Psychological Testing for Job Selection: Part I


Psychological Testing for Job Selection: Part I

  • By Ian Bradley
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Recently, I was asked by a large company to screen applicants for a senior management position using traditional psychological assessment tools. The lucrative offer was tempting but I declined.

The assessment role was never a role I felt comfortable assuming. By nature I like to help people, not pick and choose. However in this case, the company wanted a definitive judgment “yea or nay ” about each applicant’s suitability. Besides my personal concerns, more psychologists are writing about the problems associated with the use of psychological assessment in predicting what candidates will make good employees.

As highlighted by the psychologists Kuncel and Highhouse in a recent issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, experts from a variety of sampled fields are generally poor predictors. In one review that examined over 27,000 expert predictions in fields as diverse as politics to economics, the so-called experts were little better in their predictions than dilettantes.

Why might this be the case, more specifically what are some inherent difficulties in the psychological assessment of job applicants?

Let’s consider the essence of the task that involves matching candidate attributes with the job requirements. The problem arises when the psychologist assessor does not know that much about the specific job, or more likely, the organization in which the job is embedded.

Even when a psychologist meets with representatives of the organization prior to candidate assessment, crucial job demands or organizational climate variables such as the importance of strategic thinking or company teamwork might not be elucidated.

However, even if crucial job and organizational requirements are clear, they often change after the candidate is hired. Long gone are the days when jobs remain static. Today, flexibility to meet unpredicted demands is the mantra, whatever those future demands might be.

There are also conceptual problems associated with psychological assessment of job applicants. Fundamentally, what values or standards does the assessing psychologist bring to the assessment table?

I have read some assessment reports where those values clearly derived from the consulting room with patients seeking help in therapy. These I/O reports focus upon how the applicants resolved or not their ambivalence feelings towards authority figures or how the applicants have accepted or not, their own needs for dependency.  These issues, even if accurately measured, might have little relevance for the world of work.  In reality, many of our most successful leaders displayed strong personal quirks.   A recent book, the author, psychiatrist Nassir Chaemi, argues that mental illness is the common thread in many successful leaders of the last 100 years including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, JFK. I am not sure that I endorse this extreme position, but in my career, I have seen many successful leaders and managers with less than ideal mental health.

This article continues in an upcoming post.