Covid – it’s changed our lives.
Many have suffered bereavement. Millions have lost their job. But with news of a vaccine and of an economic recovery, hopefully, many of the unemployed will soon find work. But should employers use traditional recruitment methods, such as psychometric testing, at a time when the nation’s mental health has taken such a big hit?
Before Covid, the recruitment and selection process might have included: an assessment of a curriculum vitae (CV) for skills and experience; a short telephone interview; a longer in-person interview; a group exercise; a role-play and an administrative task. Some candidates may have been asked to prepare and deliver a presentation, or to problem-solve. Additionally, many employers may have asked candidates to complete reasoning and psychometric tests, exploring attitudes and preferences, as well as mental agility. But is it right that employers continue to use reasoning and psychometric testing at a time of widespread mental ill-health?
Some people will have suffered bereavement, affecting them for life. Some will have lost their job, causing emotional distress associated with experiencing significant change. Some will now carry enormous levels of debt as they’ve had to borrow to make ends meet; debt that may cause them stress and worry for years to come. And parents may have seen their child’s development adversely affected, adding to their own personal difficulties. Too many people will have experienced all these circumstances combined. Our hearts go out to them; the hardest hit. The state of mind of most people will have been affected by Covid, and not for the better.
Given these circumstances, can anyone really be expected to be at their best when facing a psychometric test during what may feel like an already stressful recruitment process? Is it even right to use mentally demanding psychometric tests at a time when people are suffering with far higher than usual levels of mental ill-health? In any case, given the more fragile mindset of many applicants, will the results of such tests be as reliable and, therefore, as meaningful? And at a time when people are already suffering, could such tests actually make their condition worse? Perhaps greater consideration should be given to this question as most employers would not wish to add to the already distressed jobseeker’s plight.
Reasoning and psychometric testing seem less appropriate at this current time. Higher levels of mental ill-health must surely have an adverse effect upon test results as emotions, such as distress and desperation, become more prevalent and more prominent. When we look at the groups hardest hit by Covid – marginalised groups, such as black, elderly and disabled people – aren’t these the very groups employers are supposed to be doing the greatest amount to support? Some might argue it seems counterintuitive to use testing systems best suited to affluent, educated, healthy groups.
In light of Covid, and whether reasoning and psychometric tests remain in the recruiter’s toolkit or not, employers should show greater compassion when hiring. There are a number of steps they might take:
Ensure the recruitment process is fair and accessible. Make allowances for the higher levels of mental ill-health applicants may be experiencing. Here, don’t ask. Many people will be uncomfortable sharing their mental health issues. Design the process as if all candidates have mental ill-health. Try to de-stress the process. Much can be done ahead of the formal assessment process to put candidates at ease.
Use a range of assessment methods that provide for a balanced perspective of each candidate’s ability. Scoring badly in one area should not lead to automatic elimination, especially if candidates show promise in other areas. Make allowances for what the NHS now refer to as a ‘wobble’. Give candidates a chance to recover from an isolated poor performance. Slow down, before deciding to write off a candidate. Argue why candidates should remain in the process, not why they should be eliminated. Treat others as you would wish to be treated.
Empower candidates by giving them a degree of control over the recruitment process. As with many types of mental ill-health, some candidates may find aspects of the recruitment process, such as tests and interviews, particularly challenging. Be flexible. Give candidates more time and let the candidate determine the pace of the process or interview, or even if they actually participate! Think innovatively, say, by offering candidates the choice of undertaking any four of six activities, so the candidate chooses those assessment methods they feel best suited to. There is more than one way to test most skills.
Use evaluation and selection methods that are humane. Create opportunities for candidates to do well. Guide and coach candidates through the process and through their interview answers, allowing them to be at the best at a time when they may be feeling at their worst.
Covid has led to millions of people being laid off. As the economy recovers, we’ll hopefully soon see these millions going through the recruitment process in search of work. Many applicants will be suffering from various forms of mental ill-health. Work should be a place where employers create an environment in which employees can shine. The recruitment process should be no different.
James Fairview has organisational leadership expertise, an academic mind and the spirit of an entrepreneur. He is a former executive director, with a background in shaping corporate governance, policy, and strategy.
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