Psychological testing – at a glance

Psychological testing is now more the rule than the exception in most recruitment and selection processes. We attribute this to their known ability to objectively measure job candidates against the same criteria and to provide a generally fair and equitable comparison of similar candidates that can be used, in conjunction with other pieces of evidence, to support hiring decisions.

Whilst we are avid supporters of a range of psych assessments being utilised as one element of the selection process, we have observed that psych tests are often not well-placed within selection activities and that results are not always well-utilised to aid selection decisions.

We sought out an expert in this field – *Warren Senn, Director Lixivium Consulting ( – to explore how clients can improve the use and outcomes of psychological assessments.

Firstly, Warren Senn advises that, as with all recruitment and selection processes, a “critical starting point is to understand the role’s tasks and responsibilities, and the attributes someone will need to perform that role competently (ie a job analysis)”. An effective job analysis allows for the identification of key competencies and demands of the role, which supports the choice of the most appropriate assessment/s. The choices may be a combination of cognitive ability, personality questionnaires, role-specific in-box tasks, job knowledge tests, or any of the other wide-range of psychometric or psychological assessments available.

As in all things; the right tool for the task delivers the best results! Warren advises that “assessments should have an adequate degree of psychometric rigour (or statistical evidence) to support their robustness”.

Just as the choice of appropriate psych assessment tool/s for each individual recruitment activity will support final selection outcomes, equally as viable is the choice of whether a psych assessment is required; Warren encourages clients to “consider the purpose of using a psychometric tool and whether one is necessary in all instances”.

Other than for bulk recruitment activity (such as graduate recruitment), where testing may be used as an initial screening process to reduce large numbers of candidates to a meaningful amount for interviewing, Warren recommends that the best placement of psych assessments is between first and second round interviews: “This allows for unsuitable candidates to be screened out with other methods and investment in psych testing only used for desirable candidates. The results of the psych testing can feed into the second interview – if there are any ‘red flags’ or potential risks, these can be explored with the candidate”.

This has certainly been our observation when working with our clients and candidates; second-round interviews are usually much more targeted and successful when psych test results have been properly reviewed and effectively utilised to create probing questions.

We often receive feedback from candidates on the poor delivery of psych test results. This has included candidates being advised that they have “failed” a psych test, or that they have not been successful specifically due to their low results. Warren confirms that candidates “certainly should not be told that they’ve ‘failed’ psych testing! In most cases, there is generally no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ result – it is more ‘better fit’ or ‘worse fit’ to the role”. Warren cautions clients to “avoid over-interpreting results or inferring more than is justified”.

Warren stresses that it is important to not rely entirely on psych testing to make a decision; “the process is not infallible. It should be just one piece of the puzzle that informs the final decision”.

It is also worth noting that, as with all job candidate information, psych test results should be very carefully utilised, shared and filed. Human Resource functions should have clear policies and processes in place to ensure the confidential use, communication and storage of this data, especially where no HR personnel are involved in supporting managers with recruitment activities: Warren emphasises the need to “treat candidates sensitively and manage the confidentiality of their results, into the future”.

We encourage our clients to carefully consider the requirement for, the application of and the use of psych testing as part of any recruitment and selection activity to ensure they are getting the most out of their expenditure and, more importantly, that the results actually contribute to an effective hiring decision.

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