Topic: Job Performance, Assessment, Selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2012)
Article: The Validity of Interpersonal Skills Assessment Via Situational JudgmentTests
for Predicting Academic Success and Job Performance
Authors: F. Lievens, P.R. Sackett
Reviewed By: Ben Sher
You’re a newly minted doctor. Your overly-anxious patient just spent an evening on Google. Now he thinks that his medical knowledge rivals yours despite your decade-plus of rigorous training. Naturally, he refuses to accept your proscribed treatment and questions your credentials. How would you handle the situation? Tough one, isn’t it? Well, don’t worry; it’s only a test—a situational judgment test. According to new research by Lievens and Sackett (2012), when these tests are given to medical school
applicants, they can predict job performance many years later.
Situational judgment tests are often given to prospective new hires. They ask test takers how they would respond to possible scenarios they might later face on the job. Typically, a situation is presented in written form, and test-takers choose between several options of how they would respond. Experts determine which response is most appropriate, which in turn allows us to predict who might succeed at the job.
In this study, the researchers investigated a situational judgment test given to a large group of medical school applicants. The situations in the test were presented on video. Trained actors performed common scenarios that were designed to test interpersonal
skills. These skills, which are important for success as a doctor, consisted of building and maintaining relationships, as well as communication skills. Test-takers were faced with scenarios that required listening, conveying bad news in a sensitive manner, and, yes, dealing with the anxious patient who refuses to listen to doctor’s orders.
Okay, so what did these tests predict? Interestingly, these tests successfully predicted performance during internships and performance during post-graduation careers almost a decade later. This was true even though doctors may have trained to improve specific interpersonal skills in the meantime. Still, those with high scores prior to beginning medical school were more likely to succeed many years later.
What does this mean? First, if you know how to coax that nervous patient into taking his meds, perhaps you may want to consider a career change. You already have a leg up on being a successful doctor. Next, this study underscores the importance of interpersonal skills, even for complex technical jobs such as doctors, and reminds us that training in interpersonal skills may not be a perfect substitute for identifying job
applicants who already have strong interpersonal skills. Finally, this study lends further legitimacy to situational judgment tests. If these tests can tell us who will be a good doctor before day one of medical school, just imagine what they can do in other lines of work.
Lievens, F., & Sackett, P.R., (2012). The validity of interpersonal skills assessment via situational judgment tests for predicting academic success and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(2), 460-468.