A stagnant economy puts even more pressure on organizations to make good hiring decisions. Hiring and training a new employee are expensive. And the poor performance and unhappiness that follow a mismatch between employee and position are harmful to the employee as well. A pre-employment psychological evaluation can streamline the hiring process and help organizations make more informed decisions.
“Many organizations have come to realize that interviewing – especially unstructured interviewing with no standardized format or scoring method – does not provide an accurate prediction of job performance,” says neuropsychologist Dr. Kenneth Freundlich of Morris Psychological Group. “It has been said that many managers make a decision about a candidate in the first two minutes of an interview and then spend the rest of the time convincing themselves that their initial judgment was correct. Third-party psychological testing supplements interviewing with objective data that assess a candidates’ cognitive ability and personality profile and help predict how a candidate will behave on the job when she isn’t trying to impress an interviewer.”
The primary purpose of a pre-employment psychological evaluation is to match a candidate’s strengths to the requirements of the job. That requires a thorough analysis to determine the characteristics associated with successful performance of a particular job. “Executives and especially entrepreneurs tend to gravitate toward people who think like they do.” says Dr. Freundlich, “They place the most value on the characteristics that made them successful and often hire in their own image. But as an organization matures, a wide range of styles and skills is needed to foster innovation.”
Pre-employment testing typically includes an assessment of cognitive ability as well as a personality profile. Cognitive tests vary depending on the requirements of a particular position but might measure problem-solving skills, critical thinking and the ability to learn, digest, and apply new information.
A personality profile is often based on a model that identifies basic dimensions of personality and assesses where an individual falls on a range of those characteristics. There are many such models with varying numbers of traits. One of the most commonly used models, known as the “five factor model,” comprises these basic personality categories:
- Extroversion: To what extent does an individual seek and thrive on the company of others? Includes traits such as sociability, talkativeness and assertiveness.
- Emotional stability: At one end of this range are people who tend to be prone to unpleasant emotions: anxiety, irritability, moodiness. At the other end are those who are calm, unflappable, even-tempered.
- Agreeableness: Includes attributes such as trust, compassion, kindness. Low scorers tend to be critical, suspicious and antagonistic.
- Conscientiousness: High scorers tend to be thoughtful, hard-working, goal-directed. Low scorers tend to be disorganized and negligent.
- Openness to experience: At one end of the range are those who are imaginative, curious and insightful; at the other end are those who are practical, down-to-earth and conventional.
Most selection processes do an adequate job of assessing a candidate’s technical skills and knowledge relative to job requirements. Reviewing education and work history and checking references provides a good picture of the ability to do the job. What is more difficult is an assessment of the candidate’s willingness to do the job: motivation, values, interpersonal style, and fit with the organization’s culture and working environment. It is these willingness performance factors that are critical to a successful placement and most difficult to evaluate by traditional selection procedures. A psychological profile can help ensure a good fit.
“A properly designed psychological evaluation is tailored to specific requirements,” says Dr. Freundlich. “Candidates for careers in law enforcement, for example, are screened for personality traits such as stress tolerance, impulse control, judgment under pressure and courage. Given the implications of a poor decision, almost all police departments use some form of psychological screening.”
In any organization, a psychological evaluation is only one component of a hiring decision. Dr. Freundlich concludes: “Pre-employment testing increases the confidence of both candidate and organization that a job offer will lead to a productive association for both.”