Monday, April 13, 2015

Aptitude Testing & Work Choice – evolutionary perspective

aptitude testing and work-choice history
Aptitude testing for responsible work choice
Aptitude testing for career guidance has existed only since the 1930s. Aptitude testing was not needed until work choice became freely available about 200 years ago. Before that a person had no choice in his field of work. People trained for whatever their parents did. If they had access to patronage or money they could take up a profession. Now, with the concept of Right to Education, governments seek to extend career choice to all socioeconomic strata. With this new privilege of work choice comes the responsibility of choosing wisely. Aptitude testing takes into account abilities, personality, intelligence and motivation for making a career choice.

Work choice

a brief history

For 10,000 years we did the work our parents did. In the initial millennia of mankind’s existence, work was necessary for survival. Primitive man was a hunter-gatherer to fulfil the biological need for food. As the first human settlements evolved man became a cultivator. He learnt to fashion tools, and make storage vessels. This gave rise to occupations like farming, pottery, and weaving. Densely populated centres evolved, as in Jericho. Families specialised in different trades. Son followed father in the family occupation. Skills were learnt and passed on from one generation to the next. Social hierarchies were formed loosely based on occupation. This often comprised a ruling class of administrators, the merchants, and then the labourers.

In India, occupation formed the initial basis of the caste system. Did an individual have the freedom to choose his profession or trade? The Mahabharat tells us the story of Eklavya, a tribal who wished to become an archer. Drona, the greatest teacher of the time, refuses to take him on. Eklavya through an extraordinary feat of dedication and disciplined study becomes a better archer than Prince Arjuna. However, though he had undoubted skill, aptitude and interest; he was not allowed to transgress the rules of society. Martial art was reserved for the warrior caste – the Kshatriyas – and Ekalavya was punished for aspiring to the same.

5000 years ago the first script evolved. Writing of language in a cuneiform script developed in Mesopotamia (Sumer) in 3200BCE. This heralded a radical change in the way knowledge was communicated and disseminated. Education was imparted informally to groups of children until the age of 13-14yrs. Thereafter these usually followed in the profession of their fathers.

2000 years ago we see the first example of career screening. The Jews selected brighter boys to continue studies as disciples of the rabbi. They would then become masters and rabbis themselves. However, the individual himself had no choice in the matter.

1000 years ago the elite had access to education through universities. The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco, is the oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding educational institution in the world. An important development in choice of education is the concept of academic freedom. This concept originated in University of Bologna (est 1088 CE, still extant) which was the first to guarantee students freedom in the interests of education. The university also gave students a choice in the curriculum to be studied. However, university education was still for a privileged few and limited to a career in the church or as a professional (law or medicine).

500 years ago formal apprenticeship was first originated. A young person usually between the ages of 10-15yrs was formally bound to a master craftsman for 3-7 years. A supply of labour in a particular trade and a certain standard was thus ensured. In the early 17th century children of paupers and vagrants were put under compulsory apprenticeship – refusal could lead to imprisonment. Later children of the gentry apprenticed to merchants, manufacturers, doctors and lawyers. By the 18th century, apprenticeship existed in every level of society except the highest. However even then, the boy himself had little or no say in his career. Career was dictated by the financial situation of the father and availability of a master. The poor had no choice.

200 years ago educational reforms were initiated when the UK National Education League began its campaign for free, compulsory and non-religious education for all children in the 1870s. Students can now take up any of a whole gamut of ever increasing fields. There is now a surfeit of careers to choose from. Students are now forced to choose between subjects when they transition from secondary school to high school. From an absence of choice they are confronted with an array of career choices. It is now important to choose a career in which the individual has a high chance of success and job satisfaction.

80 years ago aptitude testing for job screening and career guidance was developed by the US Employment Service to improve the fit between the individual and the job. Many other aptitude tests have been developed since. Aptitude tests are used in career guidance to measure different abilities and match them with the requirements of various work fields. Given the importance of work in relation to individual well-being, aptitude testing is now a basic tools in job selection. Aptitude testing combined with assessments of soft skills like personality and work style provides comprehensive data for individual career guidance. However, even today, society at large believes that career decisions happen ‘naturally’. Though so much has changed – higher education is easily available, social and gender restrictions have eased and we can choose to do what we are good at – many of us still follow the path of least resistance and do just as our forefathers did 10,000 years ago.


