Why Assessment Test Shouldn't Scare You
Assessment Tests Shouldn't Scare You
By Douglas B. Richardson
You've survived meetings with headhunters or recruiters and the screening interview
for the job of your dreams. Now the employer wants you to take a vocational
assessment. No matter how confident you feel, this request is bound to cause
qualms: What are they looking for, anyway? Will I inadvertently reveal hidden
ax-murderer tendencies? Should I try to fudge my answers a little to come across
as more extroverted and people-oriented?
You may be asked to complete a paper-and-pencil assessment instrument or battery
of instruments (assessment people hate the word "test") or undergo
interrogations, quizzes and interviews with a psychologist. Given the high stakes
in executive hiring and the pressure for recruits to get up to speed quickly,
supplementing face-to-face interviews and reference checking with comprehensive
assessments is becoming more common.
Indeed, the assessment-instruments market is booming. Time-honored inventories
have been repackaged and spiffed up for the millennium, and others have been
issued that claim to offer "new and unique" approaches to categorizing
and measuring critical success factors. All these inventories, indicators, profiles
and scales can be organized into two principal categories:
· psychological or clinical measures and
· "noncognitive" instruments.
It's useful to know the difference between them. The psychological or clinical
measures, or "psychometric," instruments directly measure mental capacity,
mental health or mental functioning and must be administered by licensed psychologists.
They include intelligence tests like the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-R),
mental health/pathology screens like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
(MMPI-2) and interactive assessments like the famed Rorschach ink-blot evaluation.
Such tools purport to measure mental capacity and supposedly can predict performance
ability with some measure of statistical validity. Accordingly, employment lawyers
who must be concerned with issues like validity and "bona fide occupational
qualifications" in employment lawsuits hold them to a higher standard.
While there's no harm in having a licensed psychologist measure raw intellectual
horsepower, career achievements often are better indicators of your ability
to get the horsepower to the road. In other words, if your resume is packed
with accomplishments, it may seem redundant for employers to request an exhaustive
psychological profile as well.
Noncognitive instruments don't directly measure ability or raw smarts. Instead,
they profile such performance-related factors as motivation, vocational interests,
behavioral styles and preferences, leadership style, personal values, modes
of interpersonal interaction, self-awareness and context awareness. Most currently
fashionable "emotional intelligence" or "EQ" inventories
are in this category because they describe interpersonal skills. Hence, many
say the EQ evaluations aren't psychometric.
Since a psychologist isn't needed to administer a noncognitive instrument, you'll
more likely be asked to complete one or more of these screens than sit through
a comprehensive psychological evaluation. (However, don't be surprised if a
prospective employer wheels in the shrink to get the fullest possible perspective
on what makes you tick -- or tank). A number of respected instruments can profile
your operative style and vocational interests accurately and objectively. The
plus side of such profiles as the Birkman Assessment, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
(MBTI), DISC, Firo-B, 16PF, Life Styles Inventory (LSI), Schein Career Anchor,
Strong Interest Inventory or Herrmann Brain-Dominance Survey is that they're
value-neutral -- they simply mirror whatever information is projected onto them
without subjective bias. They reflect not only the traits expressed in your
leadership, interpersonal and operative style, but also how strongly those traits
push for expression (i.e., there's a difference between someone who works well
independently and an out-and-out loner).
Seeking Valid Insights
"So what are they really looking for?" you may ask. Sophisticated
employers know what they want to assess. They don't throw tests at you hoping
that something interesting emerges. Basically, they're trying to get valid information
about three factors:
· temperament and personal style,
· motivation (what kinds of settings, activity and satisfactions are
most rewarding to you) and
· specific cultural "fit" factors or "rule-out" issues
("Although your credentials are indeed impressive, we've concluded you
wouldn't be a good ‘fit' here").
Assessment instruments can be invaluable in profiling soft factors -- traits
and characteristics that can be hard to probe directly with interview questions
("Are you a bottom-line-oriented shirtsleeves go-getter?" "Yes."
"Thank you."). These are the fit factors that can mean the difference
between someone who mobilizes the troops and takes the company to the next level
and a disappointing underachiever who jumps ship after six months.
