In this second blog in the series on unleashing the power of psychometric assessments, I take a look at some of the reasons I have heard from some of my clients for not initially using psychometrics. They are often misguided and based on a limited understanding of the science behind psychometrics. Here are my top five:
“They are ‘merely self-report’ assessments”
This reason obviously apply to personality-based assessments, which is by-and-large a self-report. However, modern assessment technology has allowed us to safely remove the word “merely” from the above sentence. Over 100 years of research has proven personality assessments, when created correctly, to be accurate measures of traits and behaviours displayed in the workplace. The relationship between self-report personality measures and performance criteria are so robust that they are considered more accurate solutions than traditional “employment interviews”. When combined with other forms of assessments, like competency based interviews and cognitive ability tests, they create one of the most powerful solutions for identifying talent. In addition, unlike your many cognitive ability-related assessments (e.g. SATs), psychometrics are specifically designed to remove discriminatory biases towards any one group, making them more ethically/legally usable than many other ability tests. If using a self-report assessments as part of your selection process still worries you, then the question you should ask yourself is “what is the alternative?”, “what tools out there in the market can comprehensively measure the traits/behavioural competencies that I am looking for?”
“Results can be manipulated”
Again, this myth is mostly applicable to personality assessments, although some may include cheating (e.g. have another person complete the test) on ability tests as well. Before I dive in, I need to be clear, any assessment can be “manipulated” – especially our all favourite employment interview. Well-established personality assessments, have built in mechanisms to make it more difficult for respondents to systematically influence responses. Yes, respondents could try and guess the psychological profile of the job, and answer questions accordingly. However, it is nearly impossible to successfully fake multiple personality dimensions. Rest assured, if you can fake that well, you will also be able to fake an assessment centre and an interview. A ground breaking study by assessment guru Robert Hogan including more than 5000 applicants found that only 5% of applicants significantly changed their scores, even when they had a clear incentive to do so. Of those 5%, half improved their results, while the other half did worse. The findings emphasised the fact that people’s ability to fake on psychological assessments is normally distributed (i.e. some people can do it well while others will suck at it). Although psychometrics provide robust predictions on future behaviour, we recommend that no assessment should ever be used in isolation. For instance, it is always best to include a behaviour based or competency based interview along with your psychometrics to enhance their robustness. However, that does not mean that psychometrics and personality assessments do not work or that they are unreliable.
“Psychometrics are too harsh”
I have heard some of my clients complain about certain psychometric assessments. For instance, one would say, “I do not like assessment X because it was very critical and not positive enough”. Such reasons often provide justification to steer away from psychometrics. True, many of the hard core occupational assessments are lean on the sugar coating. These are, however, often the most accurate and most robust psychometrics available in the market. These assessments often require the intervention of a certified user who can make sense of the results and help participants gain better insights on their psychological profile through balanced feedback. If a pure positive impact is what you are looking for, there are a range of “feel-good” products that can support coaching and development efforts. However, if accuracy and deep insight is required, I personally would go with the “hard-core” ones. In my 25 years of experience in coaching and executive assessment, I use these “hard-core” psychometrics, despite the harsh messages, as they almost always instigate powerful insights that “nicer” assessments shy away from. Remember, the purpose of assessments is not to beat your candidate up with harsh realities, but also not to sugar coat results that may help them to grow and develop. This emphasises the need for user training that goes beyond the initial two days of certification most assessment tools offer.
“The report is not accurate”
This is a tough one. This comment mostly come from people who look at their own reports, which also relates to the previous point about harsh results. Apart from a few human punch bags, most people do not like negative feedback. Since assessments often provide a mix of positives and negatives, getting a few painful insights are an occupational risk. However, when I asked people for evidence of why the assessment is wrong, their beliefs are rarely supported by factual or objective evidence. This is where a behaviour based validation interview comes in. Some people might say “you cannot say that personality will always be like this, I’m adaptable and it depends on the situation”. There is enough evidence in research to show that we are creatures of habit, and over time we stick to certain patterns of behaviour – our personality. Of course, there are circumstances where our personality will change, but few people can consistently change multiple personality dimensions for extended periods of time. We do not say that you can never change, we just know that a naturally structured person will be much more likely to act that way at work than one who is not.
“Psychometrics are too expensive”
Psychometric assessments do come at a price, but we need to evaluate this question against the available alternatives. Are they expensive compared to unstructured employment interviews that are known to have a very low reliability in finding great talent? I know…I know…most managers think that they have “superior interviewing and observational skills” and the ability to pick a winner every time. However, this is simply not the case. Research shows otherwise. In addition, think about the cost of the senior executive having to do 2,3,5 or more interviews for that one vacant position. What is the opportunity cost – 5 hours of executive time spent on what they are supposed to do? What about psychometrics compared to Assessment centres? Comparative studies show extremely high correlations between the predictive powers of psychometrics and assessment centres. That means that a HK$2,500* set of psychometric assessments is extremely similar to a HK$ 20,000-HK$50,000 assessment centre when it comes to predicting future behaviour. So, psychometrics are not expensive, they are only expensive if you don’t use them properly. If you merely want to select those candidates with the highest potential to succeed…psychometrics is your ticket to success. Another thing to think about, are psychometrics expensive compared to bad hires? The cost of bad hires are well known and needs no further explanations. In addition, considering the cost spent on recruitment on-boarding and time to performance, HK$ 2,500-HK$ 5,000* for a thorough psychometric assessment with proven power is great value for money. Even HK$50,000- HK$80,000 for a real deep dive by an expert into your next CEO’s profile becomes a good investment if can help secure the best possible leader to take your organisation to the next level. *Assuming you’re a trained user buying directly from a supplier.
This blog is not to claim that use of psychometrics are always justified. However, the above-mentioned reasons often reflect a lack of understanding or personal bias on the side of the person holding those beliefs. None of these reasons are valid reasons for not using assessments. If you had a bad experience using assessments, and if you do not like what you heard about yourself, so be it. However, you cannot deny 100 years of research that shows that (well designed) psychometrics are accurate for most of the people most of the time.
At HCC we strive to be the Tesla of assessment: making assessments easy, intuitive and extremely user friendly. What are your thoughts? What do you think about psychometrics?