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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Case study: AQA improves recruitment process with psychometric testing


As the number of applications per role increases, businesses must find new ways to find the right candidates for the job. New techniques are emerging all the time, often centred in the online sphere which can reduce costs. This case study looks at exam board AQA and how they used psychometric testing and a list of ‘ideal’ candidate qualities to manage the recruitment process across the organisation.

AQA recently partnered with Talent Q to assess 300 candidates for new roles. Talent Q provided objective data and insights for each candidate, showing how they rated against key behaviours, and created an interview framework guide to help AQA’s managers conduct best practice competency-based interviews. As a result, AQA has been able to embed key behaviours into the business and make more informed selection decisions based on each candidate’s potential, not just their expertise.

Using new behavioural focus to guide hiring

AQA has identified four key behavioural areas that are important for its continued success and wanted to embed these values in the people it hires: customer and market focus, flexibility and innovation, continuous excellence and personal contribution. It also established specific leadership behaviours, linked to its newly-defined management levels (manager of performers and manager of managers).

“Those employees who were not immediately appointed to roles for which they had a close fit were either ring-fenced for different positions or they were given the opportunity to apply for brand new roles,” said Miriam Jones. “To help manage this situation, we decided to introduce a new assessment process that would enable us to objectively select the best person for each role. We wanted to take account of people’s potential, not just their current expertise, and we were also keen to make this a supportive and developmental process.”

After a thorough procurement process, involving several key assessment providers, AQA appointed Talent Q. “They presented the best proposal, had relevant experience and fitted our culture,” said Miriam Jones. “They were also willing to work flexibly and able to deliver against a very challenging time line.”

Three levels of assessment

Talent Q delivered different assessment experiences, depending on the seniority of the candidates and the roles in question. It also created an interview framework guide, derived from its personality questionnaire which rated each candidate against AQA’s key behaviours and generated a series of questions that a panel could use at a competency-based interview.

Approximately 100 people were assessed for AQA’s senior positions (typically manager of managers). Each of them completed online personality and ability tests online. At a half-day, one-to-one session with a Talent Q psychologist, they delivered a presentation on a case study followed by an in-depth interview and validation of the personality assessment. The psychologists created individual feedback reports for each candidate, mapping their strengths to the key behaviours required in the role. A panel of AQA managers then interviewed each candidate using these feedback reports and the interview framework guide.

Approximately 40 middle managers (manager of performers) completed Talent Q’s personality questionnaire and completed a shorter case study which was similarly broad-based but emphasised the customer aspect. This was followed by a shorter interview and validation of the personality assessment. Again, Talent Q prepared individual reports that rated each candidate against the key behaviours for their roles. These reports were used by the interview panel alongside the interview framework guide.

160 of AQA’s performers (non-managers) also completed the personality questionnaire which generated behavioural questions aligned to AQA’s behavioural framework. This interview framework guide was used by the interview panel to ensure a consistent approach.

“Our managers greatly valued the impartial data and feedback on candidates provided,” said Miriam Jones.

“This gave them a lot of evidence to work with and it made it much easier to benchmark and assess people for the new roles. The interview framework guide steered them to ask searching questions and helped to improve their whole approach to interviewing. The rigour and objectivity of the exercise provided additional reassurance for the candidates that they were treated fairly. People gained useful feedback but they also gained an understanding of their strengths, their preferred way of working and where they needed to develop.”

Equipped for the future

Subsequently, Talent Q has also provided training in the use and application of personality assessment, for members of AQA’s HR and L&D teams, so that they could continue to use the same tools for future recruitment and ongoing development support.

“Whatever the future holds for examinations, we feel that, as an organisation, we’re now in a much better shape to respond,” said Miriam Jones. “Having gone through a major restructure, and learned valuable lessons in the process, we are now in a much better place in terms of capability to move us forward. We’re confident that we can understand and meet the needs of our customers more effectively and cope with the inevitable future changes that are coming in our sector.”

AQA is an education charity which aims to help every student and teacher to realise their potential. It is the largest provider of academic qualifications for schools in the UK and its qualifications are used in most secondary schools and colleges in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The organisation employs over 1,000 people and works with around 35,000 academics, teachers, lecturers and subject experts. Talent Q provides a range of tools to help organisations recruit the right individuals, including online psychometric assessments, training and assessment consulting.

Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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