  1. Kathleen Mary Kenyon. Encyclopedia Bratannica. Jericho. Accessed 21-Apr-2015
  2. The History of Education. Ed Robert Guisepi. Accessed 21-Apr-2015
  3. Wikipedia. University of al-Qarawiyyin. . Accessed 02-Apr-2015
  4. Wikipedia. University of Bologna. Accessed 06-Apr-15
  5. Family Search. Apprenticeship in England. Accessed 08-Apr-2015
  6. The 1870 Education Act. Accessed 09-Apr-2015
  7. John F. Reeves. Aptitude Assessment for Career and Educational Guidance. Accessed 08-Apr-2015

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Work style and employee selection

Work style, ability and job performance
Use work style assessment to hire the best - and avoid the rest

Work style is a combination of personality traits that are relevant and specific to the workplace. Work style is highly predictive of job performance and employee behaviour. Differences in working style explain how people with similar knowledge, ability, goals, and desire to perform differ in the actual performance of their jobs. In today's complex business environment talent selection is critical and is at the top of a manager's list of priorities. Selecting employees for job-relevant personality traits improves job performance in the organisation.

Work style and job performance

Individuals differ in job performance despite having similar task abilities. The personality traits the individual brings to the organization along with abilities, interests, education, and experience, are responsible for this difference. Personality traits are a major contributor to variations in job performance. The unique personality an individual brings to the workplace is visible as working style - a combination of work habits and self-regulatory ability. Work style has two aspects - work habits and self-regulation.

Work habits are patterns of behavior that people learn over time that can facilitate or interfere with job performance. They include characteristic motivational responses such as choices for the amount, intensity, and duration of effort to expend. They explain why you would give the job to Neha in certain situations and to Riya in some others.  Work habits include characteristic responses that are not necessarily motivational in nature. This is seen when Rahul, your sales representative who has been trained in the best way to deal with an angry customer and has shown the ability to do so,occasionally reverts to pre-training habits of reacting with hostility.

Self-regulation is the thinking process that allocates attention, time, and effort toward attaining a goal. Self-regulation protects an intention from distraction. Priya’s characteristic tendency may be to exert as little effort as possible, but she may choose to go against that tendency in response to the new bonus structure that rewards productivity. Habits influence behavior despite intentions to behave otherwise because they require very little attention. To implement an intention that goes against habitual tendencies and distractions, one must engage self-regulatory or volitional mechanisms. This self-regulatory construct of working style is very important because it is strongly related to personality.

Modern psychometric tools that accurately measure human potential have been proven to
  1. enhance overall productivity
  2. reduce employee attrition
  3. reduce overall hiring costs significantly.

Work style assessment measures traits such as initiative, integrity, persistence, leadership, stress tolerance, analytical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Higher performance can be obtained across all jobs if one hires employees who are highly conscientious and emotionally stable. Other personality traits (Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Openness to Experience) result in higher performance depending on whether these traits are relevant to the actual job activities.  Hiring right mitigates short- and long term damage to the business from a very bad hire. Work style assessment generates a profile of personality traits that can be matched with requirements for successful performance in a particular job.

  1. Bouton M, Moore M. J Med Pract Manage. The cult of personality testing: why assessments are essential for employee selection. 2011 Nov-Dec;27(3):144-9.
  2. Jeff W. Johnson. Toward a Better Understanding of the Relationship Between Personality and Individual Job Performance. In: Personality and work : reconsidering the role of personality in organizations. Murray R. Barrick, Ann Marie Ryan, editors; foreword by Neil Schmitt. John Wiley & Sons, USA. 2003. Pg 83-120

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Study skills - effective learning habits for students

study skills
Effective study skills are essential learning habits for students. Some students have a knack of learning much in a short time. Others study for hours without much progress. An important differentiating factor is the method of study. Effective study habits can be learned (Barry L. Richardson and Murray Saffran 1985, D F Alexander 1985). The good student must not rely on “study drugs” as these are associated with addiction, panic reactions, confusion, and medical complications including heart attack and stroke (Steve Sussman and colleagues, 2006).

