Innovations in Psychological Assessment

By: Nathan Wiita

Psychological assessment is often the price of entry for today’s executive seeking a new position or leadership-development opportunity. What once was taboo is now table stakes. The experience itself is a data-gathering journey and typically includes some mix of personality surveys, in-person interviews, 360 data, and so on. The use of multiple data sources at the top of the house is a noted best practice, has very clear ROI implications, and at a high level, is a process that is unlikely to change.   

What may be headed for change, however, are some of the tools deployed for the purposes of psychological assessment. That is, there are signs that the methods through which personality data is gathered—presently, computer or mobile-based surveys—are shifting. This is in large part due to three trends: 1. focus on the consumer experience, 2. growing partnership between enterprise HR and marketing functions, and 3. technological advancement. Each are discussed below.

The Consumer Experience

We have entered the “experience economy,” and psychological assessment is not immune to its demands. Those who work with online personality assessments typically agree that—despite the best of intentions—these tools may not always be the most positive experience for the end user. From, “I’m not sure why I was asked the same question five different ways” to “wow, that took a long time,” test takers aren’t shy about letting us know we have room to grow on the experience side of psychological assessment.

So we now see assessments that are more attentive to the consumer experience. Gamification—where an assessment is designed to feel more like a game rather than a test—is a popular trend in this regard. And in a world of short attention spans and increasingly packed schedules, shorter and more focused online assessments are increasing in popularity. Assessment outputs—data and feedback reports—are also being rejiggered with the end user’s experience in mind, designed to feel more like an interactive, immersive experience, rather than static (and potentially boilerplate-feeling) data.

HR & Marketing

Given recent research that indicated a bad reputation costs organizations 10% more per hire (at a minimum), it is no surprise that the HR and branding functions are starting to collaborate more. Additionally, savvy organizations increasingly view “potential hires” as “potential customers” to be won or lost. The gold standard here is the company who so thoroughly and effectively weaves their branding into their talent acquisition process—while also keeping it efficient—that an unsuccessful job applicant is still willing to become/remain a customer of the organization. For a really fun and engaging example, check out Heineken’s GoPlaces.

Technological Advancement

Technological advancement is moving the field from proxies for behavior (e.g., completing an online survey) to measuring actual behavior. Actual behavior as captured through the digital trails or digital breadcrumbs we leave behind. This is often done through web scraping, or quantifying our behavior interfacing with technology, be it social media, the emails we send, or the blogs we write (more to come on this later). Some examples include:

  • Facebook. Michal Kosinski at the Stanford Graduate School of Business developed algorithms that can model your personality better than a work colleague, friend, and family members, based on what you like on Facebook. It only trails spouses in accuracy.
  • Text analysis. Based on Dr. James Pennebaker’s fascinating research at the University of Texas at Austin, Receptiviti can generate personality insights based on the written—or in today’s parlance, typed-word. This can come in the form of tweets, emails, and so forth.

Other companies can generate similar insights utilizing voice and facial expression data. And while the possibilities can feel powerful, there’s still more to learn about these tools including their overall effectiveness as well as ethical implications of their use.

For fun, I plugged this blog into a couple tools that generate personality insights based on text. What are the headlines about my personality based on this blog? Apparently I’m an analytical thinker who balances emotion and data-driven decision-making styles (okay, I’ll take it!), I’m independent (for better and worse), my need for curiosity exceeds my need for practicality (sounds familiar), and my writing style is squarely in the middle of “likely authentic” and “likely inauthentic.” Well… “thank you” for the feedback.




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