PSYCHOMETRIC ASSESSMENTS: BEYOND FADS & FASHION

Psychometric assessments beyond fads & fashion

Often people and companies ask us to do some psychometrics. They are at a loss when we ask which one? Then we draw an analogy with pathology. “Just as there are many kinds of blood tests with different objectives and one will not substitute for another, there are different psychometric tests for different purposes.” It is not their fault either. Many times, vendors who are certified for only one solution system, sell that system only as a panacea for all kinds of challenges. An advanced psychometric assessment system will have customized solutions for talent acquisition, development, coaching, etc.

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Then there are those clients who were very happy with some test at some point in their life, and many of them got certified also in that test thanks to the organization they were working in. For example, some would insist on an inventory developed in 1943. It becomes their religion. Psychometric assessment has undergone tectonic changes thanks to extensive research and latest insights into human behavior. For example, for a long time, extraversion was considered a necessary requirement for success, until psychologists realized that people most poised for success are likely to be ambiverts, of course, subject to many other factors.

Quite often, sensing growing use of psychometrics, many HR professionals and coaches ask advice if they should also do in certification, and if yes, in which test. We yes and no, for two reasons. Certification does help HR in understanding the vocabulary and nuances of that test, and hence being able to deploy the test more effectively. However, like any practicing profession, proficiency and mastery does not come by certification. Especially with higher end tests, unless one has analyzed quite many assessments personally, one will not be able to discern finer implications. This is important aspect because unlike measurement of inanimate objects, human assessment can alter the personality by the very act of measurement. I have personally seen many cases where a wrong interpretation has adversely affected personality and behavior of individuals for several years, and in some cases, permanently.

Generally, there are two types of assessments. Client or HR person can safely study, understand and use reports of simpler kinds of assessments. However, there are some higher order assessments which require an interpretation and briefing by a qualified assessor. This is specially so, because, many tests have their own vocabulary different from common uses of that word. For example, Hogan has a scale of adjustment.

Tests developed by Executive Search Agencies

There are many recruiters/executive search agencies who float their own psychometric instruments in the name of one-stop shop for all needs related to talent acquisition. This is appealing for clients, especially those who have their favorite and trusted search agencies, because they don’t have to whack their brains on which test is best suited to their needs. The catch, however, is that a search agency’s heart and mind may not be in test and therefore they may not vigorously pursue further research and refinement, nor will they have access to as much data as an organization wholly devoted to psychometric assessments.

How to select the best tests for your need?

It is not necessary to know everything about testing and psychometric tests. You need to know the following. One may come across many tests in attractive packaging with graphics, but one needs to remember that anyone can make a test but there are very few who can make robust tests and generate the data establishing the credibility of the test.

  • Validity
    Validity is a measure of a test’s usefulness. Scores on the test should be related to some other behavior, reflective of personality, ability, or interest.
    A good validity score is between .65 to .90. Ask for validity data from any vendor who tries to sell you any test, particularly those who are not highly reputed. Just don’t go by their word. There are different types of validities, like face, content, construct, predictive, &concurrent validity. Unless you have a deep interest in this field, the above question will suffice.
  • Reliability
    Test reliability refers to the consistency of a measure meaning that successive tests will give the same result. Acceptable reliability score (Cronbach Alpha) of as follows:
    Ability/Aptitude Tests: .80
    Personality Tests: .70
    There are test-retest, internal, and inter-rater consistency scores but as above, you need not get into this.
  • Norms
    This is a very important aspect. Higher the number of persons tested as per category or worldwide, the more robust the norms will be.
    The test may have standardization against certain groups based on gender, age, culture, nationality, etc. and is generally expressed as percentile.
    If your score is 76, this means that you are better than 75% people like you.
    This may be missing or inadequate in new age game-based or psycholinguistic tests. Therefore, while using new age tests, one needs to be wary of tests which don’t have established norms, and not get carried away by dazzle or attractiveness or client list because there is no guarantee that the decision makers in those organizations with big names may be more knowledgeable than you.
  • Up-dation
    If it is an old test, is it updated regularly? Does it have a heavy research base as a backup? Does it consider the latest understanding about the science of personality and behavior?
  • Cost
    Last and the most important consideration in any business organization is the cost factor and the budget. One needs to tradeoff between various options and the budgetary allocation. Ofcourse, many businesses can be quite myopic in such matters especially when they are planning to use it for the first time. They may not mind the heavy cost of a wrong hire in terms of wasted time, costly decisions and lost opportunities but they are very insistent on the ‘cheapest’ psychometric test.
    Having said that, one also needs to acknowledge that right from a small NGO to a large multinational, when they start using the test and deriving useful insights resulting in better hiring/development decisions, it becomes a compulsive habit. Once I was travelling abroad as a tourist for a few days, and when I told one client, he panicked and said that I could go anywhere but I must carry my laptop because he was not sure when the Chairman would need inputs in a critical decision on hiring a business head.

Safeguards for use

Following are the steps and safeguards in using psychometric test:

  1. Identify the purpose
  2. Identify what is it that you want to measure & your budget
  3. Select appropriate test and get it administered WITH respondent’s consent.
  4. If needed, understand implications with a certified assessor before breaking it to the respondent.
  5. Avoid using the term ‘test’. Many persons may get defensive filling this up thus affecting the results. Of course, advanced tests are able to throw up signals that the respondent has either not understood the language or tried to manipulate. Different assessments prefer using different language. For example, Harrison Assessment uses Behavior preference survey. Some call it psychographic profiling.
  6. If in selection, suggest that
    • Like health check-up before appointment, it is mostly routine
    • This is just one input in selection process.
  7. If in development
    • Reassure that the respondent can use the information to reflect in the light of past experiences/future challenges and does it provide insights?
    • After all, no instrument is GOD.
  8. There are several special purpose assessments like for team audit and development, emotional intelligence, creativity, strategic judgements, agility, 3600 feedback, etc., besides cognitive tests, which we have not discussed here.

Conclusion
More than 80% of Fortune 500 organizations use it to enhance their decision-making in hiring, training, coaching. Succession planning, etc. In India also, this is fast becoming the norm and its use is only expected to increase. One should however be able to get the most from them. This can only happen with proper knowledge.

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