This article is most helpful to anyone seeking to hire a consultant or consulting firm to provide psychological assessments for employee selection, promotion, and development.
Like the children’s story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, psychological assessment providers can be grouped into three main categories to choose from. The following information can help you decide which one is “just right” for you and your company’s needs.
Assessment Publisher “Associates”
Essentially, the providers in this category tend to be sales people with certification/training in a specific psychological test designed by the assessment publisher they’re affiliated with.
They usually offer online assessments that are relatively quick, easy, and cheap to administer. Similarly, a computer-generated report about the applicant is created instantly based on how the candidate answered the online questions. The report is then used to make hiring, promotion, and development decisions.
These vendors strive to win you over with proposed cost-effectiveness, time-savings, and convenience. Typically, their goal is to sell you an annual subscription or volume of assessments (e.g., one hundred tests per year) that you or your department can use with minimal consultation or follow-up. This creates a “passive income” for the vendor (e.g., they provide a tool that is mostly “self-serve”).
On the upside, if used in the correct manner, these assessments can save time, money, and effort. For example, they could be used in a team-building exercise where participants identify and discuss the implications of their personality styles in the workplace.
On the downside, if used incorrectly, these types of assessments can cost you far more than they save. Assessments of this nature are relatively quick to complete because they tend to only measure a few aspects about a person. As such, the usefulness of the information is limited. Similarly, while providers often tout the reliability, validity, and legal defensibility of their assessments, the assessment can quickly become invalid (and not legally defensible) if used improperly or under the wrong circumstances.
For example, imagine you have a gauge that measures the air pressure in a car’s tires. The gauge is inexpensive, quick, and easy to use. It’s also reliable and valid; it accurately measures the air pressure in each tire, every time. If you want to know if a car’s tires are inflated properly, there’s no reason to use anything more complicated. …But, what if you want to know how well the car will perform on the road…or if it’s worth buying? The air pressure gauge can’t tell you anything about the engine, suspension, etc., and it’d be foolish to make a decision about buying a car based only on its’ tire pressure. Likewise, as human beings are the most complicated entities ever known, you’re prone to encounter serious problems (e.g., bad hires, legal issues, etc.) if you use only one assessment to make important decisions about candidates’ suitability for hire or promotion.
Boutique Consulting Firms
The providers in this category tend to be psychologists or similar professionals with advanced degrees. They’re akin to physicians in private practices or attorneys in small law firms.
These consultants typically have access to a wide range of assessments from a variety of test publishers. Likewise, they often have expertise in psychological assessment construction, application, and validity, and are highly skilled at interviewing, coaching, and delivering feedback.
Boutique consulting firms strive to win you over with expert advice, quality, thoroughness, and solutions tailored to your needs. They usually take a “multi-assessment” approach, meaning they first identify the competences required for success in a certain role and then utilize a series of psychological assessments to measure those competences. Likewise, their consultants are adept at integrating and interpreting the information from multiple assessments into a summary report that provides insight into a candidate’s strengths, weaknesses, and overall suitability for a role.
On the upside, the expertise, best practices, and tailored approach offered by boutique consulting firms are big benefits. In addition, as they are often small businesses, the dedication to customer service and quality are typically high. Further, as turnover tends to be low at boutique firms, their consultants develop strong relationships with customers over time and gain a deep understanding of their clients’ people, culture, and challenges (which are crucial factors to consider in conjunction with assessment information when making hiring and promotion recommendations). Combined, you’ll likely receive the most useful assessment reports, candidate recommendations, and advice from boutique firms.
However, on the downside, boutique firms are not equipped to handle large volumes of work. If you need to have a thousand supervisors assessed across your Fortune 500 company within a month, a boutique firm is unlikely to have the resources. In addition, their multi-assessment approach takes time, including hours for candidates to complete the testing and days for consultants to complete reports and furnish recommendations. Boutique firms are also likely to be more expensive than the assessment publisher associates described earlier (yet less expensive than large consulting firms).
Large Consulting Firms
The providers in this category tend to be large management consulting companies with offices located across the country or in several countries around the world. They offer a wide variety of services and products, including their own proprietary assessments, training and coaching programs, books, etc.
These large firms strive to win you over with their brand, marketing, and the caliber of their intellectual property (e.g., the aforementioned books, programs, and other products). Like boutique consulting firms, they tend to take a best practice, multi-assessment approach to assessing candidates for hire, promotion, and development (although they often use only their own proprietary assessments). In addition, large firms have the resources to conduct “Assessment Centers”, or programs where groups of candidates participate in live job simulations (e.g., with actors, role-plays, and other exercises) to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for a role.
On the upside, the sophisticated intellectual property and vast amount of resources large consulting firms possess provide clear advantages in certain circumstances. For example, if you need to assess many candidates (e.g., hundreds) across several competency areas in a short amount of time, a large consulting firm is likely to be your best option.
On the downside, large consulting firms suffer from many of the typical drawbacks associated with big corporations. Foremost, they are very expensive. Their target market is usually Fortune 500 companies with big budgets. Further, keeping their numerous offices open and adequately staffed adds-up to a tremendous amount of overhead expenses, which get passed down to clients in the form of higher fees. In addition, consultant turnover tends to be relatively high at large firms, and they are often less dedicated to meeting clients’ needs. As a result, you’re more likely to feel like “just a number” when working with them.
In conclusion, each psychological assessment provider (i.e., assessment publisher associates, boutique consulting firms, and large consulting firms) have important advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the one that’s best will depend on you and your company’s needs.
You can learn more about me by visiting garydumaispsychologist.org and selecthumanresources.com. Also, free tips and advice can be found at my blog (garydumais.net) and on my YouTube channel (youtube.com/channel/UCmRvjywXN9_9f4F5GNl3Sqg).