Letter : Tests an accurate assessment for jobs

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tamsin Growney's article "We have ways of making you redundant" (4 January) raised important issues about psychometric testing, but it is a pity that the article's headline, opening and ending appeared to trivialise the issues.

As the article pointed out, there is a wealth of evidence showing that psychometric testing is the most effective way of predicting job performance. This has been the case for a long time, as Sylvia Shimmin and Don Wallis's new book on "50 years of occupational psychology" vividly describes: in the 1939-45 war, in particular, enormous numbers of people were more efficiently placed after the introduction of rational and empirically validated selection methods. In the past 50 years, similar methods have been widely used in industry and commerce, and their effectiveness, when used properly and professionally, is not seriously challenged nowadays.

Three points still create some controversy, however, and are worth serious discussion. The first is how to measure personality effectively. For many jobs where there is any element of discretion in how to do it, the personality of people can be immensely important, to the point of making or breaking the organisation and very often making all the difference to their work colleagues. The wartime solution was to develop assessment centres, and these remain one of the best ways of seeing what someone is like while working with other people.

The use of direct personality testing, secondly, has always been more problematical, but has had both long-standing and recent successes. There are still many tricky questions to be solved, in particular the kind of distortions that some candidates can create when they know that a job hangs on their answers. There are also some awful, outdated personality measures still in use, sold very vigorously, and unfortunately used by some nave companies.

The third controversial area is whether testing, and in particular personality testing, has any role in a redundancy, downsizing or de-layering exercise. Most occupational psychologists would probably agree that they are unnecessary when you already employ someone and know about their performance. But they may still have a minor place when the future job is going to create different challenges from anything the job occupant has been able to demonstrate in the past.

Luck, privilege and personal attractiveness all play far too large a part in the standard selection situation, and the place of objective tests handled by professionally competent and responsible people should not be derided.

Yours sincerely,

ZANDER WEDDERBURN

Past Chair

Division of Occupational

Psychology,

British Psychological Society

Leicester

22 February

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