Is It Possible to Accurately Test Candidates for Accuracy?

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Is It Possible to Accurately Test Candidates for Accuracy?

Do a quick search through job classified ads and it is very likely that accuracy (often veiled as “detail orientation”) will show up as a required skill or trait in at least half of the jobs. The subsequent question then becomes:  how can hiring managers accurately assess if the candidate has the ability to dot the I’s and cross the T’s?

Some employers use the resume as the first test.  But resumes are often not the product of the candidate but a document created courtesy of a third party. A typo-free resume offers little reliable data regarding a candidate’s ability to add and subtract, punctuate and use proper grammar, or take messages and jot down phone numbers accurately. In fact, the resume has become so polished that it is becoming more of a personal commercial to get an interview than an accurate representation of a candidate’s ability.

Other employers might use work sample tests asking candidates to file, sort, organize, or type a document.   Work samples offer a better test for accuracy skills but they still do not predict if and how the candidate might actually apply the skill on the job. In other words, functional skill tests are reliable tests of ability, but not if the candidate will actually use it.

Like many job requirements, assessing detail orientation and accuracy requires more insight than what an employer can glean from one interview question or one pre-employment test.

What follows are a list of different types of assessments that can accurately test for different dimensions of accuracy. The right test or combination of tests will depend on what exactly an employer needs to know, the complexity of the job, and how much it wants to invest before they hire. In other words, how significant a problem will it be if the candidate is hired and he misses details, makes mistakes, and has a mindset of “close is good enough.”

Functional skill tests.  Examples of these types of assessment might include math, grammar, sorting, filing, and software tests like Microsoft Word and Excel. The skills and knowledge required to do perform these tasks are often described as hard skills. There are right and wrong answers. The candidate either has the skill or doesn’t.  If he doesn’t, these skills can often be learned. That raises a critical question: what is more important when it comes to assessing accuracy – the skill or the attitude?  That is where additional testing comes into play. 

DISC behavioral tests.  This is one of the most popular assessment tools used in the workplace. It is an excellent predictor of how an employee approaches work and people. But despite many claims to the contrary, it does not accurately predict detail orientation or accuracy. What DISC does is predicts HOW an individual approaches problems, people, pace, and procedures.

For example, many users of DISC feel that a high C individual is good with details. But this is not always true – behavioral style only predicts a penchant for details not a skill. If the high C employee can’t spell, write clearly, or do math, then no level of energy will compensate for a lack of basic knowledge. The C in DISC represents a style that is energized by following the rules.  But having the desire does not ensure skill or ability.  Without basic skills, mistakes will be made regardless of the intentions and desires.

Likewise, the D and I styles may have the ability but their behavioral preferences may hijack their results.  The high I style often focuses more on the people interaction and less on the tasks at hand.  The high D style may also be skilled but their focus on results causes them to overlook the details.

The bottom line – DISC styles may enhance one’s performance when it comes to details and accuracy but it in no way predicts the skills, ability, or knowledge required.

Personality tests.  Conscientiousness is one of the personality traits assessed using the five-factor personality model.  Research has shown that the five-factor model is a reliable predictor of innate talent, an employee’s DNA of performance. But like DISC, personality tests do not predict functional skill or knowledge.  Psychometricians and psychologists however have broken down the conscientious trait into many subscales including detail orientation, task closure, dependability, adherence to rules, and so on. Basic knowledge is still essential but five-factor personality assessments when combined with functional skill tests provide a solid one-two combo for assessing aptitude and attitude.

General mental ability tests. When tasks become more complex or when time is limited, cognitive skills begin to play a bigger role in accurate behavior. Think of cognitive skills as the highway of information processing.  When traffic is normal, all goes well. But when information is coming in faster than one’s ability to process it, two things are likely to happen: (1) work doesn’t get done fast enough or (2) mistakes are made and accidents happen as the individual “speeds” up and rushes to get things done. Even with the right skills, right behavioral style, and right personality traits, low general mental abilities might affect an employee’s ability to produce mistake-free and timely results. 

So is it possible to accurately test candidates for accuracy?  Absolutely.  The best solution is a combination of functional skill tests plus one or more assessments including DISC, personality tests, and/or general mental ability tests. The best combination will depend on the nature of the work, the company culture, and the complexity of the job.

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