Blogs > Liberty and Power > “Big Brother” Moves From the Military into Business

Jul 18, 2005 8:01 am

“Big Brother” Moves From the Military into Business

One needs to be reminded that National Football League “tests” are not very accurate at predicting future stars in the actual game:

Financial Times  July 18, 2005
Employers take a psychometric view of hopefuls
By Ruth Sullivan

Psychometric testing, which can help to assess personality traits, is enjoying a renaissance. This approach - allowing companies to build up a fuller picture of job applicants and to select executives with leadership potential - is being used by a growing number of top companies.

The practice dates at least as far back as the second world war, when the British army experimented with the technique to measure officers' ability and leadership skills. Companies have been trialling it mostly since the 1970s, and its growing importance was signalled 18 months ago, when James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son, was obliged to take a psychometric test as part of the selection process for the chief executive job at BSkyB, the satellite broadcaster that is part of his father's media empire.

Now, a new survey of FTSE 100 companies - conducted by The Test Agency Hogrefe, a psychometric test publisher - shows that most large corporations are using some form of psychometric testing: of the 73 responding to the survey, 59 said they did so.

"It has taken a long time to get through to corporate use," says Nigel Evans, a chartered psychologist and psychological testing verifier at the British Psychological Society. So why the growing popularity? One reason is that, with the rise of the internet, companies are receiving large volumes of applications, especially from recent graduates. Yet, intriguingly, managers are the employees most subjected to psychometric testing, with 80 per cent of the respondents using tests on this group. Some 13 per cent of the responding companies revealed that they use psychometric testing for board- level appointments.

Wendy Lord, chief psychologist at The Test Agency, says that a good mix of psychometric tests can help to find the right person - and this, in turn, is likely to lead to more job satisfaction, better performance, higher productivity and a greater likelihood of retaining staff.

The most popular psychometric tests are those measuring aspects of behavioural style or motivation - usually in the form of questionnaires - and those assessing intellectual power or the potential to learn in particular areas.

A classic questionnaire includes the question: " 'Most of what happens in life depends on being in the right place at the right time.' How much do you agree? Strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree or strongly disagree?" Such inquiries attempt to determine the extent to which a person believes they are captain of their own destiny.

Some companies have seen a rise in the retention of staff following the use of testing. Virgin Mobile, the virtual mobile phone operator and a FTSE 250 company, saw the retention rate of new recruits show an encouraging rise after it started using psychometric testing more consistently two years ago. Phillip Mather, head of human resources business delivery, says the biggest improvement in retention has come from giving candidates personality tests: "They have helped us better identify which individuals would enjoy and fit our culture". Previously newcomers to the company have arrived and it has taken up to 12 months for them to realise that Virgin Mobile's self-directed culture is not for them, he says.

"Recruitment is expensive and as companies focus on the bottom line they realise they can reduce the risk [in recruitment]," says Mike Dodd from Academy HR, an independent consulting company. Over the past five years the consultancy has seen a large rise in the use of psychometric testing in large and medium-sized companies.

But some employers, especially smaller companies, are still put off by the cost and time involved, particularly the expense of using qualified professionals - whether in-house or outsourced - to choose and interpret tests.

While 95 per cent of respondents revealed that they use psychometric testing only for recruitment purposes, some - notably Rolls- Royce - use them for staff development. The company can, for example, establish which employees are team players or team leaders.

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