Do you know what they think you think?

If applicants fail on psychometric testing, feedback can be a valuable learning experience, writes Roger Trapp

Job applicants who take psychometric tests designed to discover their suitability for the positions they apply for should be given feedback on their performance, says the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD).

The organisation believes this would help remove the sense of secrecy and mystery that frequently surrounds a process that is becoming increasingly common. Employers are using the test not just at the recruitment stage but also as part of the promotion phase. For example, certain big professional firms use the tests - also known as psychological tests - to help partner selection.

In its recently published guide, Key Facts on Psychological Testing, the IPD urges employers that "feedback should always be given unless there are good reasons why this should not be the case".

Angela Edward, policy adviser to the institute, which has 85,000 members, says that this is because being told why they received the rating they did can help candidates take a more positive view of a disappointing outcome. "Taking a series of tests and then finding out that you have not been successful can be highly demoralising," she explains.

"Candidates may feel they have put in a lot of effort for no result. Feedback shows them that their application has been considered and evaluated; it can help them understand why they were unsuccessful and where their strengths lie. It turns the process into a learning experience and promotes a professional and positive image of the organisation."

Pointing out that "openness takes away that feeling and reassures candidates of the validity of the process", she nevertheless adds that giving feedback on psychometric tests can be as difficult as conducting the tests themselves.

The guide is designed to ensure that organisations using them do so in a way which will maximise the benefits and minimise the risk of making flawed judgments based on test results. And Ms Edward stresses that feedback is a delicate process that should be conducted by people who are qualified in the proper use of tests and skilled in giving the right kind of feedback.

However, the institute recognises that in a competitive world, organisations need to identify and assess the talent they need. It is no longer enough just to look for specific skills and experience; companies also need to spot such qualities as creativity, empathy and the ability to work in teams.

A special session involving personnel specialists and psychologists at the institute's annual conference in Harrogate later this month (22-24 October) will consider some of the latest developments in this area of recruitment and examine how they and other techniques, such as computerised job matching, can be integrated into organisational processes.

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