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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Graduate recruitment—Reassessing psychometric testing

It’s not unusual for graduates to apply for multiple roles and face an array of psychometric tests. Chris Wright argues that a collaborative shared assessment approach would simplify matters and save time and costs.

THE ROLE OF PSYCHOMETRIC assessment for graduate recruitment has increased significantly both in application and sophistication over the last 10 years. Most professional services firms have their own preferred forms of assessment, but it is timely to ask whether the fragmented approach is really working as well as it should. To ensure that psychometric testing is applied fairly and consistently across the professions, and works better for both graduates and employers, it’s time to consider a single standardised test.

The sophistication of psychometric assessment has increased to the extent that it is possible to measure virtually any employment-related behaviour. We have gone well beyond the standard numerical, verbal and logical testing to being able to assess such things as dependability, social ability, problem solving and resilience.

Even more impressive are the methodologies being used to make assessment more appealing to graduates, such as gamification (the application of typical elements of game playing to testing), which can help decrease the rate of candidates dropping out of the testing without completing it. Improved reporting platforms allow employers to compare graduate results to a “norm” or easily see how results compare with acceptable ranges.

This increased sophistication, however, means HR practitioners need to possess more advanced skills to interpret the results and calibrate the assessments. Hiring managers can also fall into the trap of simply looking at numbers and percentages when shortlisting candidates. This can lead to inconsistently applied results and failure to appreciate an employee’s overall merits. The vast array of tests, often poorly understood by candidates, can also generate a great deal of stress.

In reality, how different are the things most employers are testing for? In the law and accounting professions it is not unusual for students to apply for multiple roles, facing a barrage of questions and tests from each potential employer. One recent graduate of my acquaintance had to complete 10 assessments and it would not be unusual for many graduates to complete five or more different tests. All seek to measure many of the same things.

While there will be important criteria that different organisations will want to assess based on their own needs, there is a fundamental “core” of assessment results we all want to assess. A common approach would greatly simplify matters.

Several years ago, four accounting firms—BDO, Grant Thornton, Staples Rodway and WHK (now Crowe Horwath)—established a shared assessment platform that enabled a student applying for any of these firms to sit just one assessment. Confidentiality systems were put in place to ensure no firms knew if a student applied to any of the other firms.

It seemed a contradiction at the time that highly competitive firms would work together to simplify the student experience, but although one of the partners has since withdrawn from the scheme, the collaborative approach still works well today.

In the time-constrained world of graduate recruitment, this collaborative thinking offers a progressive way of approaching psychometric assessment. Even in different sectors, one standardised assessment could cover the core aspects such as numerical, verbal and logical reasoning, problem-solving skills, the ability to relate well to others, resilience, dependability and an ability to learn.

A standardised test can provide significant time and cost savings. It costs money to administer each test, whether one employs an external agency or an in-house recruitment specialist to administer the test and interpret the results. It makes more sense for candidates to receive one set of results that can be shared with all potential employers, with a common set of rules to interpret them.

The additional benefits of this approach are greater consistency and fairness for candidates, and HR managers would not have to learn a new set of skills each time they changed employer.

Universities could also play a significant role. A single, standardised test administered by universities around the time of graduation would help streamline the experience for candidates and employers.

Preparing candidates in advance would also create a more robust testing environment. For candidates, psychometric assessments appear to remain one of the least understood aspects of the recruitment process. Few ask questions about what is being measured, for what purpose and how the results relate to recruitment decision making. Greater transparency is needed.

University career centres are doing an excellent job of assisting students with CVs and interview preparation to improve their employability, and the same assistance should be provided with psychometric testing.

Removing the mystique around the process and helping candidates perform to their potential will not only make the job application process less stressful, it will also help employers understand candidates’ broader capabilities rather than merely their ability to perform certain exercises well against a clock.

Psychometric assessment is just one part of the picture used in determining offers to graduate roles, but it is becoming an increasingly important part. As graduate employers, we owe it to ourselves and to students to obtain the information we need in the most efficient and least stressful way and to be transparent about how this information is used. A more collaborative and standardised model would bring great benefits to employers and candidates alike.

CHRIS WRIGHT is people and culture manager at Staples Rodway.

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