The Benefits of Behavioural Assessment

Introduction

A wide array of different tools and techniques are available for assessing individuals for selection, promotion or development. Some of these use self-reported preferences (in the case of personality measures), others test specific abilities or knowledge (in the case of psychometric ability testing, technical assessments or knowledge tests) and others, such as interviews, Situational Judgement Tests and Simulation Exercises, directly assess behaviour. Whilst there is a clear value of and place for personality and ability testing, we believe that behavioural assessments have specific advantages over and above these other forms of assessment. Behavioural assessment can effectively complement other forms of testing; offering unique and essential insight into individual performance at work.

The purpose of this paper is to detail the types of behavioural assessment available, the evidence for their effectiveness in assessing for selection and development, and how behavioural assessments add value to assessment processes over and above other measures.

What is Behavioural Assessment?

The underlying principle of behavioural assessment is that past behaviour is a valid predictor of future behaviour. The scope of behavioural assessments extends from ‘low fidelity simulations’ in the form of Situational Judgement Tests where Participants provide a multiple choice response indicating the effectiveness of specified actions, to ‘high fidelity simulations’ in the form of assessment centre exercises, to on-the-job assessments such as 360 degree feedback questionnaires. The full range of behavioural assessments is summarised in Table 1 below.

table

What are the Benefits of Behavioural Assessment?

Behavioural assessment allows us to look at how an individual goes about their work and achieves their objectives. Two people may both achieve their objectives, but one may have used more positive behaviours than the other (e.g. organised their time more effectively; interacted with others in a considerate manner). The most beneficial employees for an organisation will achieve their objectives with positive behaviours, so behavioural assessment is a useful tool. The variety and flexibility of behavioural assessment methods means they can be used alone or in conjunction with other measures, such as ability and personality tests, to create an overall picture of an individual. Some of the specific benefits of behavioural assessment are described below.

1. Prediction of Performance (Validity)

There are many benefits of using behavioural assessments. One of these is their ‘predictive validity’, or the extent to which performance in the assessment predicts performance in a given job. Behavioural assessments, from SJTs through to simulations, are consistently found to predict job performance when carried out by knowledgeable individuals and with proper processes (Arthur, Day, McNelly, & Edens, 2003; Christian, Edwards & Bradley, 2010; Hermelin, Lievens and Robertson, 2007; Robertson & Smith, 2001). This means that we can be more confident that we are making the right decisions, whether related to selection or development, when a behavioural assessment of a good standard has been used.

2. Positive Candidate Reactions

Another benefit of behavioural assessment is that candidates can clearly see the link between the assessment and the job for which they are being evaluated. When candidates can see the relevance of an assessment, it leads to more favourable candidate reactions. In fact, the most favourable candidate reactions are consistently seen for behavioural assessments, like simulations and interviews, and the least favourable for cognitive and other sorts of tests (Anderson, Salgado, & Hülsheger, 2010). When assessments are perceived as job relevant and fair, it leads to better reactions to the assessment process, even if the participant is unsuccessful (Schinkel, Vianen, & Dierendonck, 2013).

Greater perceptions of fairness are likely to result in other benefits, including increased likelihood of offer acceptance or reapplying/recommendation, a decreased likelihood of dissuading others from joining the organisation, and, most notably, a reduced chance of litigation or challenge of the outcome (Hausknecht, Day and Thomas, 2004; Hughes et al, 2012). Conducting a variety of behavioural simulations, such as in an assessment centre, also means candidates are more likely to feel like they have had sufficient opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for the role (Ingold, Kleinmann, König, & Melchers, 2016), which less likely to be the case with assessment methods like ability tests, reference checking or bio-data.

3. Fairness (Adverse Impact)

As well as better candidate reactions, behavioural assessment methods are found to be fairer thanalternative methods of assessment. This means that the outcomes are less likely to be biased in terms of gender, ethnicity or age. For example, the potential for adverse impact against minority ethnic groups is reduced when assessing candidates with simulations in assessment centres rather than ability tests (Hough et al 2001; Thorton, Rupp & Hoffman, 2015). The same can be seen when comparing ability test outcomes with work samples or interviews. Furthermore, structured, behaviourally-based interviews are much fairer than unstructured interviews (Levashina et al., 2014). SJTs also perform favourably against ability tests in terms of fairness, especially when video presentation is used instead of text (Schmitt et al., 2009; Whetzel, McDaniel, & Nguyen, 2008). Best practice principles must be followed for the design and running of assessment centres, so that adverse impact is kept to a minimum (Dean et al, 2008). The chance of legal challenge of an assessment centre outcome is also small; Hughes et al (2012) found that only 2% of reported assessment centres had faced a formal legal challenge.

4. Feedback Quality and Acceptance

Relating to candidate perceptions of behavioural assessments as fair and job-relevant, a further advantage is that feedback provided following such assessments is more likely to be accepted by participants (for example, in assessment centres: Cascio & Aguinis, 2005). Additionally, more detailed feedback can be obtained from behavioural assessments than from other methods (Thorton, Rupp & Hoffman, 2015). This can be incredibly useful for both participants and organisations, and for successful and unsuccessful candidates. For all participants, the information can help them to pinpoint behavioural strengths and areas for development. It also gives a positive impression of the organisation, which has taken time to provide the information. For organisations dealing with successful candidates, the behavioural information can feed into development planning for the individual.

