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Choosing People for Jobs

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Occupational psychology is concerned with selecting the right people for particular jobs, and with training and retraining systems to help people to learn new skills.

One of the main areas of occupational psychology is in the field of psychometric testing. Psychometric tests are tests which are designed to assess some aspect of a person's psychology. Sometimes they aim to assess how much someone knows, or what skills they have: sometimes they are concerned with personality, or intelligence, or some other character quality; and sometimes they are assessing what a person's potential might be – what particular aptitudes they have, and what sort of skills they might find easy to learn.

One thing which all psychologists agree on, though, is that no psychometric test is enough in itself. We should not base any decisions on the outcomes of psychometric tests alone, because they are not that definite. They can be useful, but they are not the whole answer − and if they are taken as absolute truth, then they can do more harm than good. What they actually do is to give us an indication of what the person is like, but that always has to be backed up by other information – their previous experience, other people's opinions, and what they themselves have to say.

Psychometric tests are used by occupational psychologists in a number of ways. One of these is in vocational guidance. People, who are contemplating a change of job, or a new career, often find it helpful to do a psychometric test which will help to identify what kinds of work they might do best. Of course, they still have to decide which out of several possibilities they actually want to do (if any), and then they have to acquire the relevant skills and experience to get the job; but a vocational guidance test can be a useful first step in making a career decision.

Psychometric tests are also used for job selection choosing the right person for the job. Again, they cannot be used on their own: a psychometric test is only one part of a range of information that needs to be taken into account in choosing the right person for a particular job. Sometimes, too, psychometric tests are used to help to select managers or technical staff for promotion. Those making the decision want to know whether someone will be able to cope with the demands of a new job, and use information from psychometric tests along with work records and managers' opinions to make the decision.

There are three types of occupational tests. The first of these are tests of general ability, which are usually intelligence testsof one form or another. These are really just to make sure that someone has a rcasonable capacity for grasping what is expected of them.

The second major type of test is the personality test. These tests are designed to identify personality characteristics which can influence how people interact with others at work, and how they approach the job. They might show, for instance, whether someone is mainly of a sociable disposition, or whether they tend to be quiet and introverted, keeping themselves to themselves.

The third major type of psychometric test which occupational psychologists use is ability and aptitude tests. Ability tests assess how skilled someone is at a particular type of task. For example, someone thinking of employing a secretary would usually ask them to type out a letter, so that they could see how capable they were at typing. Psychometric ability tests work on the same principle, but everything has been carefully standardised, so that we can compare people with different abilities effectively.

Aptitude tests do not assess existing skills. Instead, they assess how well someone would learn to do something. If a computer firm is taking on trainee, for instance, it would not make sense to ask them to program something, because they intend to train the person. Instead, they would give the person an aptitude test, which assessed whether that person could think in the way that is needed for good computer programming. Someone who could not think that way, clearly, would not be any good as a trainee. But just because someone could, does not mean they would be the right person. There are other angles, too, like motivation and character, which would need to be evaluated at an interview and from the person's background. The test would be helpful, but not enough in itself.

We can see, then, that psychology has been involved in a great many different sides of working life. Organisational psychologists are involved in issues to do with human resource management, in understanding what motivates people at work, and in helping organisations to change their ways of working. Occupational psychologists are also involved in developing training systems and in the different aspects of personnel selection.


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