Habit No 1: Apply book learning to daily life

Those who learn rapidly apply their imagination freely to their studies. They see that every subject of study deals with something vital in the affairs of the world, and probably of personal relevance.
Allow the knowledge you are acquiring to become an active part of your daily life, with some bearing on normal activities. Thinking about studies in this way will help build greater interest and also help you to understand and remember things better.

Habit No 2: Think of the long term reasons for studying

Imagine yourself as the CEO in a multinational company; as an internationally acclaimed designer; as an architect creating the perfect city, as the next software entrepreneur, or picture yourself as the valued management expert. Hold that image in your mind and add some detail to it every day.
Visualising these ultimate goals, will give you fresh energy to keep going, because whatever your dreams; your studies are a necessary step towards achieving them.
Many students don’t know what they want to do after their board or other graduation exams. I’ve found Aptitude Testing to be a great way to get them thinking and motivate them to study. Parents usually get this done after the exams. Aptitude assessment before the exams has the added advantages of motivation for study, as also reducing anxiety related to making career choices.

Habit No 3: Organise your work

Successful study is largely a matter of good organisation.
  • Establish a regular routine. As far as possible study at the same time and place each day. A quiet, well-lit room, free from distractions is best.
  • Work out a daily timetable, to guide your activities. Do not be over ambitious with your timetable. Keep it flexible and do not try to learn more than you can comfortably manage.
  • Begin your major assignments well in advance of the required finishing dates to avoid having to complete them in a rush.

Habit No 4: Follow good study technique

Effective learning habits also minimise test anxiety.
Make notes and underline key sentences. Notes should be brief and to the point. Let notes assist your memory, not replace it.
Concentration is a necessary study habit. Resolve, for instance, to study ten pages without a break and then relax. Break up the learning of a lengthy item into sections, concentrating on each separately.
Start at the appointed time everyday. Do not make excuses – ‘I have to get into the right mood’; ‘I’ll just watch TV for 5 more minutes’. Just plunge into your work.

Habit No 5: Enhance your Memory

Memory depends on association, attention and repetition.
  1. Association can be developed by deliberately setting out to form associations or links with given words or facts.
  2. Attention is necessary for registration in the mind. Attention comes from interest in the subject, exercising the brain on it, and by focusing on one’s work in as much detail as possible.
  3. Interest can be inculcated. The more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes.
  4. Develop understanding. It is easier to remember something that is clearly understood. Aids to understanding include a wide vocabulary, good command of language, wide reading and plenty of discussion.
  5. Repetition helps in fixing memory. It is most effective if interest and understanding are involved.

Habit No 6: Build a positive attitude

Think positively. Do not picture defeat, or failure. Use your imagination to dwell upon the positive aspects of life - happiness, hard work, success, health.
People who succeed in examinations begin by believing that they will succeed. Keep telling yourself you are certain to be successful when you do the required work.
Examinations are designed for the average student to pass and the outstanding student to get a distinction.
What thousands of ordinary people have done, YOU can certainly do.
  1. Barry L. Richardson and Murray Saffran. Effects of a Summer Preview Program of Study Skills and Basic Science Topics on the Academic Performance of Minority Students. J Natl Med Assoc. 1985 June; 77(6): 465–471. PMC
  2. D F Alexander. The effect of study skill training on learning disabled students' retelling of expository material. J Appl Behav Anal. 1985 Fall; 18(3): 263–267. doi: 10.1901/jaba.1985.18-263.PMC
  3. Steve Sussman, Mary Ann Pentz, Donna Spruijt-Metz, and Toby Miller. Misuse of "study drugs:" prevalence, consequences, and implications for policy. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2006; 1: 15. Published online 2006 June 9. doi: 10.1186/1747-597X-1-15 PMC.

Teaching, Learning, Aptitude, student