Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

Recruitment process is by nature such that it awakens expectations and hope in the candidates. Every step in the process of being applied, being interviewed and finally having a personnel assessment makes the candidate hoping of being recruited to the position of her dreams. It takes time for the candidate and for the HR-person or manager involved to run through this laborious process – and sometimes the not-so-fitting candidate is chosen.

Only one candidate experiences a positive outcome – she gets a new job. The rest of the candidates will be probably frustrated even if the recruitment process was excellently organized. They might already have imagined themselves in the new position – how they could get some new inspiration and motivation to their career, how they could proudly tell their neighbors and relatives about their new job, etc. This is the name of the game and we all know it, but still on an emotional level this disappointment can harm the image of the recruiting company. We cannot disguise our emotions, even though rationale tells us that this is just life.

So, what to do to lessen disappointment or even prevent it? Recruit all? Of course not, but give everyone something and make this tedious process more pleasant for both the company and the candidate. And remembering that pleasant can also mean more accurate.

Usually the process on the candidates part begins by sending an application and then waiting. And waiting. And waiting more, as the recruiting manager and HR are nearly overwhelmed by the incoming applications. So, why not let all the candidates do something while they wait. Something that would benefit them immediately and give them transparency (read also realism) about the process. The benefit would be immediate feedback about their competencies and how they are doing in the recruitment process: Is their fit good the company and position? Also general feedback about their competencies could be given.

Furthermore, though there are good IT-systems to help screening the applications and CVs, it is still has been nearly impossible to set criteria for prescreening that would really tell us about the potential of the candidates. It is a fair possibility that some of the most potential candidates are left out because they for example have not enough of work experience in a specific area.

Why not use assessment tools for all candidates that are interested and give them feedback. Feedback along with a possibility to learn are usually very rewarding on a personal level. Both feedback and transparency in the recruitment process would in the long run build good corporate image. Furthermore giving the candidates a possibility to show her talent already in the beginning of the process would give a fair chance to every applicant and prevent companies from errors due to irrelevant cutting criteria in the application phase. Besides this the whole process would be speeded to match the clock speed of modern business.

Give everyone a chance to show their talent, give everyone feedback, and ensure that your best candidate is in the process all the way through.

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Photo credit: kevindooley, Flickr

As statistical tools for assessing probability and making predictions of the future keep getting more and more common, it may follow that we fall in love with the simple linearity that they typically represent. Especially human characteristics and behavior that are to begin with fundamentally difficult to verbalize, theorize and in the end quantify, are however most typically measured and predicted through linear models. Although this makes aspects of the human existence more accessible in reasonably reliable and valid ways, it is a mistake to assume that the whole can be captured in such a straightforward manner. As this type of information about human characteristics increases and becomes more accessible, the importance of relevantly using and assessing it becomes highlighted.

Information about customers can also be gathered, combined and modeled to a great extent to build detailed and intricate pictures of their needs. However, a product or service designed only based on statistical predictions and segmentation may not capture immeasurable variables strongly influencing behavior such as context, feeling or intuition. Intuition contains vital information for human decision-making but as it is primarily nonverbal, its importance is difficult to assess. In fact, it is difficult to even discuss, which may be the reason it is often deemed worthless. Intuition or emotion are rarely singled out as important factors for example in corporate decision-making. When money is in question, we feel the need to make exact predictions. Statistics provide ways to make assuring-looking predictions and feel security through containing wild human characteristics into neat linear depictions of behavior.

So what to do when there is clear need to create more understanding and more somehow tangible information about human behavior, be it in recruitment, sales or marketing? Test results and averaged statistical data will only make a normalized prediction that at least in part typically misses the personal, unique point. Using test results singly or assuming customer needs only based on segmentation will inevitably lead to mistakes at least at some individual point. The answer is simple: ask people. A human mind is paramount when it comes to combining information and making decisions in context. Customers are the ones to ask when you want to know more about their needs, desires and factors influencing purchase. Interaction and communication makes statistical information come to life and really serve a purpose.

The true value in services like psychological assessment, that aim at creating understanding about human behavior, does not only lie in methods but in human reasoning that puts it all together and communicates interpretation to others. Statistical methods cannot yet fully obtain the complexity and nonlinearity of human decision-making or dynamics of personality. This is not to say that they are useless – well-built methodology provides a way to concretely process information about people, offers a common language for communicating about personal qualities and in the hands of an expert helps create a wholesome picture of a person. The mistake is to use methodology without expertise, or make decisions based on it without listening to feeling or intuition. These two types of information, verbal/quantifiable and nonverbal/intuitive complement each other in enlightened thought.

