The changing employment landscape The current economic climate has changed the shape of the employment landscape for companies in all markets and industry sectors and its effects show no sign of slowing just yet. With over three million candidates estimated to be searching for work and up to 10 applicants vying for each vacancy, the shrinking job pool is fuelling a new war for talent.

In previous years employers relied on subjective tools such as CVs, interviews and personal recommendations to identify the best talent. However, it has become clear in recent years that personality and ability assessments play a valuable role in recruitment and development processes, offering managers and recruiters unprecedented objectivity when identifying whether somebody has the right skills or attributes for a role.

Today more than ever, businesses everywhere have recognised that the quality of the employees can make or break their success and this has led to a close examination of recruitment, retention and talent management, with psychometric testing now playing a central role. Assessment is no longer seen as an optional extra. It gives organisations competitive advantage by helping identify the best and appropriate talent, saving time and cost in recruitment and increasing retention by ensuring optimum employee-job fit. This could not be more important for businesses than now.

Creating a positive candidate experience

Such assessments are also beneficial from a candidate’s perspective, ensuring that the role for which they are applying is right for them. Plus, given the current questions being asked about ethics and transparency in business, particularly in the financial sector, taking a psychometric test gives applicants an assurance that the company is following best practice in its recruitment and that it is serious about taking on the best people.

This presents heightened challenges for human resources and recruiters as candidates are now going to greater lengths to find work in an increasingly competitive market. Research commissioned by SHL in March (i) demonstrates how this competitive climate is affecting the attitudes of current job seekers.

Almost a quarter (24%) of potential job seekers say they are prepared to stretch the truth to secure a job, while 15% admit they would exaggerate their skills, qualifications and experience. Twenty three per cent say the tough economic times and the fact that other candidates would be exaggerating left them feeling they had no choice but to do so if they were to compete for a job.

The role of psychometrics

As candidates become increasingly desperate, HR must be sure its selection processes are robust enough to meet today’s challenges. This means they must have the ability to not only sift through potentially high volumes of applications, screening out unsuitable candidates as quickly and accurately as possible, but also to ensure those being called for interviews are equipped with the competencies needed for the job.

This is where psychometric assessments can work to support HR. Used by over 80% of FTSE 100 companies and now integral to recruitment and talent management within small- to medium-sized organisations, the vast majority of assessment tools can be used by HR or line managers to significantly reduce the time involved in the recruitment process and help ensure that only the best applicants are selected.

Vast ranges of assessments are now available measuring everything from workplace motivation and occupational personality to numerical ability and dependability. Such assessments can also be used for ongoing retention and talent management strategies making them essential to people management strategies.

The growth of online assessment

Up until the early 2000s, psychometric testing, like many now web-based activities, was carried out on paper. SHL was one of the pioneers of online, on demand assessment through a ‘software as a service’ model and since then, its application has exploded. Fewer than 15% of SHL assessments today are delivered via paper – in the last 12 months alone, more than two million SHL online assessments have been completed worldwide by a vast range of organisations.

The move online provided numerous benefits that had not previously been possible with assessments. Candidates could take assessments remotely from anywhere in the world at any time. This made it easier and quicker for the candidate, removing the need for them to take time out of their current role.

From the employer’s perspective, online assessment now enables them to screen out unsuitable applicants quickly at an early stage, facilitating short-listing of the best people to be interviewed. Given that employers often need to assess a large number of people, such as during an annual graduate recruitment programme, this has huge time and cost saving implications. And this does not just apply to graduate programmes; many businesses have recently seen a steep increase in the volume of applicants for individual roles, due to the unfortunate influx of candidates into the job market.

The development of online delivery systems has also led to unprecedented global reach and, with multilingual assessment offerings, has truly opened up a global, cross-border recruitment and selection market.

Reliability and security

However, how do HR and recruiting professionals make sure that candidates are undergoing online assessment honestly and securely? SHL’s Verify range of tests has been designed to assess candidates with the utmost security using ‘cheat-resistant’ scientifically tested methods. These assessments can be used when recruiting from operational roles through to senior management level and across a wide range of business sectors.

Completed online, candidates can take these tests remotely in around 20 minutes. This saves valuable time and money as poor-performing candidates can be screened out earlier in the recruitment process

The second part of the Verify process helps qualify whether a candidate who has taken and achieved the desired level in the first test, is the same person who subsequently comes in for interview. This forms a watertight, fool-proof assessment process that not only helps increase speed-to-hire, but it also plays a vital role in finding the right person for the right position.

In the current climate the role of HR is vital and there is no room to lose valuable money on mis-hires. Recruitment processes must be time and cost-effective, without compromising fair and objective methods that ensure all applicants are viewed on a level playing field. Investing in psychometrics now will save money in the long run and equip companies with the right people to help drive them through the bad times and into the good.

Next generation

That’s the story so far, but what of the future? With increasing demand for online testing, leading psychometric assessment providers are investing in online architecture to maximise the potential of the web. For example, ‘SHL On Demand’ is an £11m investment, which is at the forefront of the next generation of online assessment technology. This new architecture is revolutionising the assessment experience for both employers and candidates.

Users benefit from faster set-up times, faster processing speed and real time results – scores are available within seconds and reports within a minute, so candidates can be told almost instantly how they have performed. These improvements mean that psychometric testing works harder for employers, speeding up the process and making it easier to identify and recruit the perfect talent for the business.

The candidate’s online assessment experience has been completely re-designed following a two year investigation into improving usability, whilst maintaining principles of best practice in assessment. The system meets the highest standards of internet accessibility (to WAI 1.0 Level 3) and usability, and being available in 30 languages, it is a truly global solution.

With the additional facility for a business to brand the candidate interface according to their requirements, SHL On Demand provides a credibility boost to their employer brand and gives candidates a consistent positive view of the company.

Building for the future

The current economic downturn is dramatically changing the world of work. While many companies are reorganising and streamlining, the focus on cost-effectively identifying the right talent to drive the business forward has become more critical. There is also a growing demand for increased transparency across the industry spectrum, with companies and public sector organisations under intense scrutiny from the government, regulatory bodies, employees and the public at large.

The growth in psychometrics not only highlights the increasing importance that organisations are placing on the talent at their disposal, it also reflects this growing need for compliance and transparency, by providing tools to make recruitment and talent management as effective and objective as possible. Enlightened businesses are also recognising that the development of sophisticated online assessment systems is facilitating this drive and will support them in retaining a competitive edge through talent management strategies, both during the current uncertainty and in better times beyond.

(i) All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,953 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th – 23rd March 2009. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)