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SOME FIRMS AREN'T CONVINCED

Psychological tests evaluate candidates

As human resource companies vie with each other in the increasingly competitive job placement market in Slovakia, one firm claims that psychological tests of job applicants is a vital tool to evaluate candidates whose employment history in a socialist economy divulges little to the interested company.
But the success of this formula, introduced onto the Slovak market by the human resources firm Hill International Slovakia, remains to be proven, as companies for now view it warily.
Hill International, founded in Vienna in 1975, has long used psychological tests to screen candidates for jobs with its business clients. Its founders, psychologists Othmar and Christina Hill, devised a battery of tests to assess the personality, intelligence, interests and concentrative powers of job applicants.

As human resource companies vie with each other in the increasingly competitive job placement market in Slovakia, one firm claims that psychological tests of job applicants is a vital tool to evaluate candidates whose employment history in a socialist economy divulges little to the interested company.

But the success of this formula, introduced onto the Slovak market by the human resources firm Hill International Slovakia, remains to be proven, as companies for now view it warily.

Hill International, founded in Vienna in 1975, has long used psychological tests to screen candidates for jobs with its business clients. Its founders, psychologists Othmar and Christina Hill, devised a battery of tests to assess the personality, intelligence, interests and concentrative powers of job applicants.

When set beside each applicant's record of employment and education, psychological tests were originally intended to be a relatively unimportant component of the overall picture, a sharpener rather than a creator of images.

"In Austria, 80 to 100 percent of the [employment] profile is [work] experience," said Ján Zverina, director of Hill International Slovakia.

As the company expanded eastward after 1989, Zverina said, it came to realize that psychological testing belonged at the forefront of 'headhunting' techniques. In the West, Zverina continued, employment records allow recruiters to see "where [candidates] have been and where they're going" in their field. But in post-communist countries, "it's irrelevant where they were working ten years ago - state employment tells us nothing," Zverina said. The arrival of Western-style entrepreneurship quickly created a variety of new positions that had to be filled; marketing managers, public relations officers and financial analysts suddenly replaced vrátniks in the Help Wanted section.

Since Eastern countries were not teeming with applicants who had ever worked in such jobs, 'potential analysis' through psychological testing became the order of the day, according to Zverina. "Even if someone had no experience," he recalled, "we could say to employers 'the potential is here.'"

Hill uses psychological tests for more than merely weeding out the undesirables of the corporate world. "We consult with our clients and put together a profile" of the ideal candidate for the vacant position, Zverina said. The profile specifies not only the responsibilities, salary and benefits of the job, but also defines the education, experience and languages the candidate must have, as well as their "ideal personality type," Zverina said. There is even a space on the profile form for personal descriptions of the colleagues with whom the candidate would be working.

Hill International has sufficient confidence in its tests to offer a six-month guarantee to its business clients. "If the employee leaves for any reason, we have to find a new person," Zverina said. Five to 10 percent of Hill-guaranteed workers were found unsatisfactory last year, "which proves that we are successful," Zverina claimed.

The success has carried over to Slovak firms, Hill's director said. "In the beginning, our client base was 100 percent international companies," Zverina said. "Slovak companies were afraid of us, but now about 30 percent of our clients are Slovak."

Hill International's specialized job search doesn't come cheap. Hill charges 60,000 Sk to find a secretary and up to 200,000 to locate an executive. Other human resource companies aren't interested in the technique, either. Psychological testing, argued Martin Krekáč, director of the top human resources company in Bratislava, Jenewein, is useful only in "special cases, as a first-stage or pre-selection tool." Jenewein, Krekáč said, is "oriented towards the personal interview."

Other top personnel companies seem to agree. Ľubica Začková, of H. Neumann explained that her company uses such testing if it is required by the client, but that "we prefer to rely on the structured interview and the experience and skill of our consultants." Juraj Vradko, of ICT Istrokonti, went further: "we try to discourage people from using [psychological testing] because it can give a wrong picture," he said. Computer-generated tests, Vradko argued, "can hardly tell you about the candidate's specific attitudes," he said. "We have consultants who are people...their evaluation of candidates could be considered a form of psychological test."

Some companies are squeamish about psychological testing as well. "I have heard that for now, a lot of companies aren't interested in [psychological testing]," said Anna Matúšová, human resources coordinator for McDonald's Slovakia. But she added that it isn't shunned altogether. "The newest trend seems to be towards using psychological tests in combination with traditional methods," Matušová said.

Ľudmila Hadarová, head of personnel for Tatra Banka, reports that her office this month engaged a psychiatrist to evaluate the results of a new, "mostly personality" test.

"I expect that it will support us in our selection of employees," Hadarová said. Undaunted, Hill International points to its client base, which includes such firms as Bosch, Minolta, Mobil, Shell and 3M, and adds that it plans to introduce a new and even more complicated psychological test to Slovakia this year.

"It is already in 10 languages," Zverina boasted, "and it gives us a better view of the applicant's personality." The 'better view' that Zverina refers to is provided by the candidate's friends and neighbors, who are asked to come into the company's offices and answer questions about the applicant. "The whole process is in the testing stage now, but [the final version] will take about three hours," Zverina claimed as he proudly displayed a pile of thickly graphed and darkly shaded sample test results.

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