Psychological Profiling in Education

Posted by on 30 January 2019

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So you need to recruit a new principal or senior staff members for your school. It is critical to get this appointment right. The implications of getting it wrong are too awful to contemplate - impact on students, on staff morale and performance, on the wider school community or even on the reputation of the school. This is before we even get to the cost of replacing a staff member - cost of advertising, cost of bringing candidates to interviews, the cost in time to recruit and appoint and the time for the new appointee to get up to speed.

The most popular method of selection is the employment interview. While interview skills have generally improved over recent years, especially with the use of behavioural interviewing, the research is still not encouraging. Guinon in the Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (1991) writes "Most reviews of the reliability and validity of interviewers' judgments have ended with the depressing but persistent conclusion that they have neither"!

So interviews are backed up by reference checking - right? Unfortunately most people have the good sense to provide favourable referees and not critical ones. They recommend you talk to their 'fan club'. Hence references are estimated to have low criterion validity, ranging from .14 to .19 (Salgado, 1999).

In order to make the best judgment, to select someone who will fit into the existing team and perform well, you must gather as much information from as many different angles as possible. Hence psychological profiling has become increasingly used as a further tool to assess a candidate. A variety of occupational tests are available including personality, ability and motivation questionnaires. 

The first step to get the best from a psychological assessment is to analyse the job and define its competency requirements. Ahead Associates have completed a research exercise which identified the competencies which differentiate outstanding, average and poor performance for principals of secondary schools in New Zealand. This makes a good starting point and can be adapted to help you identify what you are looking for. Consideration can also be given to the existing team and any skills gaps that might exist within it.

Psychological assessments are then selected and completed by the shortlist candidates. Personality questionnaires can often be completed on-line, for ease and convenience. The candidate and the psychologist undertake a one-on-one feedback session to review all assessment outcomes. The results and profiles provide the basis for further discussion of personality, style, motivation and development needs.

Candidates (even those with initial doubts) often comment on how useful and interesting they find this session.

Feedback is then provided to the decision makers. This may be in the form of a full written report and/or verbal feedback with summary notes and profiles. Such feedback includes the candidate's strengths, the areas to probe further in reference checking and suggestions for motivating and managing the potential employee.