Spotlight on SJTs: Eight ways SJTs can add value to your selection process

WPG are pleased to introduce our new Spotlight on SJTs series of blogs! In these resources, we will explore how SJTs can add value to your selection process and how they can be designed and used effectively. Please subscribe to our newsletter or check back here to follow along with our regular content updates.

Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs) help organisations create a selection process that keeps up with the changing demands of the ever-evolving workforce. 

Current trends across talent teams1 show managers are interested in understanding ‘soft skills’, employee values, and cultural fit. Managers also want to promote good mental health and create a diverse and inclusive workforce. These priorities will require a step-change in how some organisations select their people going forward. Understanding how prospective employees will behave at work, and if they understand and demonstrate the core competencies required for their role is critical, and experience, academic records and qualifications are no longer the only way to understand this.

SJTs are becoming a key method to assess applicants for potential. In our Spotlight on SJTs Series, we explain what SJTs are and how organisations can use them effectively. 

We’re starting the series by explaining eight ways SJTs can add value to your selection process.

What is an SJT?

Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs) have become a popular selection tool. An SJT is an assessment that takes an applicant through a range of scenarios they might experience at work. The applicant selects the best way to respond to each of the scenarios. The SJT then compares the applicant’s choices to the ideal response and gives them a score. This type of assessment provides insight into an applicant’s judgement about how to behave, and how effectively they understand the skills required for the role.

How can SJTs add value to your selection process?

We’ve highlighted eight ways that SJTs can improve your selection process. 

A black and white clipart of a magnifying glass

SJTs provide insight into how people behave at work

SJTs are based on the proven theory that current behaviour can predict future behaviour. The way SJT assessments are designed means that, when applicants respond to an SJT scenario, they demonstrate their natural behavioural preferences or values. This helps:

  • Judge if the applicant would be a good fit for the role, they ha     ve applied for
  • Judge if the applicant would be a good fit for the organisational culture 
  • Understand if an applicant might demonstrate behavioural issues once in the role

Because SJTs explore applicant personality and behaviour preferences in a ‘real-life’ context, a good quality SJT can tell you more than traditional methods such as CVs, personality assessments, or cognitive ability tests2. As a result, SJTs are used across a variety of sectors including healthcare3, law4, and the public sector5.

 

SJTs give applicants an insight into the company and the role

It’s not only employers who need to understand their prospective employees; it’s also essential that applicants have a good understanding of the role they have applied for and the organisation they want to be part of. 

Understanding “a day in the life” of a role or organisation can be challenging for applicants. However, people are far more likely to succeed in the selection process, and in their roles, if they have had a realistic preview of the job and could decide if they would fit well within the organisation. Because SJTs are designed around real-life scenarios, they can show applicants “a day in the life” very early in the application process. Applicants can make an informed judgement about if they wish to proceed, reducing wasted time on both sides.     

 

SJTs are time-effective, cost-effective talent solutions

Point 1 told us SJTs use real-life scenarios to explore how applicants might behave at work. Other methods that can assess this, such as structured interviews or role-play exercises, often require significant time, resources, and cost to set up and administer.

SJTs assess how applicants would respond in a much more efficient way. An SJT can be administered online to as many applicants as required, taking them less than an hour to complete, and requires no intervention from talent teams or recruiters to score or interpret. Results are immediately available and can be used to make selection decisions and to give unsuccessful applicants feedback on why they may not be a good fit for the role or organisation.

 

SJTs can be used to manage large applicant numbers

SJTs are also scalable; this means they are ideal for systematically assessing large volumes. Once an SJT has been designed and tested for a role/organisation, it can provide an efficient and standardised way of sifting thousands of applicants in the early stages of a talent process. 

In contrast, reviewing application forms is a time-consuming job that requires a lot of recruitment resource, and can often generate different results depending on who is reading the form. For high-volume recruitment processes, where job vacancies regularly arise, it’s important to have a consistent way to sift applicants before the more labour-intensive and costly stage of interviewing or screening starts. 

SJTs are a cheap way to keep the talent pipeline flowing. 

 

SJTs are suitable for hiring across different organisational levels

At WPG we work with clients to design SJTs specific to a role or organisation. We design realistic scenarios that measure skills or values important for success in that organisation. Because SJTs assess how an applicant would demonstrate these competencies or values when doing their job, different versions of the same core SJT can be used to sift applicants for multiple roles in the same organisation. This versatility means time invested in understanding organisational culture and values and designing realistic scenarios at the outset, can then inform a range of SJT assessments for use across roles and at a variety of job levels (from entry level6 to executive level7.).

