Psychometric testing best for recruitment not restructuring

September 10th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Government agencies spent more than $1.5 million on personality and ability testing in the past year – and some departments may be using the results to swing the axe on employees.

Employment lawyers and psychologists say the increasing use of as part of restructures and redundancies in the public service could be illegal.

I think psychometric testing can be very useful when recruiting candidates, and have seen it used often very usefully.

However I am very skeptical that it is a good idea to use it for decision making on redundancies among existing staff. Employers should know enough about their current staff that they can make decisions around restructuring without psychometric testing.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said it was calling on the State Services Commissioner to halt the use of testing for restructures.

“When you’re restructuring, you are dealing with people who are your staff. They will have had performance reviews – there should be very little you find out about that person from a psychometric test you don’t already know.”

But a State Services Commission spokeswoman disagreed, saying: “Such testing, in order to obtain a full picture of a candidate, is a legitimate tool alongside others, such as interviews and reference checking, to come to a considered decision on employing the best people.”

I’m with the on this one. The SSC argument applies well for recruitment but restructuring is different.

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14 Responses to “Psychometric testing best for recruitment not restructuring”

  1. kowtow (8,512 comments) says:

    There’s always so much angst about firing public servants.

    The best way to avoid all these issues is to have a lean,mean public service in the first place.Why don’t governments realise that simple basic idea?

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  2. peterwn (3,274 comments) says:

    Depending on circumstances some staff members may be desperate for redundancy and management desperate to retain them. Could such a staff member be let go and denied redundancy for deliberately ‘flunking’ the test?

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  3. Nigel Kearney (1,016 comments) says:

    In a redundancy situation you may wish to evaluate the employee’s suitability for a different position than the one they have worked in. And you don’t have the trial period that you would have with a new employee.

    Then there is the usual problem of how you get from ‘it’s not particularly useful’ to ‘it should be illegal’. One assumes the employer actually wants to keep the best people, though of course the union has the opposite incentive.

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  4. Linda Reid (415 comments) says:

    Using outside testing is a way to avoid personal responsibility – “it’s someone else say that person should go – nothing to do with me”.

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  5. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    If you have little trust in your middle management making sensible decisions, nor them having given accurate performance reviews in the past, then testing of this nature may make a lot of sense during a restructuring. To be blunt, if someone brought me in to restructure a govt department, I’d have little to no confidence in the existing managers telling me who had the right skills to be retained and who didn’t.

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  6. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    Is psychometric testing an unscientific rort for consultants to extort more from businesses?

    The most popular version, the Myers-Brigg, seems to be administered to two million or so employees or would-be employess a year.

    It’s got a lot in common with horoscopes, says this critic (link below), and half those who retake it score differently the second time.

    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4221

    (The Lumosity test in the corner is just an Internet advt).

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  7. Harriet (4,972 comments) says:

    “……Government agencies spent more than $1.5 million on personality…..testing in the past year……”

    The result: Dead beat. Bland. Dry. Boring. Weak. Frigid. Lame. :cool:

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  8. Dazzaman (1,140 comments) says:

    Using these tests is just plain laziness & avoids responsibility by management.

    Don’t they know their staff? Don’t they have balls enough to sack the unproductive & useless?

    As Jack5 says, they do seem more akin to horoscopes….

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  9. Farmerpete (48 comments) says:

    I claim significant expertise in this area having been responsible for assessing literally thousands of executives in Australia and NZ, and also employing many psychologists. I can tell you this unequivocally. Tests in the hands of good psychologists are very valuable and form part only of an overall methodology. Tests in the hands of average psychologists and lay people are frequently useless.
    Assessment tools are quite valuable in restructuring (as Nigel points out above) in circumstances where the organisation has not had the opportunity of assessing the persons performance in the role they are considering him or her for. For example shifting a person from a technical role to more of a ‘client’ interface role.
    I have to say, DPF, both you and the PSA are quite wrong. There will be occasions when assessment tools provide very useful information for the individual and the organisation. I would add the caveat that any organisation that embarks on an assessment programme should undertake a feedback programme for the employee. This is where the psychologist has a 1-on-1 with the employe and goes through their results in detail and discusses the the roles they would appear to be most suitable for. I have been responsible thousands of these assessments, and for the employee this validates the process and gives them a very good foundation to assess what the individual should be looking for. Remember this is a two way street. The employee also needs to know whether any new role would suit them or be in their best interests. A programme such as this, if well run, can reenergise an organisation and take a lot of sting out of the process.
    Consider this as a career management tool for the individual and you will have an entirely different perspective.
    I hope this provides a different perspective.

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  10. Ashley Schaeffer (487 comments) says:

    I have completed the Myers Briggs testing twice for two different companies, just purely as team building activities and it has some use in these situations. I distinctly remember the Myers Briggs trainer telling us that to use Myers Briggs testing to determine suitability for a role was an abuse of the system.

    I would simply refuse to take them in a hiring situation. If refusing means that I automatically fail a job interview then so be it, I don’t really want to work for a company that makes their hiring decisions in this way. I have been involved in several restructures but have never seen them used in those circumstances. Again, faced with this prospect I would refuse and go find another job if I have to.

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  11. davidp (3,581 comments) says:

    Jack5>The most popular version, the Myers-Brigg, seems to be administered to two million or so employees or would-be employess a year.

    Great link. I’ve had a recruiter spring one of these on me in the past. It seemed like pseudo-science. It was also very easy to game. I thought it was pretty pointless, but I suppose it allowed the recruiter to claim it was doing something for its placement fee.

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  12. Mark (1,488 comments) says:

    All for compulsory psychometric testing for aspiring (and incumbent) MP’s :)

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  13. Elaycee (4,393 comments) says:

    Brenda Pilott:

    “When you’re restructuring, you are dealing with people who are your staff. They will have had performance reviews – there should be very little you find out about that person from a psychometric test you don’t already know.”

    OMG! I actually agree with her.

    Someone please pass me a glass of water!

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  14. Farmerpete (48 comments) says:

    I would agree with those above who say the Myers Briggs isn’t especially useful in a hiring decision (at least I haven’t found it to be). One has to remember that there are four outcomes to a decision on a person in a hiring situation. 1. The person looks to be right for the job and they are (true positive). 2. The person looks to be right for the job and they aren’t (false positive). 3. The person looks to be wrong for the job and they are (true negative). 4. The person looks to be wrong for the job and they aren’t (false negative).
    What a hirer is trying to do is maximise the allocation of individuals to 1 and 3 above.
    Psychologists are not particularly good at explaining what they are doing and the association is quite lax in not promoting a specific methodology.
    The approach I have always taken as a consultant is to encourage clients to interview the shortlist before undertaking assessment. In that way you can formulate all the questions you want answered about a particular candidate. That is the brief given to the psychologist, who then undertakes the assessment knowing mostly what he or she is looking to confirm or disconfirm. The assessment will then generate numerous areas to explore with the candidates referees. I always had a different person from the psychologist complete the referees checks. After all what we are trying to do is form the most accurate picture of the candidate possible.
    It is always possible to get false positives and false negatives from test results as well. By embedding the assessments in an overall process that has multiple streams of information you get a better quality decision.
    Instead of refusing to take a test try this approach. Ask about the qualifications and experience of the psychologist. Ask about the tests being used (you can check with NZCER to see if these are credible tests). Ask for feedback from the psychologist (if they won’t allow this don’t do it). And finally ask what steps will be taken to check the quality of the results. If the psychologist can agree to all these things you are probably in good hands.
    Cheers.

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