Why Assessment Test Shouldn't Scare You

Why 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.

Different Types
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:
· self-awareness,
· self-management,
· social or context awareness (also called political savvy and street smarts) and
· 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

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 defensive about.
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 stress.

Taken from from Wall Street Journal

Uploaded By : erwin
Last Update : 17/07/2004

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