Graduate Testing: What Works Best?

4 min read

Graduate recruitment takes a lot of heavy lifting. Testing at an assessment centre or online can accelerate the process – but which tests work best?

The assessment of a candidate’s suitability for a role is based on experience, competence and cultural fit. But in the case of emerging talent, experience is generally limited. Moreover, attractive openings for graduates generally attract a huge response – possibly running into the hundreds. Testing is therefore a good approach to whittling the applications down to a manageable quantity. What kind of tests should you consider?

Normative and personality testing

Assessments tend to be divided into normative tests, which measure intellectual ability – usually based around verbal and numerical reasoning and emotional intelligence – and personality tests (some of which are known as ipsative tests, which assess values and motivations.

These need to be finely tuned to the role in question: for roles in accountancy and finance, normative tests would obviously be weighted towards numeracy skills, whereas for a role in journalism, say, they would be more weighted towards cognitive ability in constructing an argument. Emotional intelligence would be a high priority in client-facing roles.

A common personality test used by employers is a test called the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ). The OPQ measures multiple personality traits that are relevant to occupational settings. Ultimately the test measures traits with the purpose of determining your style at work.

Behavioural testing

However, even with fine tuning such tests have their drawbacks: intellectual horsepower or the proof of the right psychological profile in a test are not necessarily an indicator of future performance in a particular role. Candidates can prepare for the tests (there is no shortage of online coaching resources) and today’s highly networked graduates can easily share information. They are likely to provide answers they think the employer wants to hear rather than revealing their true profile. Competency tests have often been shown to have a cultural bias, discriminating against certain minorities, which may have a negative impact on diversity policies.

For these reasons behavioural testing has become more popular. Situation judgment tests (SJT) present the candidate with realistic, hypothetical scenarios and ask them to identify the most appropriate response or to rank the responses in the order they feel is most effective. There is not necessarily a “right and wrong” answer – it is more a question of determining if the candidate is sufficiently aligned with corporate culture to succeed; for example, will they go “above and beyond” to resolve a customer complaint.

Establishing what a “good” (as opposed to “right”) response looks like requires an in-depth understanding of the hiring organisation and the role in question; this can be done by interviewing individuals who are already successful in the role to build a profiles algorithm.

Assessment Centre Administration

As should be clear from the above, it is likely that a combination of approaches will deliver the best results – but for the hiring organisation, this can be a time-consuming drain on limited HR and TA resources.

To assist with this situation, M3S sets up and facilitates an Assessment Centre including test administator. Every assessment process is designed specifically with the client in mind, usually working with an occupational psychologist.The point is that testing needs to be executed efficiently and rapidly, but at the same time it must be perceived not only as fair on candidates, but also a valuable experience. That includes giving candidates instantaneous, positive and constructive feedback. Failure to do so increases the risk that high quality graduates feel alienated by having to take lengthy tests before they have even had a chance to discuss the opportunity in a meaningful way.

Conversely, if candidates feel that they get something out of the process, even if they are not successful, they are far more likely to engage with your organisation and pass on the good news to others.

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