When online psychometric testing was first introduced in the 1990s, it was estimated that 10% of job applicants attempted to cheat in their tests. That figure has since been greatly reduced as test providers and employers have taken direct measures to counter specific tactics—such as featuring randomly-generated questions from large ‘item banks’ that respond to the applicant’s choices; conducting verification tests at the interview stage; assessing the time taken to complete the test to weed out applicants who do it with the help of friends; enabling download of tests onto mobile devices for offline use, so that applicants can’t deliberately disconnect Internet connection just to retake the test after viewing some questions; and observing for inconsistencies due to ‘faking’ of answers in personality tests.
What are the best practices in developing an effective online test?
Fortunately, these attitudes are changing as employers are actively looking to reduce the likelihood of cheating. Here are 10 best practices:
1. Communicate why you’re using psychometric tests
Try to make your assessment process less daunting for candidates, by explaining why you are using tests and what information you’re aiming to obtain.
2. Explain that you are matching, not filtering
The job you offer will require the candidate to have certain skills, competencies, and behaviours to be successful—and you’ll have chosen specific assessments to look for those precise qualities. Explain this and highlight that your assessments are designed to match the right person to the role. In other words, they’ll actually help the candidate to find a job that they’ll enjoy. Besides, anyone who cheats in psychometric tests runs the risk of getting a job that’s not suitable for them.
A candidate who misrepresents themselves to get the job might find that they hate the work involved. If you point this out, candidates will realise that cheating is not in their interests. Take the pressure off your applicants by highlighting that you’re looking for a certain type of person—and if they’re not selected, it’s not a judgement of them; it simply means they were not right for your particular role.
3. Offer practise tests
You can make your assessment process less daunting for applicants by encouraging them to take practise tests. Practising improves test performance because candidates become more familiar with the format of each assessment and more comfortable with the process.
4. Ensure your tests are ‘face valid’.
Your candidates should feel that the tests they take are relevant to the role, so use tests that measure specific, job-relevant aspects. If people perceive that your tests are appropriate, they’ll feel less inclined to think about cheating.
5. Use a Realistic Job Preview.
Give your candidates an honest insight into what the job will involve. Ask how they’d behave in job-related situations and give them feedback, so they can decide for themselves whether or not they want the role.
6. Create an ‘honesty contract’.
Asking candidates to agree to some short statements, confirming that they’ll respond honestly in their assessments, can cut the likelihood of cheating. This also reassures your best candidates that you take this issue seriously.
7. Don’t use assessments in isolation.
Always supplement your assessments with other selection options such as group exercises or competency-based interviews, to ensure that even if someone has cheated in their tests, you’re safeguarded by other aspects of the selection process.
8. Adjust your pass scores, if necessary.
In some countries, such as China, there are businesses that offer to ‘systematically train’ individuals, to help them improve their scores in psychometric tests. If you’re recruiting in countries where this type of training is available, consider slightly increasing the pass scores of your ability tests to compensate for this.
9. Provide a positive candidate experience.
If your tests are administered in a cold and brusque manner, it’s not surprising that people will treat them cynically or contemptuously. If you’re honest and forthcoming with candidates, they’re more likely to be honourable and cooperative in return.
10. Be sensitive when rejecting people.
Don’t tell a candidate that you’ve excluded them from your selection process because you suspect that they’ve cheated. You may have your suspicions but it’s difficult to be certain about this. Best practice is to politely explain to any excluded applicants that they didn’t fit the role.
New ways to prevent cheating are constantly being developed—still, it’s worth remembering that your assessment tests will be one of the first ‘points of contact’ that you’ll have with your applicants. You don’t want to start the relationship with a lack of trust.
Your candidates will be assessing you as much as you’re examining them. If your assessment process comes across as paranoid and overbearing, it paints an unattractive picture of your culture—and that can put off good candidates. There’s a fine balance between trusting people and thwarting unscrupulous practice.
By communicating effectively—and by always treating your candidates with care and consideration—you can help to safeguard your organisation and ensure that you always recruit the right people to the right roles.
The full article first appeared in HRZone on 20 September 2017.
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