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Six Things to Consider Before Writing Off Behavioral Assessments

October 28, 2014

This post originally appeared on our Hiring in Healthcare blog

495150791.jpgI get it. It just doesn’t make sense to you that a series of questions about what you believe, or how much you agree with seemingly unrelated statements, could predict whether a candidate will be good at a particular job. There are plenty of (mostly uninformed) articles out there questioning the value of behavioral tests in employment situations. A recent Wall Street Journal article proposes that they are discriminatory. A Forbes article slams the use of the Meyers-Briggs.

1. Psychology is a science

It’s not unreasonable to question their role in selection. But this is where the science of psychology comes in. I might question how laying in a tube that makes a bunch of noise can tell my doctor whether I have a problem with my upper intestine – but then they explain the science of a CT scan to me, and what they are looking for, and their track record of diagnosing these problems with this methodology, and I’m willing to lay there for a while.

Behavioral assessments have been used for decades for various purposes by psychologists and psychiatrists to understand and predict behavior in myriad settings. The Military, criminal justice, top sports leagues - they all use behavioral assessments to learn more about performance and potential. Want to evaluate assessments? Look to the scientific literature – not Forbes or USA Today.

2. You need a decent sample size.

A well-designed, validated, employee assessment is a predictive tool. It’s not 100% accurate (neither is a CT scan), but given a sufficient sample size, its predictive value becomes apparent. “I took the test and the results weren’t accurate!”  Well, first, you are assuming that you KNOW your own behavioral make-up (you might THINK you have a high level of EQ – but ask your colleagues?). Secondly, no test can be evaluated on sample size of one (or 4 or 5 for that matter!) Has the test been administered to several thousand people? Have the results been shown to correlate with job performance? That’s a sound way to evaluate a tool’s effectiveness.

3. A behavioral assessment is ONE component of a sound selection system.

More importantly, you need to evaluate the tool in the context of a structures selection “system”. The application, phone screen, interview, resume review criteria – all of these need to be examined in conjunction WITH an assessment’s results. Each of these components, adds incremental predictability and value to your selection decision.

4. You need the right assessment.

The Forbes article slams the use of the well- known Meyers Briggs. The Meyers-Briggs is a fine tool –for the right purpose. It’s not meant for selection. There are a bunch of fine broad personality tests that are useful in the right context. Of course they are useless as selection tools. Similarly, there are all kinds of assessments. “Top of the funnel” screening tools are just that – screening tools – not useful for in-depth decisions or development. Developmental tools are not useful for selection. Then you have more in-depth, robust assessments, including longer “executive-style” assessments – incredibly valuable when selecting or developing senior leaders. And I can tell you that in Healthcare – we believe in industry-specific assessments. We are looking for something different in a nurse, than in a call center employee.

5. Please – Don’t play “junior psychologist” and try to evaluate individual test items.

We get this all of the time. You hand the test content to all of your recruiters to get their thoughts. The first response? “I see no connection between job performance and asking a candidate whether they get frustrated in traffic!” Recall the first point. Psychologists don’t try to draw any comprehensive conclusions from that single question. Rather, the research shows that the response to THAT question, in conjunction with responses on other seemingly (to us non-psychologists) unrelated questions, become big data that predict how someone will perform under stress, or perhaps whether they’ll be dependable or compassionate. Want to determine if a tool is useful? Review candidate reaction data (do candidates respond well to taking the test?), and studies showing whether the test adds predictive value to the selection system.

6. Finally – Look at who uses behavioral testing, and their results.

Think leading companies (estimated at over 60%) invest time and money into these tools if they don’t yield an ROI? Think the NFL and MLB would use them if they don’t bring value? These are bottom-line, performance-driven organizations looking for any edge and generally unwilling to waste their time or resources. Most big organizations now even have their own industrial-organizational psychologists to oversee their selection systems.

And if you want a pretty objective analysis – here’s an article by a law professor explaining that “yes, you should use tests with caution, but you should use them because the add real value.”

all employee assessment alike

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.