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One of the ethical rules that psychologists obey is the need to keep psychological test material  secure and confidential. For example American Psychological Association APA has very clear rules about confidentiality about test material and results. It is understandable that for example disclosure of right answers in some intelligence test might jeopardize its’ validity because the situation that should be new for everyone taking the test would be familiar. In the same way, ethical rules for psychologists demand that psychologists do not reveal any other test items or information about what they measure.  Disclosure has the potential to invalidate the accuracy of psychological tests and thus harm clients of psychologists who require accurate and valid assessment of their psychological attributes. Psychologists should therefore be mindful of these principles in handling psychological test material and releasing this material.

Keeping the individual’s test results confidential is a principle that every psychologist obeys and I don’t want to question this. However,  I would like to play with the thought that what would happen if there would be more publicity in the field of psychology and about tests in general – if more and more non-personal test material would be public, what kind of effects would it have? Would making different test more public help psychologists in their mission to help people develop their self-consciousness and help people realize their fullest potential? Would test development be ruined or be more effective?

Anyway, some copies of well-known tests seem to appear in the internet anyway – and a lot of self-help tests with more or less psychological knowledge behind them. And unfortunately, a lot of “helpful advice” also seems to exist on how to answer to different tests to appear smart, outgoing etc.

I sometimes wonder what would be better – to keep the test material as a professional secret as it is today or to systematically share some test information.  Is possessing some critical information about tests the strenght of psychologists today or would sharing some of this possessed information be a more powerful strength? I’m a huge fan of Linus Torvalds because of what he managed to do with open source software and I would very much hope some kind of similar development in the field of psychology when developing psychological tests.

Even if everything could not be shared, where could we begin? I’ve already seen some very promising applications that provide pre-screening of some mental problems – giving some preliminary answers to persons with problems that should they seek  professional help or are their problems in the range on normal difficulties that can be mastered alone or with the help of friends.

Finnish  employment offices also have some personality and motivation tests  that give guidance to young people about what kind of professions they should choose. It’s just a shame that the professions are nor the same any more but are in continuous change and so also the tests seem to get old faster than a group of professionals have the time and resources to develop them. I think that this nicely illustrates the need for some co-operation and increased openness.

Professional life today is changing more quickly than ever thus creating new challenges for people and their mental health. This is where psychologists should join their strengths together and also listen to the feedback of their clients. I’m afraid that just individual groups of psychologists cannot do this but we would really need broad activity within psychologists and the clients utilizing psychological information. I don’t have specific answers what should we psychologists do right now about this challenge – maybe more thorough feedback about test results to persons that have been taken different tests is the first step – but about beginning truly sharing issues, what would be the next step? With this question I hope to open further this discussion about what to share with whom and when. In general, I have a lot of faith in discussion and interaction between psychologists and their clients.

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Currently companies use psychological assessments in increasing numbers. Traditionally assessments have been considered to be good when they produce valid information about the candidate to the persons making the recruitment decision. This is the case also today, but increasingly companies have begun to pay attention to the candidate experience. Companies are competing with each other to get the best professionals available and candidate experience in the whole recruitment process seems to be a key factor in promoting good corporate image and thus creating an attractive company for talented employees. With well managed psychological assessment there is a lot of potential to create a positive candidate experience for both the candidates that will be selected to the position and also the candidates that are not selected.

How should an assessment be constructed to get the best possible candidate experience? Methods used in the assessment play a vital role and so does the general atmosphere during the assessment.  The most essential part is what happens after the assessment – has the candidate learned something valuable for the future? Maybe some insight about her behavior –  how to best use her assets and what kind of improvements would best help her to to move towards her valued goals?

The current paradigm about assessments is more about measurement than about development. It is even considered unfair or  not objective if some learning takes place during the assessment – that is considered to bias the assessment or future assessment. I think that measurement and development can be done simultaneously if we aim at developing work-related general competencies and not only the competency of “how to behave in an assessment to make the results seem good”. If we measure some general competencies that are needed in various positions and in measurement use excercises that also develop these competencies,  that is good both for the candidate experience and for the company recruiting: the candidate can strengthen competencies that are useful even though she would not be recruited as a result of the assessment.  She will probably associate this positive learning experience with the company and tell positive things about his experience (and the company). Is she is recruited, the company gets a candidate with increased competency.

