Don't lean too heavily on pre-employment testing: Page 2

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With TeckChek, you would still conduct the technical interviews, but there would be fewer candidates to interview, thanks to the prescreening. "We can quickly weed out those who are pretenders and those who are competent professionals," Epstein says.

The psychology of psychological testing

How do you find a good person to conduct psychological testing for job applicants? Here are some basic guidelines:

There are 6,000 industrial psychologists in the country and only 500 who do this type of testing. Clinical psychologists can also be in this field, but they may or may not know all the legal ramifications of certain questions.

Before you hire, spend time with the person who will be doing the testing. Can you establish a rapport? If you can't, how is that individual going to establish a rapport with the job candidate? Also, keep in mind that the test-provider represents your firm, and you want him or her to make a good impression.

Psychological testing can expose you to the risk of lawsuits.You may want to sign on with a person who has experience as an expert witness. "They'll get fired at by lawyers and you want them to be able to present the data in the right way. That's very, very important," says Jed Friend, an industrial psychologist and president of Jed Friend Ph.D. Inc., in Tampa, Fla., which conducts pre-employment testing for corporations.

But is skills testing really the right focus? Some experts say no. "If I had a choice, I would spend more of my time looking at the behavioral competencies of the person," says Linda Pittenger, president of People3 Inc., in Somerset, N.J., a retention consulting firm owned by research firm GartnerGroup Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "Skills and knowledge are easy to identify. What's below the water line--motives, traits, and attributes--is harder to identify and harder to develop." If you're going to test candidates, Pittenger suggests, companies should build a profile of the type of individual they want to hire and test them on that. "You'd be far more successful than if you wasted your energy testing for technical skills," she says.

And in fact, TeckChek plans to broach that area as well. "Our clients are asking us to add other content to the library to enable us to examine nontechnical areas," Epstein says, such as leadership, communications, teamwork, and the ability to service an internal client.

Large companies--particularly the Fortune 500--often do this type of testing. But here again, psychological tests are not meant to be any more than 25% of the hiring process, says Jed Friend, an industrial psychologist and president of Jed Friend Ph.D. Inc., in Tampa, Fla., which conducts pre-employment testing for corporations. Smaller organizations, he says, don't engage in this type of testing as often because either they're not aware of it, or they're not sure how to choose a reputable firm (see sidebar, "The psychology of psychological testing").

Beyond the tools

Cost is another consideration for both the personality tests and the skills tests. TeckChek's prices vary, but are generally $80 to $150 per test. "It's a very costly process for us to develop and maintain tests," Epstein says. "We do exhaustive statistical analysis, revise questions that aren't working well on a regular basis, and update the tests to reflect changes in the technology." However, especially with the high cost of hiring IT professionals, Epstein claims his clients are seeing return on investment as high as 30-to-1. "If you're looking at spending $80,000 to $100,000 a year on an IT professional, I don't see how a $150 test would be a deterrent. The cost of making a mistake is too high."

You can get a personality test for $50 to $100, but as Friend says, "You get what you pay for." If you employ an industrial psychologist, the cost jumps to the $600 to $1,000 range for testing an executive-level candidate. But, Friend insists, "that's a cheap insurance policy. If you're paying someone $120,000 or more, what's a full set of X rays to see what this person cooks with?"

I can remember taking a grueling editing test for a potential employer--in fact, I worked on it over a holiday weekend. When I wasn't hired, I automatically assumed I had failed miserably on the test. Talk about a blow to your self-esteem! So if you decide to start pre-employment testing, round out the whole process by giving candidates plenty of feedback--whether you hire them or not. After subjecting an applicant to an hour's worth of testing, it's only fair to report on the results.

On the whole, the trend toward increased pre-employment testing could really help corporations make better hiring decisions--if used correctly. But just like working with a 2-and 1/2-year-old, you've got to go beyond the tools, and use your instincts and creativity. //

Mary Brandel is a freelance writer in Norfolk, Mass., specializing in business applications of technology. She can be reached at brandel@cwix.com.

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