GUEST COMMENT: Psych assessments - get used to them, they're here to stay

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Answer the following multiple choice question.

Psychometric assessment is:

a) torture

b) used if the hiring manager has concerns about a candidate's mental stability

c) already used for both graduate and lateral recruitment and increasingly becoming standard practice in banking recruitment.

According to the two key providers of psychometric testing, SHL and Chandler Macleod, the correct answer is c).

Of course, in Australia Macquarie Bank is synonymous with pysch testing candidates for all positions (even big cheeses), but it's not the only one. ABN AMRO, UBS, JPMorgan and Westpac also assess some experienced hires, and almost all firms are using psychometric assessment for graduate or intern recruitment. It is increasingly recognised as a fair and consistent selection tool and a wise investment given the cost of making a hiring error.

The mere mention of a pysch test can cause severe anxiety for many candidates. Take a deep breath - there are steps you can take to reduce your nerves and improve your performance on the day. It helps to know what to expect.

Psychometric assessments can be paper or web based and can be conducted at the employer's office or at the office of an outsourced testing company. In some cases the written test is combined with a psychologist interview. The whole process usually takes three to four hours - it's a big commitment for any candidate.

Each company uses its own set of tests, which are often tailored to specific job competencies. However, there are two main types of assessment, usually conducted at the same time, hence the three to four hours required: personality or behavioural tests, and ability or aptitude tests.

Personality tests look at how you would ordinarily behave in a situation relevant to a work environment. This may be the way you solve problems or the way you relate to others. These assessments are multiple choice and examine aspects such as leadership, conflict, interpersonal skills, motivators, work priorities and values.

The good news is you cannot study for a personality test. There is actually no right or wrong answer. However, don't second guess the test. Select the answer that best represents how you would actually behave or you may end up in a role that does not suit you.

Ability or aptitude tests assess your ability to perform certain tasks and interpret unforeseen information in a specific time period. The test modules include:

a) verbal reasoning (comprehension)

b) numerical reasoning (not pure maths, but interpretation of graphs, stats and data)

c) logical sequencing and spatial patterning

d) others (sales skills or information checking).

These tests are designed to assess your ability to deal with unforeseen information, therefore you cannot study for the ability test, either. However, you can practise the type of questions that are asked and get used to doing so in a timed environment.

The SHL website provides practice questions. Chandler Macleod supplies practice questions immediately prior to an actual test. Some recruiters supply practice books or recommend websites. And while all of the above will give you a taste for what's in store, don't get too attached to the practice material as the actual questions may be different.

To minimise stress on the day, confirm the type of assessment and the format with the company. Also write down all of the logistics - at least the location, start time and the duration. In some cases you will require photo ID. Of course, don't be tempted to go out partying the night before like a friend of mine once did - your mental state is important.

In most tests, there are more questions than you could possibly answer in the timeframe, so if you get stuck, move on. If you don't finish, it does not mean you failed. Most candidates don't get through all the questions.

All recruitment validity studies show that a combination of recruitment methods gives the best predictor of a person's performance in a role. A comprehensive evaluation should include a resume review, face-to-face interview, reference checking and a pysch assessment.

A more thorough process is good news for you because you are unlikely to survive in a role you are not suitable for. Increasingly, the data collected is being used as a basis for development plans for new recruits, a sign that banks are taking career development seriously.

If you are not successful in securing a role even after you have been through this rather arduous process, you will at least receive feedback on how you performed. Once you have completed your formal study, there are limited opportunities to receive an objective assessment such as this - gratis.

Edwina Hodgkinson is an independent training consultant specialising in financial markets. She has over 15 years' experience in recruitment, human resources and training with roles based in London, Asia and Sydney. Edwina's previous roles have included head of recruitment and careers at Macquarie Bank and head of human resources at Zurich Capital Markets.

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