Profile: HR Firm Makes Grade with Assessment Tests

Article excerpt

Byline: Marc Sousley

Although getting the right people into the right jobs is one of the most important and difficult functions of a bank's human resources (HR) department, recruitment is anything but an exact science.Nonetheless, HR professionals and recruiters are always trying to make the process more scientific. One increasingly accepted technique is the use of assessment centres that set candidates a battery of psychometric and skills tests to predict who will be good at what and how far they can be stretched.

One of the earliest advocates in Europe of objective assessment tools was UK-based SHL, founded 26 years ago by Peter Saville and Roger Holdsworth. The two have been evangelists for the technique, arguing that it should be used for hiring in every commercial and industrial sector.

Roy Davis, head of communications at SHL Group, says the firm pioneered the technique in Europe, reworking standard tests and questionnaires into UK English, normed against the UK population. Before that, most organisations used US tests scored against US norms.

Financial institutions have traditionally used the process chiefly for graduate recruitment. Most investment banks now have in-house assessment centres, although they often use outside suppliers like SHL to run their in-house centres - or at least obtain the tests and results analysis from them.

Although its business is by no means limited to the financial services sector, SHL has worked with such firms as Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW), Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank and UBS to develop in-house assessment capabilities.

Banks are increasingly worried about cultural fit and assessment centres offer the opportunity to scrutinise the intangibles that cannot be gleaned from a CV. These include the ability to work in a group, the analysis of data, commercial awareness, determination, behaviour under pressure and strategic thinking.

Commonly used measuring tools are group exercises, analysis presentations, role-playing, questionnaires and "boss's in-tray" exercises, where candidates are presented with a series of hypothetical problems to solve.

Terence Perrin, head of graduate recruitment at DrKW, an SHL client, says: "Assessment centres are a key part of our graduate recruitment process and training programme."

Although graduate recruitment has dropped sharply over the past 18 months, SHL's revenues have remained steady, partly because it operates in a diversified range of industry sectors. …