Just think about the vast possibilities of promoting self-awareness and metacognition, communications skills and also some position-relevant competencies. Assessment has vast potential in both measuring and developing widely needed general competences needed in working life today: like understanding how to communicate with different people, how to network, sell own ideas to others, to organize own work in an efficient manner,  what to do when facing a completely new situation, how to operate in a complex organization where responsibilities are in continuous change, how to operate in a to understand the possibilities and limits of own resources when there is more than enough of work to be done.

In brief, my recipe for an assessment that develops relevant competencies and promotes positive candidate experience  is using a lot of work samples and work simulations  in assessment and giving the candidate the best possible tools for self-reflection and developing her ways of thinking and behaving in these situations. From the perspective of a consultant conducting assessment I have good experiences about simulations and work samples and the candidates assessed have also frequently given good feedback about this type of excercises. The best feedback usually is that the candidate has learned something about her behavior or has had some insight how to behave differently in some situations. For example,  a few days ago I participated to an assessment center that aimed at selecting  salespersons that should sell premium brand cars to very demanding customers. When given feedback one candidate thanked for the good experience because he had learned that even though he thought that he is able to do a very profound analysis of the customers needs he still tends to skip some parts in discussing the customer needs – now he had developed an insight what to discuss more with the client and at what stage to do that.  In addition to that, he had already earlier also developed a unique style in contacting the client by phone but was a bit unsure how it was received by the customer. He was very pleased about the positive feedback and was happy to discuss which for kind of situations his tactics would best suited.

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Photo credit: Nrbelex / Brett Weinstein

Computer-based information systems are an analogy of the dynamics of the mind and human information processing, just as the steam engine was in its time. However, the human mind is never as direct in its logic and decision-making as information systems seem to be. In fact, human decision-making is full of irrationality and prejudice and is often based on the use of simplification and heuristics. It is the only way that people can cope and balance between the mass of information that comes from the environment and the mass of internal information and activity.

Corners are cut in reasoning especially when complex mind structures attempt to make sense out of other complex mind structures. People tend to group and judge others based on single experiences and make decisions in relationships according to obscure feelings and irrational logic. Situations that are especially full of questionable logic and reasoning are ones where people are required to evaluate each other. Most are familiar with development discussions and job interviews. It has been shown that without specific advice on what to evaluate, the assessment that people make of each other and themselves are influenced by e.g. gender and acquaintanceship or even height. In competitive situations at work, our evolutionary base and survival instincts take control and bias our evaluations in favor of the opposite sex.

The only way to keep objective in situations where people evaluate others is to tie the assessment to some objective measure that directs thought and eliminates the influence of irrelevant factors. Another way to increase objectivity is to develop self awareness so that personal bias can be recognized and questioned or to use experts that have more awareness and objectivity.

One method of the mind that permits function with the amount of information available is creating categories, hierarchies and relationships. Within large groups of people such as companies and other organizations, people are bound to try and organize information about others through perceiving hierarchy. Some people in leading positions would rather not be perceived through power structures but as equal coworkers with only somewhat different responsibilities. However, due to the weight of past experiences and management practices originating from industrial times as well as the nature of human thought processes, equality is just an illusion in most typical organizations.

Perception of authority and leadership can also produce feelings of security. Leaders are expected to take final responsibility which diminishes pressure from others. It is also simpler to think of business occurrences as the result of only one man’s decisions instead of complicated interaction between all the employees involved, global economic customer needs and pure chance.

Perceiving work through task content and not outer structure such as work roles or positions in corporate hierarchy will in itself be a huge challenge for information processing. Luckily, the cognitive burden of this change will be divided among individuals.  Because leaders will no longer have to manage the metacognitive elements of work, they can freely concentrate more on the information content and the potential of people doing it. Also, as work is identified with task content and the people that work on tasks, the bias that people have of attributing the company’s success or failure to single people will diminish.

As business becomes more knowledge intensive, human centered and less computational, there are specific laws that come to effect. Specifically, obscure human reasoning and creative thinking, which cannot be reliably modeled or predicted, will have to be somehow managed and fostered to reach company goals. This requires that leadership incorporate an understanding of human reasoning and offer structure and specific tools to overcome prejudice and oversimplification that are innate to everyone. In addition, tools to assess and support personal development and potential can no longer be viewed as a service for only the few but as essential part of every employee’s work.

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