Psychometric testing or personality profiling, in its basic form, is the use of questionnaires to investigate personal preferences. Many companies are familiar with their use in recruitment but now businesses are becoming smarter and starting to take ownership of the process. In this way they maximise the value of the tests. Some develop their own tests unique to their organisation so they can be used to best effect. A recent development is the ability to conduct research using the tests to demonstrate how they can add value to a business in dollar terms.
While psychometric tests can be purchased from companies which develop or administer them as a speciality, recruitment agency Drake International is one which has developed its own psychometric tests which every candidate applying for jobs through the company must take.
The Drake Predictive Personality Profile (or P3) measures five personality traits--dominance, extroversion, patience, conformity and conscientiousness. Drake's Picasso assessment is targeted to higher level executive roles and consists of 38 different traits. SPQ Gold is specific to sales roles.
Drake HR solutions manager Sally Cannan says most people leave an organisation because of a personality miss-fit or clash. The Drake tools help to recruit the right person for a particular role.
However, most recruitment companies are quick to point out that they would never use the results of psychometric or personality tests to make hiring and firing decisions. They are seen as just one part of the recruitment toolbox.
Madison's national manager of organisational development, Julie Cressey, explains that the tests help to get a more rounded picture of candidates. Madison is another recruitment agency that has formulated its own model, the Madison Predictor test, from others in a range developed by PreVisor. Cressey describes it as an integrated psychometric tool which includes cognitive measures, abilities and personality preferences. Madison also uses tests known as Opra and SHL.
Cressey says the tests provide further guidance about what to be asking and probing on in interviews and reference checks.
"Often we find it can further validate what a client already feels about a candidate."
As psychometric tests are becoming more widely used, candidates are expecting to sit them at some stage during the job application process, especially for roles at management level. Many are surprised if they are not asked to complete a test. Most people react positively to being asked to do a test or assessment. It is their opportunity to prove they can do the job for which they have applied.
Registered psychologist and director of QED Services Jean de Bruyne believes the use of psychometric tests and personality profiling is becoming more popular due to the tight labour market.
"I believe it is growing in popularity because it is very hard to find the right person [for a role]. We want to know as much as we can about the person before we make an employment offer because once they come into your business it is hard to get rid of them," de Bruyne says.
Organisation psychologist and partner at Winsborough, Gus McIntosh holds the same opinion.
"Hiring an employee is like buying a house. The front door is locked and you cannot see inside without squashing your nose up to the window. But if the blinds are down, you can't see. Psychometric tests are like the key to the front door.
"Let's face it, most people want to get in there and have a poke around. They want to see if the house has rooms that will suit the purpose."
Herrmann International NZ director Wayne Goodley believes psychometric testing can be used to make hiring and firing decisions. He points out that it is sometimes critical for a person to share the same thinking style as an employee with whom they work closely. It could also be important when a particular style of thinking is used in a team environment and the success of the team is paramount.
Employment law specialist and senior associate at Bell Gully, Naomi Cervin says the only possible restriction in using psychometric tests or personality profiling in recruitment is making decisions not to employ someone based on prohibitive grounds set out in the Human Rights Act. These include, for example, sex, age, race or disability.
"I don't see any legal difficulties using the tests and I know a number of employers do use them," she says.
Another legal point she makes is that under the Privacy Act employers should ensure potential employees are aware of the purpose for which the information is being collected and the consequences if they decide not to give the information.
"An employer can say 'we won't consider you as a candidate' and would be entitled to do that," Cervin says.
A candidate who has completed a test can request a copy of the results. The only grounds to withhold them are if the candidate is aged less than 16 years or if disclosure would affect mental health. If a company supplies a test to another company which then applies it to a candidate, the candidate may have to go to the original company to request a copy of the results.
Air NZ has taken an innovative approach to using psychometric tests and personality profiling to find the right staff. Head of recruitment Simon Pomeroy explains how the company developed a psychometric assessment to measure fit in the Air NZ culture.
"We wanted to know what made an Air NZer," Pomeroy says. "We sampled a high performing group of cabin crew, call centre agents and corporate Air NZers. That gave us a group of items that created a model Air NZer."
Customer driven, solution focused, flexible but resilient were some of the qualities the model identified. Now everybody who applies for a job with Air NZ performs a psychometric test to determine how they fit with these qualities and others.
However Pomeroy highlights that the test is not designed for screening out. Instead, like Cressey suggests, it helps to identify interview and reference questions and areas for development. It also gives job candidates an opportunity to decide if Air NZ is right for them.
A consultant psychologist with Selector Group, Grant Amos, believes cultural fit is an essential consideration in using psychometric tests.
"You might be looking for a marketing manager who has operated in quite senior roles and operated teams but their profile shows a tendency for them to manage and make all the decisions when you have been encouraging staff to initiate and make their own decisions. They might be good but they will turn the culture of the organisation on its head," Amos says.
Selector Group offers a range of psychometric tests designed specifically for retail and hospitality environments. It also has one which discovers a person's mental resilience in times of stress and another which helps people considering a change of career. Selector Professional is a multiphasic test which tests verbal, numeric, logical and spatial reasoning.
Amos has encouraged companies to use the results of psychometric tests in remuneration decisions. For example, an employee's personality profile may show they are more interested in study than financial reward. A company could decide to pay for the employee to finish papers toward their MBA and give them Friday afternoons off to study.
