Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


The bare essentials of telling stories using situational judgement tests

How do you sift out unsuitable candidates early on in your recruitment process?

telling stories with situational judgement tests

Imagine you’re a meter reader. Your job is to visit customers’ homes and read their meters. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But what if the customer answers the door in their underwear? What do you do then?

Would you politely request they might like to cover up a bit? Or arrange to come back later to read the meter? Or do you ignore their state of undress and get on with reading the meter?

Would it surprise you to learn that your answer to this seemingly random question is a very good indicator of whether you’d make a good meter reader or not?

That’s why, when I worked with a major energy company to recruit meter readers, we included this question in the situational judgement test. By asking people how they would react in this situation early on in the recruitment process, we were able to confidently sift out unsuitable candidates.

Read on to find out the right answer to the underwear question (and there is a right answer) and how the situational judgement test can be a really effective sifting tool.

Why is the situational judgement test a good sifting tool?

Ever had to deal with job applicants who don’t fully understand the role they’ve applied for? Probably, every time you’ve recruited, right?

Perhaps they’ve not done enough research or maybe that information isn’t in the public domain. Or maybe it’s right there on the job description, underlined three times, but they still don’t seem to appreciate the realities of the role on the ground.

Which means they might not be suitable for the job but they don’t know it – and you won’t know it until you’ve interviewed them. What a waste of time for both of you.

Even worse, they might get the job. And then realise it’s not for them. And leave. An even greater waste of time and money.

What if you could put the candidate in a situation that reflects the reality of the job, that brings the job description alive? That enables them to envisage themselves doing the job, facing that particular situation? So that they very quickly see whether it’s the job for them or not?

That’s what a situational judgement test (SJT) enables you to do. Not only that but you get to see how the candidate uses their intelligence and experience in a situation directly related to the role in question. Enabling you to assess whether they display the right behaviours for that role.

SJTs are particularly useful for roles which don’t require lots of previous experience but you do still need to be sure the candidates have the right values, attitudes and behaviours for the role – something it’s often difficult to tell from a CV. Like a care worker role for example. SJTs are also good when there is a significant practical element to the job – like meter readers.

Talking of meter readers, let’s get back to the question of underwear.

The right answer is to ignore the fact the customer is not fully dressed and simply get on with reading the meter. If the customer’s comfortable with you being in their home then your discomfort is your problem, not theirs. To ask them to cover up is to raise it as an issue (possibly insulting the customer) and to leave not having read the meter means, well, you’ve not done your job.

The client and I debated whether to include this scenario in our SJT. Was it too sensitive, too extreme? Would it put people off from applying?

But this question was a high predictor of good quality meter readers. It sifted out those who might be freaked out by such a scenario – which is not uncommon, according to the meter readers I interviewed when designing the SJT.

It also indicated those candidates who would be focused on the job even when the unexpected happened. Not just customers in their underwear, but aggressive dogs on the doorstep, furniture blocking access to the meter etc. It revealed those candidates who could think on their feet, put the customer first and get on with the job.

At what stage can you use a situational judgement test?

The other great thing about SJTs is that they can be completed online – which means they can be used at an early stage of the recruitment process. Thereby sifting out unsuitable candidates way before interview stage. They’re typically a questionnaire made up of questions with multiple-choice answers. The key thing is that the situations are directly relevant to the role in question – which usually means they’re bespoke designed specifically for a role.

There are exceptions however. Off the shelf SJTs can help you evaluate managerial style since there are clearly typical situations that managers face whatever industry they happen to work in. Like sorting out a dispute between team members, for instance. Or dealing with someone with a poor attendance record.

The key benefits of using SJTs are:

  • SJTs help people to understand the realities of the job – so they can make a more informed decision about whether it’s something they could do
  • They enable you to sift earlier in the recruitment process – before unsuitable candidates reach interview stage
  • They can improve the quality of the candidate pool, very quickly
  • They save time and money.

Thank you for reading this article. I post regularly about recruitment and people development issues – to help you create a brighter workplace. To get future blogs sent direct to your inbox, sign up here.

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