One example of how this is achieved involves the difficulty level of the assessment. This can be adapted by varying the style of question asked. When presented with the same scenario, an easier SJT might ask applicants to rate a series of responses to that scenario, e.g. “how well does response A / response B deal with this scenario?”. In contrast, a more challenging SJT might ask the applicant to put a series of responses in order, e.g. “how effective are each of these five responses when compared to one another?”. This is particularly useful if a selection process needs to differentiate between a large number of applicants for a role with very similar knowledge and experience, such as Graduate Scheme applicants.

 

You can’t ‘fake’ your SJT results

A concern across Talent teams and recruiters is the possibility that applicants may manipulate their results to succeed in a selection process. Whilst personality assessments and cognitive ability tests can protect against this to some degree with appropriate design and delivery, it remains a real issue. 

There is an abundance of coaching online to help applicants with interview techniques, access to paid courses for improving performance on cognitive tests, and the possibility of using generative AI tools to write responses on application forms. This means these methods may generate data that is not a true reflection of an individual’s skills. 

Our SJTs are bespoke to the context they are created for. It is not possible to ‘look up the answer online’; performance depends on how applicant judgements are aligned with the organisation or SME judgements. As a result, coaching is less likely to have an impact on success. SJTs are also usually administered through specialised platforms that have protections against cheating built in.

 

SJTs are a more accessible choice to encourage diversity of applicants

As Point 6 outlined, SJTs are one of the few assessments where prior access to coaching or intensive preparation does not make a difference to performance. Not only does this mean they’re less able to be faked, it also means that they are a more equitable assessment option. 

If certain applicants do not have the time or resources to conduct a large amount of preparation beforehand, they are less disadvantaged by the inclusion of an SJT as an early stage in selection than they would be with the use of other assessments where practice is important.

This means SJTs are a good solution for “widening access” to roles; all applicants can be given the same guidance to review the organisational values and competencies (which is good practice when embarking on a selection process). SJT results are focused on the likely fit between the individual and the role, based on their own behavioural responses to workplace scenarios.

For applicants where the format of an SJT may present challenges, such as neurodivergent applicants who struggle with a “pick A or B” response format, SJTs can also be adapted to allow some applicants to explain their reasoning about their response to a scenario.

 

Applicants think SJTs are engaging and relevant

Our history of providing SJTs to clients has shown that applicants find them an engaging and relevant part of selection. Recruiters don’t want applicants to drop out of selection processes because they are too long, too boring, or seem unrelated to the role they have applied for. 

SJTs feel relevant and realistic; they are focused on scenarios that might happen at work, and they are more interactive than cognitive ability tests or application form questions. SJTs are also perceived as a fairer assessment8; less emphasis is placed on previous experience and so including these in recruitment processes may encourage a more diverse group of applicants to apply. 

 

Who are WPG?

WPG have decades of expertise in selection and assessment and places equity, diversity and inclusion goals at the heart of what we do. Our methods for SJT design, implementation and evaluation are built on best practice principles for recruitment and supported by the latest research evidence. Our mission is to ensure your assessment tools and selection methods are robust, valid, fair and tailored to your organisation’s recruitment requirements. 

References for this piece:

1 George, K. (2022, October 3). Competing in the new talent market. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/10/competing-in-the-new-talent-market?registration=success

2 Patterson, F., Zibarras, L., & Ashworth, V. (2015). Situational judgement tests in medical education and training: Research, theory and practice: AMEE Guide No. 100. Medical Teacher, 38(1), 3–17. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159x.2015.1072619 

3 Webster, E. S., Paton, L. W., Crampton, P. E., & Tiffin, P. A. (2020). Situational judgement test validity for selection: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Medical Education, 54(10), 888-902.

4 Practice qualifying test tool. (2023, August 9). Judicial Appointments Commission. https://judicialappointments.gov.uk/practice-qualifying-test-tool/#:~:text=%27Next%20steps%27.-,Situational%20judgement,answer%20options%20for%20each%20question

5 Preparing for the Civil Service judgement test. (2023, August 18). GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/preparing-for-the-civil-service-judgement-test 

6 Tiffin, P. A., Mwandigha, L. M., Paton, L. W., Hesselgreaves, H., McLachlan, J. C., Finn, G. M., & Kasim, A. S. (2016). Predictive validity of the UKCAT for medical school undergraduate performance: a national prospective cohort study. BMC medicine, 14(1), 1-19.

7 Reed, B. N., Devabhakthuni, S., Gale, S. E., Heil, E. L., Hsu, G., Martinelli, A. N., … & Yeung, S. Y. A. (2022). Selection by design: Using job analysis to guide the selection of postgraduate pharmacy residents. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 79(18), 1570-1579.

8 Kelly, M. E., Patterson, F., O’Flynn, S., Mulligan, J., & Murphy, A. W. (2018). A systematic review of stakeholder views of selection methods for medical schools admission. BMC Medical Education, 18(1), 1-26.