HRMA 2015: Assessing Job Candidates for the Right Fit

By Catherine Skrzypinski May 15, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia—Pre-employment testing should measure whether a candidate can think critically and is willing to learn on the job, psychology experts said recently at the Human Resources Management Association (HRMA) Conference and Tradeshow 2015.

Jane Gayton, Ph.D., a registered psychologist with Stefan, Fraser and Associates in Vancouver, told attendees that the best hires are those who possess these can-do attributes: intelligence, critical thinking, numeric reasoning and emotional intelligence, or the potential to get along with co-workers.

“HR needs to hire people to carry out the organization’s vision,” Gayton added. “This demonstrates the value of HR.”

Larry Stefan, Ph.D., president of Stefan, Fraser and Associates, said pre-hire tests have exploded on the Internet since the early 2000s but most are not effective.

“It’s difficult to hire new people, and if [a company] makes a mistake, it’s costly,” Stefan added. “HR plays an enormous role for improving the bottom line in an organization.”

If a subpar employee must be terminated, that action may cost a business the equivalent of a year’s worth of the person’s salary, he explained.

Bjorn Leiren, Ph.D., a registered psychologist with Stefan, Fraser and Associates, stated that companies get a return on investment when they hire the right people. According to the Society for Human Resource Management Compensation Data Center, organizations make around $4,000 every year from each employee who earns a $60,000 annual salary.

To Test or Assess?

Human resource professionals should be aware of the difference between an assessment and a test, Gayton noted.

An assessment is a process of determining whether a candidate is the right fit; this may involve HR and a hiring team administering multiple tests or conducting several interviews when determining who to hire, she explained. A test, on the other hand, is merely one part of that selection process.

Gayton said HR might tap into psychometric tests during the recruiting process to determine:

  • Which candidate shows the most potential.
  • Who is the best candidate.
  • How HR can help a candidate develop his or her career.

HR practitioners may use comprehensive assessments when hiring for management or technical positions, Gayton stated. “It’s really important to get this hire right,” she added. “It’s more time-consuming; more tests are used, and it’s more labor intensive.”

Measures of Success

Gayton advised HR departments to consider the following questions before implementing a companywide testing policy:

  • How should companies accommodate candidates? Consider whether the test is designed to meet diversity expectations. Some candidates may have a disability, she said, or speak English as a second language. “Some tests could discriminate against protected groups, such as First Nations [Aboriginal people in Canada] or immigrants because they have not had the same kinds of educational experiences,” Gayton added.
  • How should candidates take tests? Consider the advantages and disadvantages of testing online, compared with pencil and paper.
  • Who will have access to the results? If line managers will be privy to the information, they need additional training.
  • How will data be stored? Many online tests and data are located on U.S. servers, Gayton explained. “If Canadian data is stored on U.S. servers, it is under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Patriot Act and can be accessed. You cannot guarantee confidentiality. That may narrow down testing options for Canadian companies.”
  • Should applicants get feedback? It is important for companies to provide timely feedback on test results to applicants as they have the right to know, Leiren advised.

Gayton noted that it is imperative for HR to deliver a respectful experience when evaluating candidates. “As social media becomes more prevalent in our lives, people feel good when they feel companies have treated them well,” she said.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.



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