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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Right for the job?

Finding the right person for the right job can be a game of chance. Adding psychometric assessments to the selection process will improve the odds, says Sarah Ussher.

Selection of the right person for the right role is a game of probability. As HR practitioners, we collect lots of information in the selection process, like cover letters, applications and resumés; and conduct interviews and do reference checks. The data does not, in its entirety, gauge an applicant’s fit with the role, team, and organisation, or provide much insight into how a person naturally behaves.

Many organisations improve the odds of finding the right person to fit the role by adding psychometric assessments to the selection process to uncover more about an individual’s characteristics and attributes.

Psychometric assessments help identify likely areas of strength or need for development and act as a prompt for further areas of investigation.

A psychometric assessment is a tool to measure psychological attributes (abilities, preferences, values, and motivations) not easily measured through other means. The aim is to find individuals whose preferences and needs correspond with what the job entails; known as person-job fit. Studies show employees with a high degree of person-job fit tend to report more job satisfaction and organisational commitment.

Personality assessments are commonly used to gauge aptitudes, preferences, and alignment with the role. Personality is defined as the unique constellation of a person’s traits, states, and behaviours, categorised into five factors (Big Five Factors) where each is a continuum:

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    Introversion and extraversion: assertiveness, sociability, gregariousness and high energy or low energy temperament. The extent to which a person is energised by being around others or being alone.
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    Independence and agreeableness: Preference for maintaining social harmony, comfort with confrontation, does the person think before speaking, are they direct and to the point with others.
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    Conscientiousness—Low to high: Tendency to focus on details or the bigger picture, comfort and flexibility with changing priorities, conformity or freedom from social expectations, perseverance.
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    Emotional stability—Low to high: Confidence, resilience, openness to expressing what is felt to others. Also measures likelihood to learn from past mistakes, receptivity to feedback, how the individual copes with demands and pressure.
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    Pragmatism and openness to experience: Comfort with and adaptability to change and ambiguity, openness to new ideas and routine, and a person’s innovative or pragmatic approach to problem-solving.

The “Big Five Factors” comprise many more detailed and specific factors assessing behaviour. For example, introversion/extraversion includes the need for affiliation, social confidence, energy temperament, and group-orientation.

Most test providers recommend examining these sub-factors as opposed to the broader Five Factors because they give a more detailed assessment. Attention to sub-factors gives a better assessment of how an applicant might fit the role at a more specific task level.

It is advisable to analyse the position to be filled before looking at applicant personality results.

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    What does the role require and what is good performance? Identify the critical attributes of the position and person. Identification of role requirements will guide you towards the type of person or personality traits that align with the role.
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    What is the context of the role? Analyse the context the role exists in, the nature of the job, team dynamics, working styles, and organisational culture. Job context differs across organisations and what is regarded as an essential attribute or trait in one context may not be in another. There is no such thing as a universal ideal personality.


Understanding team dynamics and other personalities that an individual might be working with is necessary. Contemplate how other personalities in the team might affect a person’s fit with the role.

Consider how the individual may complement the existing personalities in the team. For example; when problem-solving, a team of innovative and big-picture thinkers may find their ideas lack practical considerations and details of how their idea will work in practice. A complementary personality might be someone practical-minded and attentive to details.

For managers, it is vital to understand their staffs’ personalities to know their strengths, areas for development, and how best to support and manage their team.


Personality results show the individual’s degree of preference for behaviour, thinking, and coping with stress—indicating the likelihood that specific behaviour is exhibited across situations, although this is not guaranteed. The stronger the preference, the higher the likelihood, whereas no preference indicates the behaviour is situation dependent.

Behaviour varies across situations due to other variables such as experience, skill sets, and strategies, verifiable through interviews and reference checks.

Experience, skill sets, and strategies demonstrate a person’s awareness of their tendencies or areas for development and illustrate how they can alter their approach to better respond to situational demands. For example, a direct individual may not always tailor their message to suit their audience unless they are aware that being direct is not always appropriate.

The individual may utilise strategies to know when and how to soften their message, which can be verified through interviews and references. The main point is to get a coherent picture of a person and understand that there is more to an individual than just their personality results.


Personnel selection is high-stakes for both parties. It is sensible to presume every applicant wants to present themselves in the best possible light. “Impression management” is the term used, and studies have shown it to occur with cover letters, resumés and in interviews.

Personality assessments are not immune to impression management. A good personality measure will have an impression management indicator—signalling that a response may be socially desirable or otherwise potentially misleading. Possible causes of impression management affecting personality results are:

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    Test-taker nerves;
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    Genuine altruism;
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    Reluctance to reveal too much;
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    Unconscious bias;
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    Lack of self-awareness;
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    Indecisiveness; and
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    Deliberate attempt to “look good”.

An indication of impression management suggests that the accuracy of the results is questionable, but they are not necessarily unusable.

You can determine the results are genuine by further interviewing, checking references, or directly asking the applicant if they think the results are an accurate depiction. If other sources indicate an accurate depiction, then the results are sound. If not, you have learned more about the individual than you would have otherwise.



All tools are not the same. Select an assessment that collects information that is relevant to the job requirements. To understand which assessment is appropriate for your testing needs, you may require advice from a professional trained in psychometric assessments.


A valid assessment is one that measures what it is supposed to measure. “Correlation” refers to how well it compares to similar measures.

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    Construct validity: Does it measure what it says it measures? Compared to other similar measures, a correlation of 0.2 is small, 0.3 moderate, 0.5 large.
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    Criterion validity: Do the results correlate (0.3 or higher) with the desired outcome, eg, job performance?
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    Face validity: Does it look and feel relevant? Will the candidate take the assessment seriously?


A reliable assessment is reproducible. If you retest an individual at a later time, do you get consistent results? Personality tests should have a minimum correlation of 0.7 with the previous results, and ability tests should be high, a correlation of about 0.9.

Validity and reliability correlations should be stated in the assessment’s technical manual.

Pre-interview/reference check assessment.

Psychometric assessments are not a crystal ball for your selection decisions. Use personality results as a prompt for exploring an applicant’s areas of strength and need for development. You can use personality results before the interview or reference checks as a prompt to investigate more about an applicant and confirm whether you are getting a consistent picture before making a selection decision.

Up-to-date assessment results.

Personality assessment results have a shelf life of about 18 months, and ability results are 12 months. Preferences can change over time, and a lot can happen over 12-18 months, eg, new job, having a child, change in life circumstances, moving countries. It is good practice to use current assessment results for selection and decision making.


The psychometric assessment tools are detailed and complex. A trained professional interpreter will ensure that you draw correct information from the reports, do not go beyond the data, and that you draw the right conclusions.

One part of a comprehensive assessment.

Most people would not buy a car based only on the criteria of whether it has four wheels. Justifying a decision based on one piece of information is hard.

The same argument goes for using personality results in selection. Using other information, such as experience, knowledge, skills, and strategies, alongside personality results will better inform and help justify your decisions.

Using a robust psychometric assessment, in line with best practices, adds extra value to your selection process and increases your chances of making a sound selection decision. Make the odds work in your favour!

SARAH USSHER is a senior consultant and registered psychologist at OPRA Psychology Group.

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