What does it feel like before, and as you complete, a profiling or assessment tool? You most likely experience some nervousness about it, have some questions you want answers to, or even feel cynicism at the thought that any tool can tell you anything much, or new, about yourself.

We usually think we know ourselves pretty well and that there’s nothing particularly useful or ‘extra’ an assessment can give us.

Your experience of completing a profile or assessment may have only served to confirm this, or you may have had a pleasant surprise and found it moderately insightful or even extremely enlightening.

The truth is, just like with many things, there is a plethora of tools out there claiming to measure just about anything, from your mood to your emotional intelligence to your leadership style to your suitability for job x or job y…

Here are 3 questions to help you know what you are dealing with:

  1. What level of diagnosis is this providing?
  2. What explanatory value does it have?
  3. What predictive power?

1. What level of diagnosis?

Think about a health check, and the difference between a pulse check, a blood test and an MRI scan. Each one will tell you something about the state of your body, but a doctor would make a choice about which was most relevant in helping reach a diagnosis. They don’t have the same range, or power, or specificity of diagnosis.

With assessments, we likewise have a complete spectrum of everything from the pop quiz (are you a donkey or an eagle personality?), to a profile that gives you a broad read of your strengths, interests or style, right through to the MRI type assessment, which offers a really in-depth behavioural or personality analysis. It’s really important to be clear on what any assessment does and doesn’t do. A pulse check won’t tell you if you have an iron deficiency. A blood test won’t tell you whether you need a hip replacement.

If you are choosing a profiling or assessment tool for use with others, then what are you wanting to know about them, or wanting them to know about themselves? What is your end goal?

Is it assessing their suitability for a particular role, or their potential for promotion? Is it identifying how different or similar they are to yourself, or to another colleague they work with? Is it helping them gain some self awareness about their style, strengths, perspectives or emotional intelligence? Is it helping a team understand their individual differences and similarities?

Then ask yourself: how accurate and detailed do you need the output to be, how critical is this for your purpose? Is your goal more ‘lite weight’ or is it ‘really critical’? At the end of the day you will need to pay much more for the latter. There are a lot of people offering pulse checks and blood tests but not so many offering MRI scans!

2. What explanatory power?

If an assessment can explain something really useful to you, then it becomes much more valuable. For instance, my results may describe me as reflective - I like to think a lot. Yes, I know that about myself and I agree - but how does that help me?

Many assessments only go that far.

Now, what if I could understand when that reflectiveness enables me to make a positive contribution and when it causes me frustration? Or, when it causes others frustration (especially people who are ‘in a hurry to decide and act’); I would then be able to develop some strategies to manage myself and work better with others.

Now, that would be really useful!

You can agree with an assessment that gives you a descriptor of behaviour, strength or interest but you can’t always see what to do with that information. When there is explanatory or prescriptive information; ‘this is why, and this is what you can do with this information’, then the insight becomes much more powerful.

3. What predictive power?

Validity is important, and is particularly so if you are needing to assess a person against some criteria, such as job fit, or suitability for a certain role. They need to see the face validity and you need to know that there is some predictive validity.

Face validity is about ‘do I see the connection between this measurement and the thing I am being judged for?’ If the test items are about which animal I think I am most similar to, then I am unlikely to think it really has much to do with my suitability for a job as a technician! Whereas if the questions are about my level of interest in or how I approach technical problems or how much success I have had in solving technical problems, then that is hugely more convincing.

Predictive validity measures how accurately a test indicates that, for example, ‘people with this range of scores or this combination of scores have been shown to do well in x roles’. There is a difference between a hunch that something may be predictive and actually checking that it is. We may think for example that people who are more ‘decisive’ do well in leadership roles, so if a tool is claiming to measure decisiveness, then we can use it to select someone for a leadership role.

Well the problem with that approach is that all sorts of people who don’t measure highly on ‘decisive’ can do very well in leadership roles, and some who are decisive don’t do so well. We also need to be sure that the construct, in this case ‘decisiveness’, is what is really being measured. That’s a topic that is too complex to get into here, but the key point is that there aren’t many assessments that you can confidently use for selection. And certainly none should be used without careful consideration of a person’s track record, past performance and the context for which they are being selected.

Most published tests will have manuals and specs on reliability, validity and norms - but be real about these! They can look pretty impressive with coefficients and large samples, but at the end of the day the key questions to ask are - can I trust the results are accurate and meaningful? and what can (and can’t) I confidently do with them?

The best profiling tools and assessments enable many valuable and useful applications on a personal, interpersonal and organisational level. But they require handling with an informed level of expertise and care, to ensure they are used positively and well.

If you’re interested in finding out more, contact sarah@elaura.com