Managers: Are You Testing Candidates for Practical Intelligence?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Your hiring process likely includes some type of personality test to determine whether your favorite candidate will fit into your department. But, do your tests go to the next level? Researchers Steven Stemler, of Wesleyan University, and Varun Aggarwal, co-​founder at Aspiring Minds, argue that you will have a better success rate if you also test candidates for practical intelligence. The experts at Indeed​.com say, "Practical intelligence is the ability to use one's intelligence in everyday life and apply common sense reasoning to complex, practical situations."

What is Practical Intelligence

In going beyond domain knowledge, aptitude and personality tests, Aggarwal explains that situational judgement tests help employers figure out how "an applicant handles critical and challenging situations at a workplace." Aggarwal’s LinkedIn column outlines an example of a question that can be used to measure a salesperson’s response to a specific situation. In a common sales situation, sales reps must negotiate with a client who has announced that they won’t budge on price. Your candidate has the ability to give a discount, but they may decide not to. They may also decide to stall, or they may give the client the discount on the spot. Designing a question that asks your candidate to choose an answer when this real-​life problem comes up will allow you to understand how they think in a specific situation.

How to Define and Measure Different Types of Intelligence

The experts continue to debate how to define and measure intelligence. Cynthia Vinney at ThoughtCo​.com reports, "The triarchic theory of intelligence proposes that there are three distinct types of intelligence: practical, distinct, and analytical." Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg developed the theory. Sternberg contended that an adult who functions successfully at work and in other environments must possess all three types of intelligence.

Practical Intelligence: This form of intelligence is all about how you interact with your "everyday" world. Think of this aspect as "street smarts."

Distinct Intelligence: Scoring well in this area means an individual is creative. For example, an individual with plenty of distinct intelligence can listen to a prospect describe a business problem. Then they can formulate a new way to apply the solution they're selling to solve the problem.

Analytical Intelligence: Think of this form of intelligence as problem-​solving capability. Some people are drawn to solve our most difficult problems — such as how to get a spacecraft to Mars.

How to Test for Practical Intelligence

Stemler, Van Aggarwal and Siddharth Nithyanand have published another study, “Knowing What NOT To Do Is a Critical Job Skill,” in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment. In this study, the researchers tested candidates to determine whether they had the ability to recognize the worst possible choice in a bad situation.

Business owners might want this information when they are hiring a manager. They'll want to know if their top candidate possesses practical intelligence. They can gain insight by designing assessment questions that will reveal a person's potential behavior in specific situations.

For example, if two employees are continuously arguing, managers have a number of choices they can use to deal with the situation. The worst possible choice might be to fire one of the disgruntled employees immediately, while the best choice might be to send both of them to HR for some coaching on their behavior. The researchers found that when assessment tests include questions that ask for a candidate's answers in this type of situation, managers can improve “their odds of hiring good performers by 10%.”

Psychometric Assessments

Too many hiring managers rush to make offers to candidates without understanding who they are bringing into their organization. Asking candidates to take psychometric assessments is one way to reduce the risk of adding an individual who doesn't fit the position or the organization. A good assessment will give that information in addition to measuring practical intelligence.

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