Getting inside job applicants' heads

Evaluating the competency and potential of job candidates is a tricky business so it's no wonder those making an employment decision turn to pseudo-scientific tools such as psychometrics.

Evaluating the competency and potential of job candidates is a tricky business so it's no wonder those making an employment decision turn to pseudo-scientific tools such as psychometrics.

But psychometric tests, which purport to assess the ability and personality of candidates through a barrage of web- or software-based questions, appear to be at best only partly accepted by IT managers.

Auckland Regional Council CIO Tony Darby says the council does not use such software but some of the recruitment agencies it uses do.

"I am not a fan of that [software]. I think they are possibly structured at a certain time," Darby says, suggesting they focus on current ability rather than potential.

"I hate labelling people before you have given them a chance to contribute."

In contrast, while ASB general manager of technology and operations Clayon Wakefield says his bank does not use the software, he believes it does offer "a good indicator of potential".

The Department of Internal Affairs is considering whether to use psychometric testing. Information and facilities manager Alison Fleming says such testing can be useful in evaluating job applicants as it could uncover issues more traditional methods may miss. However, she notes that such tests may be too costly for organisations.

Your columnist is no stranger to psychometric testing, having undergone a Kolbe test with recruiters Candle (see No, I'm not mad - I'm a fact finder). It accurately uncovered many of my personality traits, but not all. It also assessed me as being ideally suited to be a journalist, which would appear to rule out any immediate change of occupation.

The following month (see Personality tests: a trial of common sense), a colleague performed similar tests from the Auckland-based Selector Group, using its e-Profiler and Career Step products. Again, she was judged to be in the right job, though she has since moved on. She felt many, if not all, of her characteristics were assessed correctly.

The range of psychometric kits grows ever broader (note the Talent Engine psychometric testing kit Auckland-based Staff CV recently purchased from Carter Holt Harvey offshoot Mariner7), each recruiter swearing blind that their psychometric system is best, even as their limitations seem apparent to those who undertake them and sceptical IT managers.

Adding to the debate is former Victoria University PhD student Dr Geoff Plimmer. He devised a test which he believes is superior because it looks at the subject's future potential rather than current skills, a problem area highlighted by Darby.

Plimmer developed Wellington-based FutureSelves from his degree project. He claims it is already in use in a dozen or so schools and is about to be used for recruitment in a local software company.

Due to the way questions are structured, with answers falling into four "quadrants" -- dreams, opportunties, threats and dreads -- FutureSelves claims to also be more accurate than current systems. Citing the infamous John Davy case, FutureSelves business development manager Neil Gray says the questions are so broad it is also hard to lie or misrepresent yourself.

"It is easy to spot misrepresentation," Gray says.

FutureSelves managing director Plimmer says his software deals with issues around motivation, emotion and how people achieve goals. It will show what will make them tick in a job and what they want to do within it, letting them work to their best at an organisation. It can also look at what things people dislike, the threats and dreads, says Plimmer, meaning they can reduce the impact of the fears that are holding them back.

Plimmer says the software has helped school students see their future career direction.

He believes by looking at the motivators and drivers of staff his tool will help IT managers "lift the game" in terms of their HR processes in bringing staff into an organisation.

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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