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Marjorie Raymond  / Paula Dixon

MWR Consulting

Projective Assessments: The Evolving Niche in Testing

Manchester Metropolitan University

27th November 2019


Employers would benefit from a completely fresh approach to recruitment. Consequently, this would provide a deeper understanding of both strengths and detailer behaviours, and also beliefs and values, argued Marjorie Raymond and Paula Dixon at the November meeting of the Manchester branch of the ABP.

Projective assessments were developed initially in the 1930s by Henry A. Murray and Christiana D. Morgan at Harvard University. They used them to explore the underlying dynamics of personality. Although somewhat out of fashion, not helped by some unwise use of emphasis on “easy to obtain”. “objective” and perceived low-cost quantitative candidate data of variable quality, there is now a resurgence in interest in sections of the market (mainly upper levels of management) in projective assessment techniques.  In reality, the direct costs are little more than using a flexible personality profiling tool such as WAVE. However, they provide a gateway to a wealth of qualitative information that is unavailable through quantitative objective assessments. Projective measures are ideal in recruitment and talent management programmes.

The overall objective of the session was to explain how projective assessments may be used in recruitment to determine beliefs and values using the typical flow of a recruitment assessment:

  • Psychometric Assessment (WAVE/HDS)
    • A case study: using sentence completion assessmen Respondents were provided with beginnings of sentences, referred to as “stems”, and respondents then complete the sentences in ways that are meaningful to them.
    • A thematic apperception test (TAT), designed to let a person respond to ambiguous images, to reveal hidden emotions and internal conflicts.
  • Behavioural Competency Interview

Marjorie continued to illustrate the process by reference to a completed assessment and the flow of the different stages, during the application of a candidate and the content of his responses.

Purpose of Sentence Completion Tests:

  • Detect Patterns of Behaviour that a candidate may conceal
  • Gain insight into motives beliefs and values
  • Gain insight into potential defences and derailing behaviours

The advantage of Sentence Completion Tests is ease of administration. They are brief and engaging. They tend to work well with reasonably articulate candidates. It is in the context of middle to senior management roles, such as business development and sales manager roles that they can add the most value.

Marjorie provided a case study of a candidate applying for a role in a recycling manufacturer and where sentence completion was used because it was:

  • Engaging
  • The purpose can be disguised
  • Tailored to elicit specific outcomes (WAVE/HDS)
  • Findings can influence behavioural competency interviews
  • Easily linked to organisational objectives and critical success factors

Combined with the HDS profile, some useful conclusions can be explored at a later stage in the assessment process. Including, for example, degree of toughness, extroversion vs introversion, aloofness and levels of indifference, harshness.

Considerations of the exercise demonstrated that the following needed to be explored further:

  • Do the responses indicate a clear leadership orientation?
  • What does Leadership effectiveness look like when his team is struggling?
  • WAVE & HDS considerations:

Will he intervene? How timely will this be? What is his motivation to intervene? People vs task balance? There was a suspicion that the candidate might overuse his strengths, less likely to involve others and retreat at an early stage into making decisions on his own.

The sentence completion test was then used to explore some of these areas. Half a minute was allowed for the session demonstration short set of eight questions as answers on impulse provides the most accurate results. However, the number and content of the items can be expanded. Typically, a full investigation would include 80 to 100 stems.

The case study showed that Motivation and assertion needed further exploration. Also, the drive to deliver, and carry people with you, therefore, how much of a detail person are they, how do they record decisions and engage people to deliver?

Discussion about the effectiveness of such techniques highlighted

  • Which beliefs popped up and were they reasonably accurate?
  • What were you thinking and feeling while you were analysing your answers?
  • What would you like to explore in a competency interview as a result?
  • Could you have a group of people you were assessing in one room?
  • Can’t debrief on the day assessment conducted.
  • Can’t do competency interview on the day as you need time to analyse the projective assessment outcomes.
  • If you really want to challenge someone use more than eight questions in the session demonstration.
  • Each hire is unique, and the content should be designed so that it is context-dependent.
  • Values in Interpersonal relationships need further exploration
  • There could be concern about consistency in answers (just as in qualitative measures)?

Thematic Apperception Tests (TATs)

TATs are designed to test the candidate’s ability to construct a story from a series of images. Usually, there would be 31 cards out of which 20 would be used depending on the nature of the applicant being tested.

They are an opportunity to explore a variety of creative thought and tap into the unconscious mind, but they can be time-consuming and reliant on assessor intuition.  Nevertheless, they can be highly targeted to the role and be productive because:

  • Data obtained is triangulated from 3 sources
  • Psychological flexibility from the assessor highlights subtle and unconscious insights
  • Potential to detect rehearsed/faked responses
  • Can be used to avoid recruitment failure
  • Can link to competency objective setting when onboarding

TATs are functional exercises for assessor training, especially in the area of designing context-relevant TATs.

In summary, Projective Assessments provide the opportunity to challenge a rational scientific model of assessment. It is an entirely different way of assessing strengths and weaknesses, and they recognise that there is no perfect candidate for a role. For example, experience has shown that they are good at highlighting elements of support to enable candidates and appointees to excel in the post, how to help them to try to be just and fair and identifying team player ability.  Furthermore, they are good at identifying those who would naturally align their personal objectives with setting organisational goals.  Consultants, trainers and organisations should be aware that extensive training, however, is critical to the delivery of such assessments.

View the slides from the event here.


27 Nov 19

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