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Choosing a Psych Test – Four things you must do

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If you ever want to polarise opinion in a sales manager’s meeting, just start talking about psychometric testing. You’ll find that few hiring managers are indifferent to the subject, with some extolling the benefits of identifying high flyers who exceeded all targets, whilst others vehemently deliver the bitter experience of using psycho-babble junk science that selected turkeys they still can’t fire.

Regardless of any sales manager’s individual experience, most would have come to use psychometric testing or personality assessments after realising the benefits of reducing the risks of poor recruitment decisions and identifying talent in their existing team. But when the subject has such a polarizing effect based on very different experiences, where do you start choosing a process for your business?

There are four criteria that anyone with hiring and staff management responsibilities should consider before going down using psychometric assessments for their sales team. The pitfalls of getting these criteria wrong have cost businesses dearly, so here’s an opportunity to learn from their collective mistakes.

1. Is this psychometric test any good?

Google ‘psychometric tests’ and you will face a mountain of different tests and assessments, each claiming to be the latest and greatest and backed up with assertions of their effectiveness. Many are either free or very cheap internet-based assessments, which we would urge you to treat with the same caution as most ‘too good to be true’ internet offers. Just as you wouldn’t trust your health with cut-price online pharmaceutical products or give your bank account details to receive a billion dollars from an allegedly ousted royal family in a country you’ve never heard of, would you trust internet test freebies to determine whether a sales candidate is going to put hundreds of thousands of dollars onto your bottom line, or to use as a trusted guide of where to direct your career?

The acid tests for psychometric products are their reliability and validity. The best products on the market have as much as twenty years of empirical research behind them before they were launched. Independent research on whether a psychometric test actually does what it claims to do can be sought from the New Zealand Council of Educational Research and the British Psychological Society. If you go directly to the seller, insist on seeing the reliability and validity of their products reports.

Ask what training and qualifications users must have to administer, interpret and feedback the products you are considering. Most personality assessments worth a second look require at least five days of training to use and can only be purchased and used by appropriately qualified people. Tests and assessments that require no or minimal training are best avoided.

2. Is the product relevant to sales roles?

If you are hiring into sales roles, then it follows that you need assessments that focus on the skills, behaviours, competencies and experiences closely associated with success in a sales environment.

Assessing only the criteria relevant to the job enables hiring managers to make selection decisions based purely on whether a candidate:

  1. Is going to exceed all expectations and should be fast-tracked into the job,
  2. Meets enough of the criteria to be hired, with a clear personal development plan to get them from good to great performers,
  3. Has enough question marks hanging over their potential to suggest it is most unlikely that they will add significant value to your business.

A strong sales-focused assessment should also measure your candidates against an appropriate norm-group of other salespeople. Any seasoned sales manager can tell you that not everybody is cut out for a career in sales, yet plenty of assessments measure candidates against a ‘general population’. Make sure the sales-focused assessment you choose measures your candidates against other New Zealand salespeople so you can assess their likely effectiveness with other salespeople.

A quick point on good practice is time here. Even the best psychometric tools need to be used in conjunction with other methods such as interviews and reference checks. Hence, the potential concerns identified by these assessments need to be explored at interview and/or in reference checks rather than rejecting a candidate based on psychometric assessment results alone.

3. Is the test relevant in New Zealand?

This is the yawning bear-trap waiting to swallow unsuspecting New Zealand businesses.

Psychometric tests are referenced against a norm-group to ensure anyone who takes one is measured relative to other similar people; for example, a sales manager completing a sales personality assessment is compared with other sales managers to see where s/he is likely to perform concerning his/her peer group, and what an employer is likely to need to do to get them from good to great performers.

Many psychometric tests and assessments marketed in New Zealand do not have New Zealand specific norm-groups. They measure your NZ candidates against American or British people working in American or British organisations with American or British values and beliefs. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is for two reasons:

Firstly, there are differences in the way people from different countries respond to tests and questionnaires. When we brought over a very successful UK developed sales aptitude test, we ran comparative validation studies on 200 New Zealand salespeople and found distinct differences between UK & NZ sales staff responses to the questionnaire, which we accounted for when using the test. Had we taken the easy route and not bothered, some good NZ sales job applicants may have lost job opportunities or had unfair personal development plans placed on them, and employers would have lost out on good sales candidates.

Secondly, New Zealand isn’t America or Britain. We have a unique blend of ethnic diversity, a distinct set of cultures and values and we need to ensure we measure New Zealanders against New Zealanders. Any employer who uses a non-New Zealand norm group as a tool to screen out staff could fall foul of fair selection tests by and rightly so.

So, the third question for a prospective supplier of tests and assessments is ‘Has this test been “kiwified”?’ Insist on the proof that it has. Some suppliers will insist that their American norm groups are fine and that there is no difference between them. Still, the fact is that they haven’t done the validation tests to find out and are therefore not in a position to quantify that statement.

4. How good are the suppliers?

This relates to both the professional abilities and service delivery of suppliers.

If you are going to make the most from the results of personality questionnaires, you need to be assured that the supplier has the depth of knowledge, skills and experience to support you in interpreting and implementing the findings of difficult feedback discussions from time to time.

Your supplier doesn’t have to be an Occupational Psychologist to do this. However, that helps!, but should be qualified to at least New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER) Level-C, plus have good depth of the job experience. Always ask for confirmation that professionally qualified and experienced people are available when you need them.

When it comes to service delivery, ensure a supplier will only enhance your selection process rather than slow it down. All online test providers produce near-instant reports, but is the professional support accessible when you need it?

When you get satisfactory answers to these four questions, you have covered the basic requirements to determine whether a proposed psychometric test or assessment will benefit your business or simply raise more barriers to success and risks to integrity.

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