A Head for Career Heights; Personality and Ability Tests Are the Latest Form of Interview Torture. Wendy Ledger Reports

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MORE often than not these days, when applying for a new job, you will find that at some point in the recruitment process you will be asked to complete a psychometric test. It could be an aptitude, ability or personality test and the results will be used to make a decision about your suitability to the role for which you are applying.

According to Crispin Marriott, director of Tests-Direct Ltd, around 70 per cent of large British companies now use some type of testing in the recruitment process. Tests are also being used in the workplace to measure development and the promotional potential of existing staff.

Even though such testing has often been criticised, they seem to be forming a permanent fixture in the recruitment and retention strategies of a growing number of organisations. Crispin Marriott believes that some organisations are not using the tests properly.

"Personality testing in particular is a minefield for the unwary," says Marriott. "There are too many instruments available with little empirical or conceptual value. The widespread use of short 'cheap and cheerful' questionnaires is alarming. It is indefensible and dangerous to claim that you can get an accurate fix on something as complex and fluid as human personality in a brief 10 to 15-minute test, and to use that information to make selection and development decisions."

Even recruiters who advocate the use of personality testing warn against using the results as a sole yardstick, even when the tests are conducted properly. "Psychometric assessments can enhance decision making," says Ken Anderson of Anderson Consulting. "But they only work properly when they are totally understood, carefully interpreted and used as part of the decision-making process alongside interviews, team reviews and other relevant processes and tools."

Tony Tucker, managing director of Executive Resourcing Group, suggests that psychometrics have been "overrated and oversold" as a recruitment solution.

He adds: "I rely on interview, previous track record of achievement and performance references from bosses and colleagues. Psychometric testing may give some added value but should not be relied upon. The tests can discriminate against people, as they favour those who have previous experience of doing them."

David Hughes, of Executive Connections, believes that if tests have any value it is merely to direct interviewers towards certain questions. "An interviewer could use information gathered from a test to identify areas for questioning but would be unwise to use the results in isolation. …


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