At the height of campus recruitment season, I thought I might not be the only one in need of a break from being told how to become more employable. So for today’s blog, I wanted to steer clear of attempting to give advice, but still look at a subject very relevant to those of us currently applying for vacation schemes: situational judgement tests. With many law firms among the increasing numbers of organisations using these to screen candidates, often even before looking at their application forms, I wondered how effective these tests actually are.
The simple answer is very effective, at least at predicting people’s performance on the job. A meta-analysis by McDaniel, Morgeson, Finnegan, Campion and Braverman revealed that the link between performing well in a situational judgement test and performing well on the job is comparable in strength to the link between on-the-job performance and performance in interviews and assessment centres. For employers, this is a win-win, since SJTs are much cheaper and easier to administer than in-person assessments. Interestingly, however, the meta-analysis also found a link between success in SJTs, and general mental ability, as measured by standard psychometric tests. This might leave you wondering why some law firms have chosen to replace psychometric tests with SJTs.
The first reason for this is that, even though performance in SJTs is correlated with performance in numerical and verbal reasoning and other psychometric tests, the two forms of assessment don’t measure exactly the same thing. Unlike standard intelligence tests, SJTs are specifically designed to measure people’s ability to read social situations and engage in effective interpersonal interactions. This is clearly especially important for law firms, which look for management potential even in their graduate recruits, since interpersonal skills are crucial to effective leadership.
SJTs also tend to provide a more level playing field for applicants than psychometric intelligence tests. Interestingly, differences in average performance of people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds have been found to be less pronounced with SJTs than with psychometric tests. This may be because SJTs focus on what you would do in a situation, rather than what you should do, so help candidates of all backgrounds to feel comfortable in the knowledge that it is their intuitions that are being tested, and not their knowledge.
Finally, SJTs are especially useful to employers because they help candidates to find out about firms, as well as the other way around. This too may be especially useful to law firms, many of whom accept vacation schemers with little previous experience of the sector.