Have you ever walked into an interview and just stopped and wondered: How does the interviewer know who to ultimately pick for the job? Well, I’ve done this and it shifted my interest from Counselling to Human Resources. An interview is a rather indirect metric. Yet, the HR professional is making a whole bunch of evaluations. They aren’t simply asking questions about your knowledge of the job tasks but also how you think, what motivates you, and are actively trying to predict the performance you will have. But can they truly sort out who is just saying the right things versus who will actually perform?

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Tests, tests, tests. I’d like to draw attention to the tools which HR professionals have to help them select the candidate best suited for the job. They of course have their own judgment. The simple application-interview-cv-reference way has however come to be seen as not thorough enough and unreliable. But that is not to say that this simple method has been taken out of the equation, simply that further steps have been added. Now the process often also includes psychological testing to analyze an individual’s personality, cognitive abilities and intelligence (think MBTI, the Watson-Glaser, etc.). This is believed to give a better sense of the individual. It also usually includes a simulation of a task required for the job. In the past psychological testing was something practised in specific jobs such as to select the elite spies (yes, like in the movies!) [1]. But in the past couple of years, there has been a rise in the use of psychological testing in the more “common job” interview process (i.e. not just for elite spy work!).

Concerns. Although industrial psychologists and several companies say that the correlation between the test results and job performance is good, it is a topic that is still disputed [2]. There are many people who are critical of how valid, reliable, and predictive the findings are from those tests. This is reason for concern especially when some of the tests are very popular. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is thought by many to be unscientific — unreliable, has overlapping categories, etc.[3] For some interview processes, especially for the higher level positions, there may be a full day of assessments. The experience can be quite “stressful”, as shared by Andrew Noon in a Forbes article [1]. Furthermore, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is investigating whether psychological testing has adverse impacts on various individuals, notably individuals with disabilities or mental illnesses. There are several companies being sued by applicants claiming to have been cut from selection unjustly because of answers given to items on the test which reflect more their disability or mental illness than their capacity to do a job. [2]. This made me yet again go back to wondering how these tests get chosen by the company and who administers them.

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Thoughts. I first started hearing about psychological tests being used when some of my friends who are in computer science had interviews for Google, Apple, and other tech companies. It got me thinking, is that really a good way to select someone? Would I use this method (as an aspiring HR professional)? I think as students we care a great deal about our GPA. We think that it reflects us in a grand way and that it is permanent. But the truth is, is that it does and is, but it also does not and is not. We are each in our own way much more than what our GPA reflects. I believe the greatest challenge to these psychological tests for admission into graduate school or getting a job is their predictive value of how that person will perform. If the use of these tests is being increased so should the research into them to make them more reliable, valid, and predictive. These tests should be revised and constructed by the correct professionals who would know how to better the tests so, for example personality psychologists for personality tests. But, I also don’t think it’s just that. I believe the professionals who are giving the tests should also be further educated into what they mean, why you would use one test over another, what each test measures exactly, etc. I believe that a course like PSYC406 Psychological Tests at McGill University or a comprehensive psychometrics class should be offered in the bachelors, diplomas, certificates, etc. in Human Resources. I have looked up the courses offered in Human Resources at McGill, Concordia and a few others. What I found were courses about the general practice of interviewing, but I couldn’t determine what kind of opinion is given about psychological tests. I guess that may depend on the personal opinion of the professor or department. But, from some of the concerns mentioned, it is important that HR professionals don’t just use psychological tests as an easy, faster way to get results. They must realize that for some individuals it may not be representative (recall individuals with disabilities and mental illnesses) and that they may not be 100% predictive. They need to realize their potential without forgetting that they too, are not perfect.



For an assignment in PSYC406 Psychological Tests at McGill University.