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The benefits of using traits for candidate selection and recruitment

Assessment gives organisations a more reliable framework for selection than traditional methods. In this article, occupational psychologist Sue Colton explores the process and benefits

When it comes to hiring, we say we want different but often end up hiring the same. Why is this – and how can assessment help us break out of this pattern?

The face-to-face interview is the most widely used method for candidate selection but, as an approach, it has its flaws. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest we use ourselves as the basis of comparison. We assume people like us will share our outlook, our preferences, and personal characteristics. We are naturally biased towards the familiar.

The other key flaw in the traditional recruitment process is an excessive focus on past experience. By using this one frame of reference – combined with our unconscious biases – we increase the risk of ending up with a team of clones when we hire.

In recent years, assessment has given me a framework, a structure, and the credentials to enable me to articulate my feelings about the flaws within many recruitment processes. Having developed a level of personal expertise in assessment, it gives me more clarity and confidence when it comes to helping clients reach the maximum potential of a hiring situation.

Assessment has many benefits. When assessment techniques are closely aligned to an overall search process, they provide additional data for selection. They also offer perhaps the best opportunity to help a successful candidate integrate quickly and successfully into an organisation.

Although assessment has several potential applications, the most common use is for recruitment and selection. Within recruitment, it’s most commonly used to mitigate the risks of appointing the wrong candidate into a new role – though naturally it is also useful in assessing an internal candidate for promotion.

Assessment provides you with different layers in understanding an individual, as my guest contributor is about to explain in more detail.

This article is the first in a three-part series drawn from an interactive discussion I hosted for the SH Leadership team on the 21st April. Each article will cover different aspects of assessment. In this first part, occupational psychologist Sue Colton explores what assessment is, and its practical benefits when applied to candidate selection and recruitment.

The benefits of trait assessment for selection by Sue Colton

Why use trait-based assessment for recruitment and selection?

What are we trying to achieve with trait assessment? We’re looking to tease out the uniqueness of the individual. We look at their drivers, their strengths, their motivations, and their derailers.

Behaviour analysis at a trait level gives us a lot more richness. Traits are unique to an individual. No two trait profiles are the same.

Assessing personality traits provides a chance for us to get some robust and objective evidence on which to base hiring decisions . For example, we can use trait assessment to look at an individual’s personality dimension, their leadership styles, their impact on team culture, the dynamics created  between individuals, their development areas and how the individual might fit within the wider organisation.

Assessment also increases an individual’s self-awareness– some candidates say they often find little time to reflect over who they are, so this process provides a welcome opportunity to talk through aspects of their personality and how this manifests at work and in team situations.

The other benefit is that the assessor can validate the findings of an executive search consultant or those of the client. Once we have both collected our respective data we can cross reference each other’s output, which helps make the entire selection process more robust and credible.

The process of carrying out a trait assessment

Step 1: Client briefing

The first thing we do is take a briefing from the executive search consultant or from the client themselves. It’s a real chance to fully understand the requirements of the role, its uniqueness and any nuances as well as the dynamics that exist within the prevailing team.

This is also our chance to establish how open the client is to change. If the client really wants to create something new, we can challenge the ability of the team to accept change, as well as discuss the expectations and responsibility of the new incumbent being able invoke this singlehandedly. 

Step 2: Design benchmarking criteria

We design the criteria on which to benchmark the results.  This can sometimes be in the form of a unique competency framework with bespoke behaviour statements written to really encapsulate the key themes relevant to the role.

Step 3: Assess the candidate

Once the candidate completes a questionnaire we review the results and consider the hypothesis, and how one trait might impact another, bringing the unique personality portrait to life so to speak.  Ideally we then have a feedback discussion with the candidate to discuss the results and to further validate the findings.

Step 4: Review the results

Often we will then compile a report of our findings. Preferably we will  also review the results with the client in a panel discussion. Sometimes we do this with the executive search consultant, sometimes the actual company looking to hire.  This is when we can bring the dynamics to life and see how the candidate will impact the team and how the team will impact the candidate. We can also then look at the bigger picture and the cultural perspective.  

About Sue Colton

Sue is the owner and director of SJC Consulting. A specialist in strategic HR management and occupational psychology, Sue is a qualified behaviour assessor and psychometric tester registered with The British Psychological Society (BPS) holding the EFPA accredited European Test User Certificate in Work & Organisational Assessment.  She has an MA in HR Management and is qualified as a Certified Principal Business Psychologist (CPBP) with the Association of Business Psychology (ABP). She is also a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (MCIPD).

Prior to founding SJC Consulting, Sue worked at KPMG and NatWest Group.

To find out more about how assessment can help with recruitment and selection, please contact Gaëlle Pritchard.