there may be more sophisticated methods of verifying online testing results, as there is still more room for improvement, e.g. through the use of webcam technology etc. She says that over the next five years she would also anticipate an increase in the use and availability of psychometrics assessing strengths rather than personality traits, as does Olivia Wallis. Olivia Wallis would also expect to see more team based psychometric profiling happening to assess who will compliment one another in a team environment, and Sean Keeley can see test results being used in the identification of likely leaders. He continues: “In the past, HR departments have often used psychometrics purely as a way of sifting candidates out of selection processes. Even within the selection and recruitment context, psychometric tests are likely to be evaluated in terms of their return on investment (ROI), with a much greater emphasis on validity and increasing the utility of the assessments by making them work harder.”

Ron Eldridge predicts as high quality psychometric assessments will increasingly become available free of charge, test providers will be forced to focus on how organisations can make best use of the data that’s collected. He hopes that maybe then psychometrics will finally fulfil their destiny and become the widely-used and effective business tool they always promised to be. As Stephen Sharp concludes, the suppliers have done their bit: “ Now with the choice of everything from free online to expensive one to one consultancy on offer, it’s up to employers and agencies to drive the adoption of psychometrics in business through 2010 and beyond.”