5. Realistic job previews and Employer Branding

Unlike other types of testing, behavioural assessment also helps the candidate to get to know the organisation and get a feel for the role, which aids self-selection. For example, the simulations will reflect in-role tasks and situations, questions asked in interview will be relevant to behaviours required in the role, the SJT will pose scenarios similar to those met with in the role and work samples are actual tasks required in the role. As well as helping the candidate to feel more engaged and making the process feel more realistic and relevant, behavioural assessment can help the organisation to promote their brand and values. This is especially true is if the behavioural assessments are bespoke to the organisation.

6. Confidence in Results

The benefit of many behavioural assessments is that they are often conducted face-to-face. Remote ability testing (i.e. candidates complete tests in their own homes, not at a test centre) is now a very common way to screen applicants, especially in managerial or graduate roles. The issue with this method is that it is difficult to know if the individual taking the test is actually the applicant. Applicants may ask friends or relatives who they know are good at the ability (e.g. numerical reasoning) to complete the test. This is not possible with most behavioural assessments. Even in remotely administered SJTs, where there is the potential to “cheat”, it is more difficult for candidates to know who will do better at these tests than themselves.

7. Faking or Managing Impression

A concern raised about some types of assessment, such as personality tests, interviews and assessment centres is around individuals “faking good” or managing their impression to appear “better” in some way. Research has been conducted into the effects of impression management (IM) in interviews and results suggest that IM can affect interview outcomes to a small degree. However, using behavioural-event interviewing rather than unstructured interviews, spending longer on interviews, probing details provided by applicants thoroughly and training interviewers could reduce effects of IM on interview evaluations (Levashina et al 2014; Roulin, Bangerter & Levashina, 2014). Outcomes of structured, behaviourally-based interviews have strong, positive relationships to job performance (Robertson & Smith, 2001) and this demonstrates that IM should not be a major concern.

In terms of “faking good”, which can be a concern in personality assessment, this is more difficult in behavioural assessment. In SJTs, the candidate may try and “pick the correct answer”, but this is very difficult to do as every response option represents a legitimate way of responding to the scenario. In work samples, the candidate either knows or doesn’t know how to complete the task, so managing their impression is not an option. In simulations, it’s much harder for participants to impression manage or “fake good” as the cognitive effort required for the task of the simulation means it is difficult to also focus on impression management. Therefore, ACs should be particularly effective as the candidate is unlikely to be able to impression manage effectively across all of the simulations in the centre (McFarland, Ryan and Kriska, 2003).

8. Return on Investment (Utility)

The utility or return on investment of an assessment method is, at its most simple level, a comparison of the cost of the process weighed up against its benefits. So, the aim is to hire the individual who will perform best in the role, and therefore create the most financial benefit for the organisation, whilst minimising the financial costs of the assessment. There is evidence to show that behavioural assessment methods demonstrate positive utility (Eriksen, 2011; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Specifically, the utility of simulations in assessment centres has been shown to be positive across a number of contexts (Thornton & Gibbons, 2009). Surveys have asked organisations to indicate what they view as the return on investment of their Assessment Centres. The survey undertaken by a&dc found that 97% of respondents felt that the return on investment for their centre was positive (Hughes et al, 2012). Alternative methods (such as cognitive ability tests) may have higher validities and lower costs, however, when the other benefits of behavioural assessment are also considered (as described above) they are often favourable.

Using Behavioural Assessment alongside other Methods

It is clear that behavioural assessments have benefits when compared with other assessment methods. However, the evidence shows that predictive power can be maximised when behavioural assessments are used with other forms of assessment (De Corte, Lievens, & Sackett, 2006).

For example, when screening or sifting large numbers of candidates for a role, we know that SJTs predict job performance over and above ability measures (Lievens & Patterson, 2011; McDaniel, Hartman, Whetzel, & Grubb, 2007; Schmitt et al., 2009) and personality measures (McDaniel et al., 2007). Additionally, it is clear that groups of simulations, in the form of assessment centres, have incremental validity over ability and personality measures (e.g., Dilchert & Ones, 2009; Lievens & Patterson, 2011; Meriac, Hoffman, Woehr, & Fleisher, 2008).

Another way of combining assessment methods is to use behavioural assessments, such as interviews and simulations, to verify findings from personality assessments. This could be done as part of a development or assessment centre. At such a centre different behavioural assessment methods can also be used to complement one another, for example, it is common to use CBIs to help to corroborate observations from simulations.

Summary

Behavioural assessment methods have the potential to be highly valid and cost-effective predictors of job performance. We have seen they are viewed positively by participants, as they are seen as more relevant and fair than other methods, which has broad benefits for organisations. Behavioural methods also typically show lower adverse impact than other forms of assessment, such as ability tests. Another benefit of behavioural assessment methods is that they provide candidates with richer and more useful feedback. It has been shown that candidates are more likely to accept feedback from behavioural assessments, compared with feedback from ability tests, as they are generally seen as relevant to the job role.

We have also shown how behavioural assessments allow you to be more confident in the results, as they are less susceptible to faking than other methods. Another advantage of behavioural assessments, is that they allow the organisation to display their employer brand and values, and for the candidate to experience a realistic preview of the job. This helps the candidate to make an informed decision about their suitability for the role. What is more, behavioural assessments are extremely flexible; they can be updated to reflect the changing requirements of roles and organisations and they can be combined effectively with each other and with other types of assessment to give strong predictions of job performance. However, it is important to remember that behavioural assessments must be properly designed and delivered to ensure their benefits are realised.

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