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The prevalence of cognitive tests in personnel selection

Since the early decades of the twentieth century GMA and ability tests have been extensively used for decision making in personnel selection in virtually all countries around the world (Salgado, 2001, Salgado et al., 2010; Vinchur & Koppes-Bryan, 2012). It is well known that ability and aptitude tests have been used systematically for decades in personnel selection and currently many private companies (e.g., IBM, Microsoft), and public organizations (e.g., the U.S. Armed Forces, UK civil service, and so on) have their own GMA tests; there is, additionally, a wide array of tests commercially available for measuring GMA.

In the last 20 years surveys have been carried out to evaluate the extent to which typical instruments for selecting personnel are used. Gowing and Slivinski (1994) reported on a survey carried out in the United States, which found that 16% of companies administered cognitive ability tests and 42% administered specific aptitude tests for selection purposes. They also reported that 43% ofcompanies in Canada used aptitude tests. In another American survey, Marsden (1994) reported that 7.4% of companies used mental ability tests for hiring decisions in non-managerial occupations, and 9.1% in managerial jobs. A survey conducted in 12 EU member states showed that the use of psychometric tests (e.g., GMA tests) by companies ranged from 6% of companies in Germany to 74% of companies in Finland

(Dany & Torchy, 1994). The average for these 12 countries was 34%. In another survey conducted in five European countries, Shackleton and Newell (1994) showed that the use of cognitive tests ranged from 20% of Italian companies to 70% of companies based in the UK. In Australia cognitive tests were used by 56.2% of companies (DiMilia, Smith & Brown, 1994). Similar results were reported for New Zealand (Taylor, Mills & O’Driscoll, 1993) and for 15 countries from all continents (Ryan, McFarland, Baron & Page, 1999). Salgado and Anderson’s (2002) compilation of a large number of surveys on the use of cognitive ability tests in 16 European countries found that cognitive tests were more frequently used in Belgium, the UK, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, but less so in France, Germany, Greece, Ireland and Italy. They also found that ability tests were used more in graduate- and managerial-level appointments than for general selection processes.

Surveys conducted in the last 12 years show a similar picture. Taylor, Keelty and McDonnell’s (2002) survey on the use of personnel selection methods in large organizations and recruitment firms in New Zealand found that cognitive tests were used in 31% of non-management positions, 47% of management positions in organization, and that 64% of recruitment firms used cognitive tests for management positions. These results were more than double the proportion used 10 years earlier (Taylor, Mills & O’Driscoll, 1993). Pereira, Primi and Cobero (2003) found that cognitive ability tests were used by 44% of organizations in Brazil and that they were the most extensively used personnel selection procedures. In the UK, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2007) found 72% of responding companies indicated that they used general cognitive tests. In 2015, a study on the use of cognitive tests in small and medium-sized companies in Spain revealed that 28% of companies used cognitive tests for decisions on personnel (Alonso, Moscoso & Cuadrado, 2015). This finding contradicted previous reports (e.g., Salgado & Anderson, 2002) and may suggest two factors are involved. The first is that the use of cognitive tests varies according to the size of the company (i.e., the larger the company the greater the use of cognitive tests). Second, since around 2005 cognitive tests have gradually been replaced by other selection procedures (e.g., emotional intelligence tests). Thus, further research is required to assess both developments in relation to the practice of personnel selection. Finally, a 2014 survey conducted for the British-based multinational company SHL (now part of CEB), with a large sample of international companies (N = 1,406 throughout the world), found that 59% of companies used cognitive ability tests, 47% used specific ability tests in pre-hiring evaluations and 24% used cognitive ability tests and 25% of specific ability tests for post-hiring assessment (Kantrowitz, 2014).

In short, cognitive tests have been used extensively for personnel selection purposes, and continue to do so. Excluding interviews, they are one of the most extensively used personnel selection procedures. Nonetheless, their use appears to be determined by the type of profession (e.g., managerial vs. non-managerial occupations), the size of the company (large vs. medium or small companies) and legislation on equal opportunities, which varies widely across countries (see Myors, Livenes, Schollaert et al., 2008; Sackett, Borneman & Connelly, 2008).

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