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Psychometric testing growing for finance recruitment Back  
Increasing numbers of companies are using psychometric testing as part of the selection process for senior finance professionals. About 10 per cent of companies seeking finance directors now use the tests. In order to see what weight is put on the results by recruiters and to ascertain what traits are regarded as being advantageous for high level finance positions, Finance talked to KPMG recruitment specialists John McCullough and Avril Farrell.
“Personality questionnaires measure a person’s preferred or typical ways of behaving and research suggests that, although you can adapt behaviour, there is consistency in behaviour over time,” according to Avril Farrell, who is a senior human resources consultant at KPMG consulting. “The reason companies use them is to give an indication as to what the person might do or how they might behave in a real life situation,” she said. Farrell, who is involved in much of the personality assessments for KPMG, said the most common psychometric tests for use in a work situation are the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ), the 16PF test and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). In most cases the questionnaire consider a number of different aspects of personality, like for example whether you prefer to work alone or with a group,” she said.

Nevertheless, both Farrell and McCullough were at pains to point out that while psychometric tests were useful in the selection of a candidate for a particular job, they would not place undue importance upon them. They insisted that the interview is still the main determinant as to whether you get the job or not.

Avril Farrell said: “It is always preferable to have an interview after the questionnaire to validate the results. The scale in the tests doesn’t measure good or bad.” “They are an additional tool which adds to the due diligence of the selection procedure,” according to John McCullough, who is executive search and selection director at KPMG. “The higher up the totem pole you go, the recruitment fit to the organisation is more and more important because you are part of a smaller and smaller team. A bad fit there is disastrous for everyone,” he said.

Finance directors
When used to select a short list for a financial director or chief financial officer position, psychometric testing can help to highlight a candidate’s skill set and personality traits. But what are recruiters looking for in the results?

“If I’m choosing a CFO, firstly they have to be articulate and able to communicate. Secondly, they would have to have a commercial view of things. This would be an individual who likes to think beyond the ordinary, who likes to find solutions, and who is confident. You don’t get to CFO unless you have confidence in your own ability and decision making,” said John McCullough.

“I’m also looking for somebody who can manage, someone who has that capability and presence about them. Also, you want somebody who can handle stress. You don’t want somebody falling apart if they can’t raise the finance or miss the deadline for management accounts,” he added.

“We’re looking for someone who considers all the detail but also looks at the larger picture, “ Avril Farrell maintained.

“Organisational and administrative skills are a necessity. Candidates must have the ability to organise and administer. They must be able to put order into complex and chaotic issues at times, and cope with deadlines and schedules,” according to John McCullough.

As befitting the nature of senior financial positions, the KPMG director unsurprisingly said that “attention and ability to handle detail and particularly numerical issues are also highly valued. Familiarity and a comfort level with figures is essential.”

Communications and presentation
Strong communication and presentation skills are also a requirement for budding FDs or CFOs. “They must be able to present clearly and concisely. In practice they will need to be able to go to the board, present issues and argue their case,” John McCullough said. Avril Farrell said prospective candidates for top finance posts should “be able to break complex problems down to simple ones.” In order words have the ability to explain financial issues to people in the company from non-financial backgrounds. One characteristic that is often overlooked is the ability to negotiate with third parties, according to John McCullough. “Typically FDs and CFOs are the people dealing with the banks, with treasury issues, shareholders and outside advisors.”

CFOs and people management
According to the KPMG duo people management skills are absolutely essential for senior finance professionals. “They have to be able to manage people. At that level man management is just part and parcel of the job. FDs and CFOs are decision takers and decision influencers,” John McCullough said.

Farrell said recruiters also valued highly candidates’ strategic ability - “the ability to analyse data and formulate plans.” John McCullough said: “If you take for granted that anyone who has got to CFO or FD level has the necessary technical and finance ability, then strategic ability separates a short list candidate from a non-runner.”

Personality turn-offs
If these are the attributes that recruiters look for in senior finance personnel, then what are personality quirks that turn them off candidates? “There are no turn-offs as such, alot depends on the culture and fit of the company” said Avril Farrell. “For instance if the tests showed a high level of anxiousness in the individual, then that is something that has to be probed in greater detail. You wouldn’t go purely on the results of the tests. You would have an interview to find out what they actually mean, how does it convert to reality,” she said.

John McCullough added: “Lack of decisiveness is also a negative. They have got to be confident decisive individuals or else they will get eaten by an MD or operations director.”

About 10 per cent of clients looking for FDs or CFOs ask for psychometric testing to be carried out in the recruitment process, but this is from a situation of virtually none even 10 years ago, the KPMG duo said. “As a recruiter we don’t automatically do it. In certain situations, when maybe we would be down to the last two or three applicants we would recommend to the client that they use the tests. Typically the clients themselves would ask for it,” according to John McCullough.

He noted: “In a headhunt situation it is hard to use testing because you are going after candidates. You are trying to court them into taking on the job.”

In general, multinationals are more likely to use psychometric testing than domestic firms, with US and UK firms leading the way. Avril Farrell said there sometimes was an initial resistance by some older job applicants to testing but that this tended to fade once the procedures were fully explained. “It is becoming more common practice but the interview still wins hands down,” she said.

Psychometric testing is an optional extra in the recruitment business for the client and works out at about 3-4 per cent of the overall fee.

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