Three out of four employers (77%) use some form of occupational testing alongside more traditional selection tools, according to a survey by Personnel Today’s sister publication, IRS Employment Review.
The study of 100 employers found that while the use of interviews, application forms or letters remains almost universal, employers typically apply four different selection methods before making a hiring decision.
Nearly half those questioned (46%) said work sample tests were their most effective selection tool. One in three (33%) said some form of psychometric test was best – with nearly half of those preferring to test online, either through off-the-shelf (9%) or bespoke (6%) software.
But there are significant differences between sectors, with twice as many public sector bodies (65%) as private sector service firms (34%) or manufacturers (29%) preferring work-sample tests.
In-tray exercises, in which candidates are required to work their way through a pile of the sort of papers they might encounter in real life, are also considerably more popular in the public sector.
Private sector employers, meanwhile, favour a wider range of tools, with less consensus about what works best.
But it’s ability not personality that counts…
While employers are still more likely to use one or more ability tests in the selection process, psychometric testing is now used in some form by two-thirds (64%) of those contacted.
But the IRS research found that while most companies have embraced psychometrics or personality tests, the public sector was more likely to stick to ability tests – with some respondents citing fears that psychological tests introduce cultural bias.
Ability tests were also thought to be easier to defend if challenged at an employment tribunal by a disgruntled, unsuccessful job applicant.
Other than in manufacturing, presentations were the most widely used means of testing – used by three out of four companies (75%) in the services sector and all those contacted in the public sector.
One surprise finding, however, was that just 28% of public sector employers said they tested literacy and numeracy – compared to 36% of private sector service companies and 52% of manufacturers.
Overall, manufacturers appear less likely to use most types of ability tests, with role play and group exercises particularly unpopular. The exceptions were numeracy and literacy tests and telephone screening, which were both more common in this type of organisation.
…while the pen is still mightier than the web
Despite the emergence of intranet and internet-based online testing, and an expectation that the great majority of new hires will use computers in their work, paper-and-pencil exercises carried out at the workplace continue to thrive.
Two-thirds (65%) of organisations surveyed by IRS sit at least some job candidates down at a desk under controlled conditions and expect them to complete a written test.
Online tools remain in minority use, with use of the internet particularly rare – and then not at all among public sector employers. Some respondents said they preferred more controlled conditions because it gave them greater confidence in the results.