Thursday, March 26, 2009

Biodata in the news

I don't write about biodata inventories very often. Not because they don't work--quite the opposite--but because like personality inventories, they require special knowledge and resources to develop. They also don't tend to be in the news nearly as much as other types of tests like interviews and personality inventories. So I was pleased to see a recent article in the mainstream press about how the FBI uses biodata inventories as part of its hiring process for Special Agents.

For those of you unfamiliar with this type of test, they look at first glance like a job knowledge-type multiple choice exam. The example given in the article is as follows:

To what extent have you enjoyed being given a surprise party?
A. Not at all
B. To a slight extent
C. To a moderate extent
D. To a great extent
E. I have never been given a surprise party

Like a personality inventory, a common reaction to this type of question is sometimes "What does this have to do with hiring someone?" But herein lies the beauty--and complexity--of biodata inventories: each item on the exam has been statistically linked to job performance. So unlike most other types of tests, items are shown to predict performance before being given to applicants.

Other benefits? They are resistant to faking so are great candidates for Internet administration and they typically result in smaller group differences than cognitive tests.

So why don't more organizations use them? A few reasons:

1) They require large sample sizes to develop
2) They require a fair amount of statistical expertise
3) They look a little funky ("why are you asking about my surprise party??")

Those are substantial hurdles for many organizations. But given the rush to online assessment and screening, we may see their usage increase.

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