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The Distractions of Psych Testing Recruiters and Americas Cup Racing

By September 19, 20132 Comments

I usually write posts for this blog first thing on Friday mornings, sometimes Thursday evenings if I’m especially organised that week, or suffering from a chronic lack of social life (it happens, honestly).  Topics always centre around the recruitment industry in some way or other, which makes sense given my role within the industry.  I think about topics for the blog all week long, storing links to articles of interest, and making some brief notes on ideas to blog about.

This week was going to be about psychometric testing in recruitment.  Here in New Zealand we use it a lot.  Certainly far more than anywhere else in the developed recruitment world.  In the past week I’ve had two candidates right at the very brink of receiving offers having it yanked away again in the shadow of raising red flags and failed psychometric assessments.  As recruiters from the northern hemisphere start drifting down this way, escaping the approaching winter and strained effort of minuscule growth, they are universally amazed that they are required to undertake psychometric testing to get into a recruitment firm.  They’ve never had to do it before but, more than that, have very rarely had to direct their candidates towards doing it for jobs with their clients.

But then as the week progressed, time, competition, and changes in the wind speed around San Francisco Bay meant this morning’s post coincided with what was surely going to be New Zealand’s moment of glory in the world’s oldest cup competition.  Who wants to read about psych testing when such a feelgood moment of historical victory is upon us?

But then it didn’t quite happen, did it?  An agreeably aggressive play at the start from Team NZ didn’t quite work out and they trailed for the whole race.  Then the second race got cancelled for high winds again.  Now I’m no expert on sailing (although I’m definitely an armchair expert now and can blag my way through a conversation about tacking and jibing that would have seemed preposterous a fortnight ago) but I would have thought lots of wind would be a really good thing when the boats are powered by it, making them go faster, and it’s a race to see who is the fastest over the course…  But anyway, now I find myself, like many of you, with the champagne breakfasts going flat, Auckland’s Shed 10 emptying out into the gloomy morning, and no time left to write a post about either why we rely so much on psych testing in recruitment, or how cool and awesome it is that NZ has just won the America’s Cup.

The latter can wait for tomorrow morning (let’s hope).  As for the former, well there’s some smarter people than me who have already commented on this recently and present some interesting viewpoints.  In his blog Up the Down Escalator HR commentator Richard Westney sets his stance as firmly pro-testing, but bemoans the fact that this is only when done properly, which doesn’t seem to be very often:

  • Testing is not the be all and end all. You use it in association with other assessment methods not in isolation. It confirms or informs your thinking, not drives it.

  • Personality profiles are a starting point for a discussion. Printed reports only show some of the picture not the whole picture. You learn more about people by letting them talk about what the results are showing.

  • All candidates should be offered feedback.

  • You don’t put psychometric testing in the hands of people who are not trained to administer and/or interpret the results.


Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist from the US, develops a more skeptical view on most forms of psych testing in this interesting article here.  A warning though, you need to be really into psych testing to click on the link and read the whole thing.  I’m not pigeon-holing recruiters here, but I’m guessing most of you haven’t even made it this far through The Whiteboard before moving onto the next glittering bauble on your computer screen!

And my stance on the whole thing?  I’m naturally grumpy at losing out on a couple of placements due to psych testing.  I enjoy placing faith in my recruiter’s intuition about people, and employing gut feel from years of meeting and talking to many different recruiters.  But I have to admit that there probably is a place for psych testing recruiters.  The thing is, I would never use it as a crutch to lean my hiring decision upon.  The idea of talking through the results with a recruiter, in person, and seeing how the react and deal with it, is absolute gold in my opinion.

That will tell you all you need to know about their veracity, their character, self-belief, mental agility and ego fragility, all important factors in the make up of a recruiter.

So we use psych testing way more in NZ than elsewhere?  Does that make it wrong?  Well put it this way:  Team NZ are on the brink of America’s Cup victory.  The underdogs, against all odds, have achieved this with better planning, strategy, recruitment of talent, technology, design and, overall, a bucket full of guts, determination and teamwork.

Just because we don’t always follow the lead from elsewhere, but go our own way, we are sometimes still the ones that actually get it right.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Thanks for putting the subject of psych tests in recruitment out there, Jon. Richard’s comments are wise and I would strongly agree that there needs to be perspective to any test results; EVERYBODY has weaknesses and some weaknesses are more fixable than others.

    Red flags or weaknesses highlighted by an assessment or test should be used as a guide for where to probe deeply in a reference check to see how/if the issue showed up in a previous (relevant) job. You then have more informed evidence to make a judgement with respect to the person’s likelihood of success in the job they are being considered for. No psych test will 100% predict or guarantee the success of a candidate but, used with care and skill, it is a very substantial piece of objective data to inform your decision making about a candidate.

    I highly recommend Dr Wendell William’s articles on testing and assessments for recruitment. You can find them here

    Yachting? At least you’re beating the Americans and not us from across the ditch.

    • Jayne Rice says:

      Good points on both counts, there is nothing worse when a placement falls over at the very last minute due to psych results. Sometimes it is well founded (like when a very high achieving candidate was just about to be placed in a very Senior/high profile role in a certain organisation and completely bombed the psych testing (twice) – decline. Or as Jon points out when a Client is trying to find a reason “not to hire” and the psych results provide the perfect get out clause.

      There is a definitely a place for it, but as a part of the process not the be all and end all of the process.

      As for the yachting, sorry Ross but what will make the inevitable Team NZ Victory so much sweeter will be seeing the look on Australian Oracle Skipper, Jimmy Spittle’s face when Dean Barker lifts the Auld Mug – ouch!!