Aptitude testing

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Two months ago I wrote an article for this magazine about the use of psychological testing in hospitality recruitment and staff management. The interest this article generated was quite a surprise. I received a number of phone calls and letters on the subject, and it is obvious that I have struck a chord somewhere, so I have decided to write more on the subject . . .

The psychological test we use is called a Personality Profile. I first encountered it about 15 years ago when I was an Area Manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken Pty. Ltd. The company used the original version of the test as a screening tool for the recruitment of Assistant Store Managers. We had a very specific target for the type of person we were looking for and we had found that the interview process, while reasonably successful, was not yielding the result we wanted.

The company introduced these tests and briefed all the senior managers on their use. My colleagues and I were very cynical — how could a simple, written test possibly give an accurate assessment of a person’s intelligence, personality, decisiveness and honesty? It seemed to be too good to be true. We expressed our misgivings to our boss, who said that he felt the same.

We decided to perform a very unscientific investigation of our own to see if the test was accurate. We all sat the test ourselves, then applied it to our longest serving managers. Before the results were revealed we were asked to rate ourselves and our managers according to the test criteria — the logic being to compare our own subjective assessments with the objective assessments produced by the test.

I found the results amazing. First, I remember reading my own report with an interesting mixture of excitement and horror. Here, on paper, was a disturbingly accurate picture of the real me — the one I don’t show to many people. My family and close friends confirmed the descriptions of my personality and lauded the accuracy of the report comments.

The results of my manager’s tests were similar. I felt I new them all fairly well and the tests confirmed most of my assumptions. They were each given their results and not one of them disputed the accuracy of what they read, although some of them were disappointed that their weaknesses were revealed `in public’. This wasn’t a bad thing, as it subsequently forced some of them to face reality and modify their behaviour for the better.

We then went on to use the test as a general aid to management selection and I came to value it and trust it. One of its most useful features was its inbuilt honesty checking. If you tried to fool the test, or manipulate it’s results, it invalidated itself and told you to disregard the results.

About six years ago I was looking for a tool to help us to recruit senior staff for our clients and I wondered if a test like this was still available. The recession was beginning to unfold and the job market was becoming flooded with the jetsam and flotsam of business failure. There were good people out there, but how do you tell them from among a majority of dubious performers?

We made inquiries, and to my delight I found that the Personality Profile was still available. It had been developed much further in the last ten years as more research and test validation data had become available. The old test had been manually scored and required specially trained personnel to produce the results. In the new version, the results are entered onto a computer and the reports are automatically produced. I made arrangements to purchase a batch from the U.S..

The first thing I did when I received the computer disk and test booklets was to sit down and do the test again. I had almost no recall of the test itself and simply did the whole thing anew. I was curious — had I changed over the years? How? The results, once again were a surprise. They were exactly the same as they were 15 years ago. I still have the original test on file. I have to conclude that peoples’ personalities don’t change too much over the years, but their behaviour patterns do change with experience.

After using the test for two years in a variety of business situations, my respect for it’s usefulness has been fully re-established. It can be applied in a variety of ways. It’s value in recruitment is obvious, and we use it for that purpose as a matter of course. We also test the owners of businesses we work with on management projects, so that we can allocate specific training to accelerate their personal development. In larger businesses, we use it to plan the training of personnel we have identified for development as part of a management succession plan.

Through examining the testing we have done so far, we have learned a great deal. For instance, our normal indicator of intelligence — verbal fluency — is very misleading. We have had a number of examples of people who impress in an interview, but who fail miserably in mental aptitude performance tests. The results indicate that a person can be quite verbally agile but unable to apply lateral thinking or clear logic to a problem.

We have also found that there is a clear link between intelligence and flexibility. Slow learners resist change because it takes them so long to assimilate. The smarter a person is the more flexible they appear to be. This has interesting connotations if you are trying to run a business in a rapidly changing social environment, and we have seen many businesses fail due to the mental rigidity of their owners and senior staff.

In all, we have found that the development and reliability of this type of aptitude testing has created a very valuable tool that I wish more of this industry would recognise and use. It is ideal for business owners who are seeking an edge over their competition and wish to strengthen the people side of their business.

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