Interviews are among the most popular employee selection methods, with estimates suggesting that more than 87% of European organisations use them as standard.
Their attractiveness lies in their flexibility, their ability to provide context to a candidate, the fact that minimal training is usually needed to perform them, and the value usually placed on a face-to-face “feel” for a candidate. However, as a stand-alone selection measure, interviews are rife with problems.
An unstructured interview, or a hiring “chat” is easy to conduct and notoriously poor at predicting performance. A structured interview can be very effective, but only if planned and run properly, with behaviourally anchored questions that relate to meaningful competencies, skilled interviewers that balance standardisation of experience with question probing, and proper calibrations between interviewers afterwards.
In contrast, though psychometric tests still need trained test users to administer and interpret the assessments in standardised ways, approved assessments have objectivity built right into them through the rigour in their design.
For more information on the power of psychometric assessments, see our blog What are Psychometric Assessments?
The Issue with Interviews
The effectiveness and predictive power of interviews can vary widely. Outcomes depend on interviewer skill, job-seeker preparedness, and a host of other factors, not least, the susceptibility which all humans have to (often) subconscious prejudices and biases.
These biases can cause us to like candidates which remind us of ourselves (similarity attraction bias) or whom we share something in common with (affinity bias). We may be drawn to a candidate because of their outgoing or bubbly personality, irrespective or the role requirements (extraversion bias). We may let our entire perception be coloured by one thing we like (halo bias) or dislike (horn bias) or though few of us would ever acknowledge this, we may prefer to hire someone because they’re good-looking (beauty bias).
The list goes on – as human interviewers, we may arguably be good at avoiding danger or choosing a mate but we have not evolved to consistently make strong and accurate predictions about a person’s suitability for a job.
Add to this the difficulty of accurately assessing attributes which aren’t visible to our five senses. Unlike with height or other physical characteristics, it is difficult for us to gauge degrees of personality traits, motivational levels or ability. We can tell by looking around us that an average male height is 5ft 10, but what’s an average level of creativity? Does our candidate possess more or less? Is our judgement clouded by the people we happen to spend time with?
Psychometric assessments were developed to help us solve these problems.
Psychometric Assessments and Objectivity
Psychometric tests are designed for objectivity.
- They don’t see colour, race, gender, sexuality, marital status or beauty. They don’t assume or form illogical conclusions based on misjudgements or a lack of insight, as people do.
- Unlike with interviews, tests don’t get to make “guesses” about the relevance of a question or its capacity to tap into an attribute of interest, they must prove the questions are
- Unlike with interviews, tests don’t rely on a candidate’s ability to effectively communicate why and how they possess the attribute of interest. They are designed to capture insights irrespective of individual skills of self-expression.
- Unlike with interviews, tests carry the burden of proving statistically that the methodology actually predicts a positive outcome, such as job-performance, job-satisfaction or tenure.
- Unlike with interviews, tests lend meaning to interpretation through reference points. Through a process of norm referencing they allow assessors to compare the degree of an attribute possessed by a candidate to a wider population. They highlight comparative strengths and weaknesses that interviewers often can’t see, so that judgements based on accurate perceptions can be made.
The construction of approved and credible tests takes years. Stringent and rigorous processes, based on decades of research that defines best practice must be followed, and publishers are held to peer-reviewed transparency and account.
Objectivity underscores the very essence of test development; every step is carefully aimed at reliably measuring well-defined attributes, and this is why they are so effective. This naturally promotes diversity, as test scores and findings transcend subconscious biases or poor interviewing techniques.
Test user training is still a pre-requisite for ensuring fair practices at every step of the process, but the tests themselves, when used appropriately, provide strong legal defensibility.
So… do we abandon interviews?
Research shows that interviews, when conducted well, offer predictive power over and above that of psychometric assessments. They provide context, chemistry-checks and a means of gathering extra information that tests cannot cover.
Interviews and psychometric assessments are complementary tools, which work together in the following way.
- Tests can act as x-ray images, prompting interviewers to probe potential behaviours that might otherwise not be obvious, for additional context.
- Tests can flag behaviours that need more investigation. These may be “derailers” or red-flags in personality that could lead to destructive outcomes, and interviews can investigate how serious or relevant these flagged behaviours may be.
- Tests supply additional, objective sources of information. Some candidates simply don’t perform at interview, and it’s not because they wouldn’t excel in the role. Inhibition or desire to do well, for example, has kept many a conscientious, self-driven, natural leader down at this stage. Psychometric assessments can offer information that otherwise wouldn’t be available to hiring managers.
- Interviews verify test findings. Interviews and psychometric assessments work together to enable hiring managers to build an overall, coherent picture of a candidate.
- Tests protect. Adding an objective measurement tool to the system can help ensure that interviewer biases are detected, and that fairer and legal defensible and more effective decisions are made.
Interview and Psychometric Assessments are allies, not competitors and the optimal solution is to use both. Interviews test rapport and lend context, while psychometrics promote inclusivity and are highly effective when in the right hands.
In our blog Psychometric Testing: Supplier or DIY? we address the question of where and how to purchase assessments and the steps to ensuring they deliver on their promises.