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Thursday 29 July 2010

Personality Questionnaires, Psychometric and Skills Testing – How they can (and cannot) add value to your sales recruitment process?

Sales recruitment isn't cheap yet and it’s been calculated that a ‘wrong hire’ costs between 1.75 and 2.5 times the cost of the employee’s annual salary. Poorly made selection decisions can result in lost opportunity, further recruitment costs, extended training and redeployment costs, reduced profile, loss of competitive advantage, damage to image reputation and corporate branding and most importantly the impact on your other team players. Often the ‘wrong hire’ is caused by failure in the recruitment process so it is imperative that you use all of the tools at your disposal to get it right first time.

Current State of Play

The number of people qualified to administer psychometric testing continues to grow as more people obtain certification of competence and qualifications such as the British Psychological Society Level ‘A’ and Level ‘B’.

The availability and accessibility of tests on the internet and through software has increased absurdly over the past few decades. People can now easily be tested anywhere in the world – however, there are a series of issues that must be considered:

a) Employers might only consider applicants that have achieved the highest test scores although those with greater modest abilities may be more appropriate for the job;

b) There is a risk of cheating using online testing whereby the candidate selects another to undertake the test, or indeed use iphones, blackberry’s or the Internet to aid their case (though the major test providers having researched this feel that it is as low as 5%);

c) Confidentiality around the test results must be paramount and must not be used for any other purpose and indeed should be held securely to conform to data protection legislation;

d) Psychometrics should be undertaken in the ‘mother tongue’ of the person taking the test.

Fundamental’ Part of Recruitment

Psychometric, numerical and verbal reasoning testing is an exceptionally useful aid for recruitment that is increasingly seen as an advantageous way of getting a good ‘corporate fit’ with new recruits.

Good testing should have standardized methods of administration and scoring so results can be quantified and compared with what others have achieved under the same conditions on the same tests (know as norm groups).

Personality Questionnaires: To Measure or not to Measure, that is the question?

In theory, psychometric questionnaires or personality questionnaires should be used as a pre-interview measure to help you as an employer to be able to highlight focal points that the candidate should be questioned on during the sales interview. They can even help to offer trigger questions to be used in a follow-up interview – for e.g. someone may appear to be a good networker but their attention to detail might appear to be lacking. This then gives you, as the interviewer an area on which to focus your interview questions upon.

In contrast (depending on the nature of the sales vacancy that you are looking to fill) a number of employers have greater preference upon going through the sales interview process initially and then using the psychometric questionnaire to confirm their own impressions, perceptions and to plan and prepare questions before the second interview.

The combination of competency based interview and objective assessment techniques (such as personality or psychometric questionnaires) is often the best way of predicting an individual’s suitability for a job. However, it should never be forgotten that traditional ‘tried and tested’ recruitment tools such as interviewing and probing the candidate, talking to references and intuition and ‘gut feeling’ are still as valid and important as psychometric methods. Some may further argue that testing before interviewing can result in biased judgement by the interviewer and it can be validly argued that taking a personality questionnaire at the end of the process where it influences a hiring decision is not recommended use. Personality questionnaires should be used as part of the recruitment process and not the recruitment process!

European Union Legislation

The influence of European Union Legislation within sales employment could possibly increase the implications and outcomes that are yet unclear. Currently, membership of the European community allows free movement of labour within the Union. If workers from other EU countries with a different mother tongue or educational standard are required to take tests this may be viewed as acting as a barrier to the free movement of labour within the EU.

Proof Of Achievements And Goals, Are These Of Greater Value?

Some individual’s ability to perform well under pressure during testing is significantly reduced where test scores do not hold true or match up to their full capabilities. Naturally we all have personal strengths and weaknesses and these cannot often be measured by testing procedures. However, a greater understanding of the candidate may be determined more competently through analysis and reflection of previous sales achievements and accomplishments made by the candidate.

Testing Means Nothing Without The Personal Touch

Yes, whilst psychometrics do have a valuable role to play they are most effective when used in conjunction with a competency and biographical interview alongside other exercises to give you a greater insight into the characteristics of the candidate – case studies, team exercises, in-box exercises, etc.

Dangers to be Aware of!

Although there are a great amount of potential benefits involved in testing there are eight areas of concern that have been identified:

1) The Design - Online tests must be tested to ensure that it formats to the same design on the majority of system set-ups and common browsers. Often this means using low resolution colours and small screen sizes. The major test providers will have done this for you.

2) Appropriate or not? - Appropriateness of the test content may be regarded as inappropriate, too difficult, or irrelevant. For instance the testing of an individual’s knowledge of JavaScript would probably be irrelevant for a person seeking employment in telesales for an insurance company.

3) Discrimination - The test may be unfair to some candidates due to their sex, disability, race and age. Direct discrimination is always obvious and always illegal however indirect discrimination is not always as clear to see. For instance testing in Imperial Measures could indirectly discriminate against younger candidates and testing in English homonym usage could discriminate against an individual whose ‘mother tongue’ is not English.

4) Compare It To The Rest- Tests may be scored incorrectly or become invalid if compared against the wrong ‘norm group’ for example comparing the results for a graduate entry role on a ‘management norm group’ rather than a ‘graduate norm group’

5) Validation is Everything – A good test provider should be able to prove how the tests offered were designed and validated. A good personality questionnaire should be validated against at least 1,000 plus individuals from the whole range of the working population. This means that they’re not cheap but don’t be tempted by cheap ‘cosmo polls’ that will do little to increase your hiring accuracy.

6) Don’t Stop Listening to Your Gut Feeling – Adding psychometrics to your recruitment process will make you a more effective recruiter of solid sales staff. However psychometrics should form part of the decision making process and not the decision process. You were given your gut instinct for a reason and how many times has it served you well!?? Even if a candidate does brilliantly in all of your testing if your ‘gut’ says ‘no’ then it’s probably right! Adopting science into your sales recruitment process is right but don’t be too blinded by the science!

To conclude: Psychometric testing is now a fundamental part of recruitment and used by over half of employers in the UK. No longer a pseudo-science highly validated psychometrics will provide a valuable insight into the potential of new employees and can lessen your hiring risk. It may add a few hundred pounds to your recruitment process but could save you tens of thousands of pounds together with a negative impact on your brand, ill feeling within your team and just general angst! In the long run, why take the risk of not adopting personality questionnaires, psychometric and skills testing into your sales recruitment process?

For further information and how Aaron Wallis could help you recruit effective Sales employees please visit http://www.aaronwallis.co.uk/employer_client.php

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