Sussing psychometrics

Keith
Rodgers looks at the pros and cons of online testing, and whether such systems
are really worth the money

Although
the technology is relatively mature and the number of adopters continues to
rise, online psychometric testing still has some way to go to convince all the
sceptics. Concerns range from the practicalities of providing internet
connections, to the difficulties of controlling an off-site testing environment.

As
OPP chairman Robert McHenry argues, it’s often simply more convenient to put a
piece of paper in front of respondents rather than ensure they all have access
to a PC. He also expresses concerns about internet connectivity, and speaks of
going to two online demonstrations in the last year where the sales
representative lost data as a result of a dropped internet connection. Worse
still, on a third occasion, they couldn’t get online at all.

That’s
not to say the process should be rejected out of hand, however. OPP itself
offers an online system that can handle different European languages at the
input and output stage, allowing an applicant to respond in French and a German
manager to see the responses in their own language. Another system manages the
process by e-mail, allowing it to be completed offline, but distributed
electronically. This exploits what McHenry recognises as one of the great
advantages of IT-based testing – the ability to capture data at the back-end.

It’s
these kinds of process benefits that really catch the attention of online
enthusiasts. Compared with paper-based systems, online applications vastly
improve the data management processes attached to testing. They also increase
the reach of a recruiting organisation, effectively allowing them to touch any
potential applicant who has access to a PC or library kiosk. In addition,
because data is entered only once into the system by the respondent,
administrative errors are reduced and costs are cut. From a management
perspective, that adds up to faster processes with lower overheads.

Suppliers
have also taken steps to overcome some of the problems relating to remote
testing. While companies are relatively comfortable allowing personality tests
to be conducted by candidates offsite – after all, there are no ‘right’ or
‘wrong’ answers – ability tests are more problematic, and there are inevitably
concerns that candidates will either spend longer than allowed, or get help
with the answers.

The
solutions to these issues are both technical and practical. Some online systems
simply cut out at the end of the allotted timeframe. In other cases, companies
inform applicants that similar tests may be repeated when they come to
interviews, implicitly threatening that any cheating will be exposed further down
the recruitment process.

In
many instances, the issue is not even a technical one. Roy Davis, head of
communications at SHL, recommends that organisations should ensure they’ve
sorted out their internal processes before going online, which may mean standardising
the way they look at CVs, handle interviews and manage data. If their manual
systems don’t work, putting part of the process online is only going to
exaggerate the problems.

Finally,
customers need to look at the cost implications. OPP’s McHenry believes that
the cost per respondent of a paper-based test is typically around GBP4 to GBP5.
In the context of a day’s executive mentoring, that’s almost negligible,
although for low-paid roles that attract a high-volume of applicants it can add
up.

Online
testing, by contrast, is still predominantly about economies of scale. Pricing
has now evolved from the days when online service providers demanded a large
upfront investment, and the emphasis tends to be on lower upfront charges and a
‘pay-as-you-go’ approach.

 “If you’re looking at one or two hires, it’s
probably not for you,” says Davis. “If you’re looking at twenty graduate
positions and 1000 applicants, it could be.”

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