Daniel Goleman, creator of one of the Emotional Intelligence models now vying
for ascendancy, has convincing research suggesting that, after cognitive intelligence,
the most important determinant of success in private-sector leadership (regardless
of setting) is a set of interpersonal competencies. The tests are designed to
detect the presence of these competencies, which include:
· social or context awareness (also called political savvy and street
· interpersonal skills.
Companies may administer your assessment battery in various ways. You might
use a famed No. 2 pencil to complete some tools or self-administer and self-score
yourself on the Internet. Some instruments might be administered face-to-face
(usually the psychologist-administered psychometric measures). Qualified administrators
may include internal HR professionals, external vocational assessment experts
and firms or career, organizational development or management consultants. Executive
search firms don't do much instrumented assessment (they claim their fees include
their sophisticated personal judgment), but these firms are increasingly moving
in this direction. Futurestep, an online division of Korn/Ferry International,
a New York-based search firm, uses a self-assessment tool designed to profile
potential candidates on its Web site (Futurestep is an alliance partner of CareerJournal.com).
The Advantage to You
When asked to undergo assessment, don't panic. Employers aren't using assessments
to rule you out. Done prudently, good assessment instruments can flag issues
your selection process might gloss over. On numerous occasions, these instruments
have uncovered issues that warranted further discussion -- for instance, a fit
issue that might not otherwise be recognized -- and facilitated a meeting of
the minds. Candidates also have learned they were barking up the wrong cultural
trees by seeking jobs with particular companies, thus avoiding a costly, embarrassing
career mishap later on.
Comprehensive assessment is expensive, and a potential employer usually won't
use it unless your credentials, experience and attractive personal presentation
have made you a finalist. Instead of worrying, know that you're an appealing
candidate. Reread your own resume -- those achievements aren't accidents, are
they? Take a few cleansing breaths, calm down and go through the process.
Responsible employers and recruiters understand that these tools should never
be used as substitutes for the own judgment or as the sole basis for a hiring
decision. No instrument can provide a simple litmus test: "The test says
Ed got a 94 and we should hire him. Lou got an 89, so it's no way." We
can't promise that employers won't use, say, an MBTI, as a hiring crutch, but
it's lazy, ethically shaky and provides a powerful bait for an employment lawsuit
if they do so.
Why You Can't Fudge
It won't do you much good to manipulate your answers so you'll seem like Tarzan.
Even if the company buys the deception and hires you, who has to show up for
work? Tarzan. Who actually shows up? You. Lawyers have a rule of evidence: Falsus
in uno, falsus in omina. Translated from the Latin, it means, "If you'll
lie to me about one thing, I'm entitled to believe you'll lie to me about anything."
Most of the better instruments, even if they look elementary, are carefully
constructed and validated and have a "fudge-factor" scale that flags
responses which seem atypical or inconsistent. You're better off not outguessing
the instrument or trying to make your answers look consistent. Just complete
the thing and count on it to depict the traits and strengths you've conveyed
in other ways.
Many proponents of assessment, myself included, feel it's appropriate to provide
a summary and brief interpretation of the profile to candidates who request
them. This seems only fair and respectful, although some employers maintain
that giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates creates needless expense. They
also may fear being accused of relying improperly on an assessment profile to
deny employment. A selection process that's fair, respectful, candid and emotionally
intelligent largely eliminates such concerns. Employers who are dismissive or
impersonal with candidates during hiring talks deserve the ire they often trigger.
In the best cases, the assessor is included in the selection process from the
outset, helping to define and prioritize job functions and behaviors, learning
the subtleties of the employer's culture and operative norms and anticipating
issues that may arise with getting a new hire on board and up to speed quickly.
In such situations, the assessor is well-positioned to facilitate the interview
process and can be helpful to both parties. Employers skilled in using assessments
usually schedule these evaluations near the beginning of the selection process,
rather than tacking them on as an afterthought or using them to ratify already
formed opinions and judgments.
If you're lucky, your selection process will build on these best practices.
Even if it doesn't, keep your cool, maintain a stiff upper lip and convey every
confidence that the most exhaustive scrutiny of your being will reveal only
positives. If you get edgy and defensive, an employer may wonder what you're
Don't fear this unknown. Use it as an opportunity to gain objective insight
into your personal profile. If the employer chooses not to share the results
with you, let this be an exercise in showing how well you tolerant transient
Taken from www.careerjournal.com
from Wall Street Journal
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