Mitigating the Risk of a Wrong Hire – Using Ability Tests
It goes without saying that all recruiters want to hire the ‘best’ candidate for a role. When they are asked to be more specific about what ‘best’ looks like, then information about the following areas starts to surface:
. academic achievements
. specific skills
. desirable behaviors and personality traits
. required attitudes and mind-set
. intelligence and ability levels
. problem solving ability
In the vast majority of roles, managers want to hire intelligent employees. In the workplace, the word General Intelligence is more commonly referred to as General Ability.
It is important to understand what intelligence is. Most of us have had the experience of working with an incredibly academically bright individual who can regurgitate every morsel of learned knowledge but whose intellectual horsepower is rendered paralyzed when confronted with a complex problem that requires careful and logical reasoning.
So what is General Intelligence or Ability?
Intelligence is one of the most discussed subjects within psychology and whilst there is no absolute definition of what exactly constitutes ‘intelligence’, there is a wide consensus that General Intelligence is thought to have the following components:
1. Our knowledge base (crystallized intelligence)
2. Our thinking skills (fluid intelligence)
3. Our cognitive efficiency or ‘brain power’
Crystallized intelligence is defined as the ability to use learned knowledge and experience. It is measured by nearly all recruiters via academic qualifications and attainment levels, evidence of previous experience and by skills tests (e.g. a typing speed test, error checking test or filing test etc).
Fluid intelligence is defined as the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, identifying patterns and manipulating visual images to solve problems. Recruiters measures fluid intelligence by using ability (often called reasoning) tests. Cognitive ability tests have been shown to be predictive of task performance – especially new tasks and problems encountered for the first time. Examples include higher level verbal, critical thinking, numerical, mechanical and inductive (also called abstract) ability tests and instruments measuring spatial awareness.
Cognitive Efficiency and Functioning – Brain Power
Cognitive efficiency is determined by brain processing speed and working or short term memory. Working memory and processing speed are rarely measured by recruiters for job roles. They are used more in a clinical context.
Set in stone?
Many theorists believe you are born with fluid intelligence. Having high crystallized intelligence does not necessarily mean you have high fluid intelligence. Recent research in the USA showed that interventions which improved the academic performance did not lead to a corresponding rise in inductive (abstract) reasoning.
In general, fluid intelligence levels decline slowly from around 20 years old, whilst crystallized intelligence levels increase until approximately aged 70. This might account in part for the fact that many people find it harder to learn new things (for example a new language) as they get older. Both crystallized AND fluid intelligence levels are important for numerous roles in the workplace.
Research studies show that tests measuring fluid reasoning are powerful predictors of performance at work in many roles in the workplace.
Whilst there are correlations between the ability to solve new problems and academic achievement, a high level in one does not always ensure a high level in the other. Moreover, numerous research studies demonstrate that cognitive ability tests are powerful predictors of task performance at work – more so than academic achievements. Therefore, only measuring one element of general ability (a person’s prior knowledge and experience) may offer a less rounded picture of an applicant’s general ability and may result in hiring talent that may have technically sound skills or formal education, but inadequate higher order abilities such as critical thinking or numerical reasoning skills. By implementing the right set of ability tests, recruitment folks can reduce the risk of a wrong hire and get people who can truly take the business to the next level, through desired levels of performance.