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Nancy Tippins Talks With UN Staff About Using Assessment Tools for Hiring

Jenna McChesney, Lori Foster, and Julie Olson-Buchanan

The SIOP-UN Committee has recently been working with a subgroup consisting of UN staff across a range of different UN entities around the globe. What unites them is their common interest in assessment and selection.

The use of psychometric assessments for hiring purposes is gaining momentum in the United Nations (UN) Common System. Some UN staff are excited about this and have already started adapting different tools for their own teams and talking to various vendors. Others are a bit more apprehensive, preferring more familiar approaches, such as structured behavioral interviews. Therefore, a group of UN staff was created, aiming to propose common psychometric and other testing tools to be used among the UN system. The group meets regularly to discuss and explore a range of topics pertaining to psychometric assessments, such as the possibility of selecting one assessment vendor and framework to implement across the UN. 

Imagine the complexity of selecting one assessment to implement across the UN. We’re talking about a complex group of large multinational organizations with diverse mandates and organizational values that work across different time zones, languages, cultures, and legal systems. Any assessment chosen would need to be ready made and mass produced for quick adoption and scalability, hold up psychometrically across different languages and cultures, and comply with a diverse set of legal standards. In addition to this, each UN entity would likely need to be able to tailor the overall process and independently decide how (and when) they would like to use the assessment.

To bring SIOP expertise to bear on these challenges, the SIOP-UN Committee worked with two UN staff members, Draga Paskova and Julie Weintraub, to organize a couple of sessions to both share best practices and generate evidence-based ideas. The first step entailed recruiting a speaker with the knowledge and expertise needed to present and facilitate a discussion on the topic of psychometric testing.  The second step entailed gathering input from UN colleagues prior to the sessions to find out what kinds of questions they had.

The SIOP-UN Committee, Draga, and Julie successfully recruited Nancy Tippins, principal of Nancy T. Tippins Group, LLC and former SIOP president, to facilitate two (virtual) discussions on the topic of “Using Assessment Tools for Hiring.”

 Nancy Tippins is an expert in workforce planning, sourcing, acquisition, test evaluation, selection, competency identification, succession planning, and employee and leadership development, and has given many presentations on tests and assessments and authored a number of articles. She has also participated in the creation and revision of professional standards for tests and assessments. For example, she served on the committees that produced the Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP); the Standards for Educational and Psychological Tests for the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME); and the “International Assessment Standards.” Recently, she published a paper entitled “Scientific, Legal, and Ethical Concerns About AI-Based Personnel Selection Tools.”

During the sessions, Nancy introduced things to consider when deciding whether to use formal assessments and how to go about choosing the right one. Her presentation was organized into 10 questions that frequently come up when people are considering whether to use formal assessments in the selection process, such as “How do I choose the right test for my job?” “What is the typical process for test selection (or development) and validation?” “What is validation?” and “How do I work effectively with testing vendors?”

The sessions were interactive and led to questions about selecting tests to be used across international borders. When showing the predictive-validity coefficients for different assessment methods, Nancy was asked if trends hold up globally. For example, attendees were curious about whether cognitive ability tests tend to be better predictors of job performance than personality tests across different cultures. She explained that although trends tend to hold up internationally, one should not assume that a test developed and only validated in the United States works well in other countries. As she explained, “There are all kinds of issues that are related to transporting a test from one country to another...a whole process called adaptation, where you need to make sure that the tests that you are developing in one country will work well in another.” She then went on to describe some of her own experience working on large international projects and some of the challenges she’s faced along the way.

She also provided guidance on the types of questions to ask vendors when selecting a test, such as “May I see technical documentation for your test?” and “How do you propose to conduct a job analysis for my job?” Related to international issues, she recommended asking vendors about the work they’ve done to demonstrate that their test works across different cultures. “And if they say my data only came from Western Europe or my data only came from the United States...that’s a red flag if you plan to use the assessment elsewhere, and you need to think again,” she said.

Although sessions like these are relatively new, this is by no means the first time SIOP experts have presented at the UN. In the past few years, SIOP expertise has been shared with increasing frequency—for example, through a couple of joint SIOP-UN initiatives known as “sounding boards” and “Innovation & Learning Speaker Series.” You can read more about these initiatives below.

Sounding boards are sessions cocreated by SIOP and UN staff to bring evidence-based ideas to real-world challenges. You can read more about sounding boards in Olson-Buchanan et al.’s (2021) TIP article, “SIOP-UN Short-Term Projects: Sounding Boards and Literature Reviews.”  

If you are interested in learning more about the Innovation & Learning Speaker Series, please read Sheikh et al.’s (2018) TIP article, “The Innovation & Learning Speaker Series: A Partnership Between the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and the United Nations Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM).”

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