Business Essentials: 'Will psychometrics pass the test in helping us to select the right staff?'

A small legal firm asks if the benefits will justify the cost of making its recruitment process more reliable
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The Independent Online

As many employers are all too aware, interviews can be inadequate in revealing whether a candidate is the right "fit" for the organisational culture. In some cases, they don't even demonstrate if someone has the right skills. Little wonder that a growing number are using the additional recruitment tool of psychometric testing - an approach that covers everything from mental attributes, such as IQ, to interests, attitudes and personality.

But are the benefits really worth the investment for a small company? And are there any risks involved? Kehrela Hodkinson, principal of Hodkinson Law Group, would like to know the answers.

The company, explains the US-born attorney, is a small London law firm, specialising in immigration advice to firms and individuals who wish to do business in the US. She currently employs five people, who work very closely as a team.

"I want to make sure I'm making the right decisions - recruiting people who are technically competent and will also fit in with the culture and operation of our firm," says Ms Hodkinson. "I like the idea of psychometric testing because I can measure different things with different tests. After all, if I'm seeking someone for an administration role, I'll be looking for very different skills than if I employ a paralegal [lawyer's assistant] or an attorney."

Currently, she explains, the recruitment process at the company involves two interviews, the second of which includes an "in-tray exercise" - where the candidate does a piece of work similar to a task they would do in the role - and an extended discussion with several employees.

Ms Hodkinson is equally interested in psychometric testing for existing staff. "Here, I'd like to use the same test for everyone, with the aim of learning a little more about the employees and helping them to learn more about themselves. Then, if there's an issue and we know that this is how this person tends to process information, we can approach problem-solving with a bit more knowledge."

Ideally, she says, the test would give an insight into the individual's personality and how he or she approaches certain work-related situations. "The idea would be to keep the information on file."

But, she insists, she would only do it if her staff felt comfortable with the idea - which is, in fact, one of her concerns. "What if one or two felt unhappy about how it would be used, or they felt uncomfortable with the idea of taking the test in the first place?" she asks. "I want it to be a benefit to both individuals and the team, not to make anyone feel bad about it."

Ms Hodkinson's interest in psychometric testing has come about as a result of her growing interest in team building. However, with a huge range of products on the market, she admits she is confused by the choice.

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WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Rebecca Clake, Organisation and Resourcing Adviser, The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"Psychometric testing is most commonly used at the selection stage, but can also be a tool in team building and development counselling for your employees.

"It is important to research the market and talk both to suppliers and, ideally, other users of the tests. More advice on questions to ask providers is available at www.cipd.co.uk/factsheets.

"Developing a clear approach to testing, which is communicated and explained both to job applicants and employees, is vital. This will include giving feedback afterwards.

"Tests that have been rigorously examined for their reliability will not come cheap - and need to be implemented in line with the British Psychological Society code of practice in order to ensure their integrity."

Tara Lloyd, Director of 'Calibre' - Human Resources and Training

"Psychometric tests offer real benefits. They measure attributes other than acquired skills or knowledge, such as intellectual, numerical or reasoning abilities, and mechanical or clerical aptitudes.

"They are a powerful recruitment tool helping to assess the job-related attributes of new staff. In addition, they can be used for development and career planning - helping to identify training needs, for example.

"A qualified member of the British Psychological Society should be used to identify the most appropriate test for your needs. He or she will administer it and provide feedback.

"Employees should be fully briefed on the reason for the tests and how the results will be used. This will allay fears and suspicion.

"The results should not be kept on employees' files for general viewing - only those trained in their use should have access."

Julia Knight, Chartered Occupational Psychologist, The British Psychological Society

"There is now good evidence that cognitive-ability tests can be reliable predictors of performance. But it is important to look at the requirements of the job before choosing a test. Structured interviews and in-tray exercises are both good ways of gathering evidence about a candidate's suitability. The right test could add to the effectiveness of this process, but would not be a substitute.

"Regarding the development of the current team, there are several good products that could provide a better understanding of the various personalities and work styles.

"The British Psychological Society website www.psychtesting.org.uk has lots of information about test products."

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