"This person is not turned on by money but by personal challenge. You would do a better deal by increasing their salary a bit to get them on board then give them Friday afternoons off to complete the masters they have always wanted to do. That person is going to lock into the business more than if you just gave them $10,000 more in salary," Amos says.
Team Management Services' CEO, Peter Robinson, points out that companies are applying the tests in development to get better value from them.
"We have dispelled the myth that they are one-hit wonders," he says.
The Team Management Profile highlights both strengths and areas that need improvement so development opportunities can be identified.
IBM has adopted this development perspective using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI). Leadership executive for IBM Australia/New Zealand Lorraine Farah says HBDI was chosen for use in the company's emerging leader and new manager programmes globally because it was simple to use and easy to understand.
The model identifies four quadrants in the brain as different colours. Red is the feeling self which is sensitive to others, likes to teach, touches a lot, is supportive, expressive and emotional, talks a lot and feels. Yellow is the experimental self which infers, imagines, speculates, takes risks, is impetuous, breaks the rules, likes surprises and is curious or playful. Blue is the rational self which analyses, quantifies, is logical, critical and realistic, likes numbers, knows about money and knows how things work. Green is the safekeeping self which gets things done, takes preventative action, establishes procedures, is neat, organises, is timely and reliable, and plans.
Feedback from IBM managers who have used the tool shows they have a much greater awareness that people are unique in their perspectives. Managers can understand each person's contribution to a team and how different people like to be led, managed and interacted with.
Employees participating in IBM's emerging leaders or new manager programmes complete the HBDI before attending learning units. The HBDI is covered first and applied to every other subject taught--such as coaching, employment management and holding meetings.
"Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I have yet to find anybody who disagrees," Farah says.
Outward Bound account manager for personal courses Shane Wratt has also seen the benefit of psychometric tests and personality profiling to help staff make the change from technical to people manager. Outward Bound uses Team Management Services' Team Leadership Profile in its navigator course to link the experience to the workplace environment.
Wratt says the preferences people have are obvious in the Outward Bound setting.
"You can see it really clearly and they are encouraged to have a go outside their roles or use the strengths of others around them because Outward Bound courses are a team-based environment," Wratt says.
Talent Technologies, which uses PreVisor personality profiling, has discovered a way to determine the effectiveness of the tests in terms of dollar value to the business. Managing director Anne Fulton says Talent Technologies has so far conducted three business impact studies.
The studies found, among other things, that customer services representatives in a broadband communications company who scored highly on a PreVisor profile sold $18,000 more per person per year than lower scoring employees. Staff turnover reduced by 50 percent for high scoring employees in a warehousing and distribution role. Senior leaders who scored highly on PreVisor's director and senior manager assessment were promoted at a 30 percent faster rate than those who scored poorly.
Some scepticism still exists about psychometric testing and personality profiling and many still ask the question ... is it possible to cheat?
McIntosh says psychologists spend a great deal of time determining the answer.
"People can cheat if you ask them to cheat, but in practice people don't cheat," McIntosh says.
A study involved 1000 people who completed the Hogan test, used by Winsborough. The same people were later asked to do the test again.
"We would expect that if people did cheat, there would be a difference and there was hardly any difference at all.
"Most people tend to like themselves. If I am flexible, I will answer to reflect that. I won't say I am structured and organised because that is not who I am and I don't want to be that," McIntosh says.
FOR MORE TESTS
Surf these websites for information about different tests or use "psychometric test" or "personality profile" as keywords in any search engine.
Helen Tatham is a Franklin-based freelance journalist and business writer.
TWO TESTS IN BRIEF
NAME HOW DOES IT WORK? (MAIN PRINCIPLES)
Myers-Briggs * About 90 questions in survey
Personality * Completed online
Type Indica- * Uses qualified Myers-Briggs practitioners
tor (MBTI) * Measures probability based on responses
* The results are shown on a scale with a bar
showing the degree to which you prefer each
side of the scale. Your personality type is
indicated by the four letters. For example, I
am an ESTJ.
* Every type is considered to be of value
HOW DOES IT WORK? (MAIN PRINCIPLES)
Team * Online questionnaire
Management * Examines preferences in:
Profile - Relating to others
- Dealing with information
- Decision making
- Organising yourself and others
NAME WHAT DOES IT TELL YOU? APPLICATIONS
Myers-Briggs * How an individual: * Corporate coaching
Personality - Gains energy--through either * Executive coaching
Type Indica- extroversion (E) or * Life coaching
tor (MBTI) introversion (I) * Counselling
- Gathers information--through * Careers advising
either sensing (S) or intui- * Teamwork/team
tion (N) building
- Decides or comes to conclu- * Understanding leader-
sions about information-- ship preferences
through either thinking (T) * Improving communi-
or feeling (F) cation
- Deals with the world around * Should not be used to
them--through either judging make hiring and
(J) or perceiving (P) firing decisions
WHAT DOES IT TELL YOU? APPLICATIONS
Team * From eight preferences it * Personal development
Management identifies three most - enabling individuals
Profile frequently used. to understand their
* The preferences are: style, approach and
- Advising--gathering and behaviours and use
reporting information that knowledge to
- Innovating--creating and better manage them-
experimenting with ideas selves.
- Promoting--exploring and
- Developing--assessing and
testing the applicability
of new approaches
- Organising--establishing and
implementing ways of making
- Producing--concluding and
- Inspecting--controlling and
auditing the working of sys-
- Maintaining--upholding and
safeguarding standards and