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How to prepare for situational judgement tests? An interview with Ellen Bard



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Today we are talking to Ellen Bard – a Chartered Occupational Psychologist who has been working in Talent Management Consultancy for 13 years.  She currently lives, works and travels in SE Asia, and runs a popular blog about management development,

In your experience, how effective are psychometric ability tests at predicting the future performance of a candidate?

Very.  The critical reason employers use psychometric ability tests is that many scientific studies have show they are valid and  they predict success in the job.   This translates into business success, which can be seen by the many case studies here at one of the biggest test publishers.  Of course, ability tests only predict part of the job, and so whilst there is no perfect way to predict a candidate’s success, research suggests that a combination of ability tests and a structured (for example, Competency-Based, or Behavioural Event) interview are the best at predicting success in a role, with well-designed assessment centres also being very predictive.  CVs, references and unstructured interviews are ranked much lower in terms of predicting job success – which means they are more likely to put the wrong person in role.

Employers also have pragmatic reasons for using psychometric tests.  With the advent of online recruitment, plus an economic downturn, employers are seeing huge increases in applications.  Psychometric tests are a great way to ‘sift out’ those who don’t have the cognitive ability to perform well in the role at early stages.  CV sifting is time-consuming, but more importantly from a candidate’s point of view, can be influenced by the mood of the reviewer, rather than clear, consistent, objective criteria.

Why do employers conduct situational judgement tests? What are the specific benefits of this form of test?

Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs), add something extra for organisations about applicants over pure ability, as they ask a candidate to put themselves into a specific situation and make a judgement about the correct answer.  This shows the employer the kind of behaviours the candidate is likely to perform in those situations.

One note here is that although there will be a right and wrong answer for that organisation, what’s right for one organisation might not be right for another.  For example, whilst at SHL I worked creating SJTs for a number of retailers, such as the John Lewis Partnership, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.  Whilst you might see similar questions in their graduate SJTs, the answer that is correct for one organisation might not be the same for another.  This is because the cultures, values and their way of doing things might differ.  Employers are looking for not just can do, but will do (from competencies and motivation for example) and will fit (from SJTs, values questionnaires etc.).  Thus it is very important not to try and ‘second-guess’ answers from SJTs.

Are there any risks of relying too much on psychometric tests to inform recruitment decisions?

Certainly, I would recommend that organisations don’t employ someone only on the results of a psychometric test, but in the whole recruitment process to use several methods. Many firms are including SJTs along with ability in their screening processes to capture more than ‘just’ ability, ensuring that when they see the candidate face to face, in an interview or assessment centre, they have more well-rounded candidates.  I have worked with a global Law Firm in the last couple of years where this had become an issue for them – employing very bright candidates, but who couldn’t interact with clients, which was a critical part of the role.  Thus they revamped their assessment process, ensuring that as well as cognitive ability they also looked at behavioural traits, via an SJT and their assessment centre.

What would be your top tips on how to succeed in these tests?

Ensure you are prepared – know what the test is, take practice tests, understand the structure and style of the test you are taking.  You can prepare for verbal reasoning for example by reading the Financial Times and getting someone to quiz you on it.  Take your time when answering the questions – really read the questions, as this is often where candidates make mistakes, by trying to go too quickly and not properly reading the answers.  Don’t try and second guess the scoring system – work quickly but accurately through the test.

In your opinion, what is the most effective way to prepare for situational judgement tests?

The best way to prepare for SJTs is to read up about the organisation and really understand what makes them tick – their values, their culture, their way of doing things.  And understand the role you are applying for as the questions in the SJT will likely be modelled on the actual job – try and talk to people who work there, and understand what they do day to day, and how they deal with situations.

SJTs have another benefit – they provide a ‘realistic job preview’ as they show you the kind of situations you are likely to be in.  So after the test, consider whether you are still interested in the role.  Some candidates choose to self-select out of the process at this stage.  If you don’t pass, ask for feedback – remember under data protection laws you are entitled to ‘meaningful feedback’ (i.e., not the answers to every question in the test, but the areas where you scored well and poorly).

Lastly, and even more than this, I would advise candidates to consider the three aspects of can do, will do and will fit.  Do you feel you can do the job?  Do you have the drive and motivation so that you will do the job?  And crucially, do you feel that the organisation will fit your own style and way of doing things?

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