Recruitment tool that plays fair and cool

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2006, 12:00am

The best hiring results come from combining a psychometric test with a structured interview

MANAGERS are often heard to complain that they cannot find the right person to hire or, worse, that they have already hired the wrong person.

To help refine the art of people hiring, companies are increasingly turning to psychometric tests to make the best employee choices.

Psychometric tests attempt to quantify an individual's psychological attributes. They fall under two headings: ability and personality. Ability tests use right and wrong answers to measure specific competencies, while personality assesses what a person may be like in a general work setting.

The growing demand for such tests has resulted in a wide range of related products in the market. The fact that many of these are easily available on the internet increases the competition for professional companies.

Psychometric tests should be reliable and valid.

'This means the test must provide a consistent measurement and be constructed according to psychometric principles,' said Graham Tyler, executive director of test distributor PsyAsia International, a company dedicated to organisational and human resource development, training and consultancy based on underlying psychological principles.

Ensuring a test is legitimate and reliable is only half the battle. Recruiters in Hong Kong must also ensure the tests have been localised, and localised the proper way.

Localisation of a test does not mean merely translating it into the local language. According to Dr Tyler, it means translating both concept and content in a test, a process that could take up to six months. It is a lot of work. It includes translation, back translation, comparison of both versions, fine-tuning, administering it to a test group, collecting performance appraisal data and standardising it before being launched.

In localising a test, you have to bear in mind the cultural nuances in the way you put a question; a question phrased one way may say one thing to a western audience and something quite different to an Asian one.

Dr Tyler illustrated the problem with a hypothetical case that contrasted different cultural responses. If someone taking the test was asked whether it was okay to cry at the movies, a westerner might say it was acceptable to shed tears in public, while an Asian might take the opposite view, because Asians were known to prefer to keep their emotions private. A question like this would have to be fine-tuned or adapted in the localisation process.

Companies also consider the costs involved in using psychometric tests.

'These tests are used more for specific job roles, where the individual will have a critical impact on the business,' said Simon Lau, senior consultant at Personal Decisions International (PDI) Hong Kong, a global HR consulting firm.

Henry Chamberlain, assessment director at SHL, which designs and develops assessment tools based on the science of psychometrics, believes that psychometric tests are a fair and efficient way to select candidates, rather than by using the unstructured assessment approach.

With a psychometric test you avoid the 'subjectivity' that can easily, and often inevitably, creep into an interview.

Very often, you have an interviewer who has made up his or her mind about a candidate almost as soon as they walk into the room.

Then there is the time factor. Dr Tyler said a psychometric test processed information much faster than a human agent could.

These tests can also be cost effective. Mr Chamberlain said: 'A lot of people think interviews are cheaper, but if you think about all the time it takes for senior management to conduct them, then it isn't cheap at all.'

Those in the industry say the best hiring results come from combining a psychometric test with a structured interview.

Most multinational companies use psychometric tests. Virginia Choi, managing consultant and country manager of Tamty McGill Consultants International, noted that psychometric tests tended to be especially popular during an economic recovery.

The more competitive the industry, the more likely there would be such tests.

Industries most likely to use psychometric tests as an assessment tool included banking and finance, hospitality, airline, transport and general manufacturing.

Mr Lau of PDI Hong Kong said there was often early resistance to using the tests from those who insisted on 'knowing best through an interview' and 'knowing when they see the right person'.

But the proliferation of e-recruitment is persuading doubters that these tests are worth trying, and that they possibly do improve the recruitment process.

'The search for talent is becoming more and more competitive, and companies are having to cast their net much wider to recruit people around the globe,' Mr Lau said.

'Online aptitude and personality tests can help companies cut down on time by winnowing candidates so as to find the appropriate people early on in the process.'

Dr Tyler said the best way to identify good test distributors was by sending HR staff to attend a British Psychological Society certified occupational testing course, or equivalent.

Such courses taught all there was to know about psychometric tests, he said.

Localised tool

Psychometric tests are becoming a popular recruitment tool

Such tests save time and money

They should be used in conjunction with other assessment methods

The tests should be localised for use in Hong Kong