Dr Austin Tay


Caveat Emptor [Latin, Let the buyer beware.] A warning that notifies a buyer that the goods he or she is buying are “as is,” or subject to all defects. Often when we buy things there is a propensity to trust the people that we buy things from, as there is always a guarantee. This is all well and good but how about services? Can one use this phrase to safeguard malpractice and bad service?


I am not sure legally whether the term will stand but I suspect that this may be possible in terms of a contract. The concerns here are how many of you have had an experience that services rendered to you just did not meet the requirements that were promised? So what actions can one take? Or for that matter can one prevent such incident to happen?


I would like to focus on one area of psychological services that, as it stands in Hong Kong, are not curtailed or governed by any legislation. If you are HR and involved in the use of psychometric assessments for selection, assessment and development, you will be familiar that, in the market, there are many service providers offering their proprietary tools or are representatives of psychometric tools. How then does one decide who are the legitimate and qualified providers versus those fly by night service providers? Let’s do a checklist.


THE REAL McCoy – the person selling you the services and products


1) Always check the credential of the person who is offering that services.


– There is a difference between an HR practitioner and an industrial organisational psychologist. Both have a different educational background, the former being a generalist and the latter a specialist.


– There is also a distinct difference between someone who has done a bachelor degree in Psychology and one who has a Masters degree or PhD in Industrial Organisational psychology. This is because someone who has a Masters degree/PhD in Industrial Organisational focuses on the application of that form of psychology whereas someone who as a bachelor degree learns about the general aspects of psychology. A quick way to determine whether the person you are dealing with has the appropriate qualifications is to ask them. If they have done a bachelors degree but has, somewhat, managed to do a psychometric assessment, they are known to be people who know about psychometric and NOT IO psychologists. Usually, untrained people will usually use terms like ‘business or organisation psychologist’ to present themselves as IO psychologist.


– A person trained in one form of psychology does not qualify that person to become a psychologist in another field. For example, a clinical psychologist cannot be an IO psychologist because the ‘workplace’ they used to practice is not similar to that of an IO psychologist. Similarly, a sports psychologist does not automatically qualify him to assess behaviours in a workplace just because he works in a business environment.


– It is also important to stress that like any professional services, IO psychologists should be registered in at least 1 psychological society such as the Hong Kong Psychological Society (HKPS), British Psychological Society (BPS), American Psychological Association (APA) and Australian Psychological Society (APS) and will also be part of their Divisional group such as DOP, DIOP and SIOP. Please note that while most psychological societies will accept registration from anyone who has done a general psychology degree, it is the Master’s degree that will determine their capabilities in their practice form of psychology. For e.g. a HK registered psychologist with the HKPS will have letters – Reg. Psychol after their name while a registered IO psychologist will have letters – Reg. Psychol (I.O.).


The piece de resistance – the tools or services


2) Always learn about the tool and not just take it at face value.


– Psychometric tools come in various forms. The common ones are abilities (cognitive tests) and a personality questionnaire. While they look on the surface to many similar (face validity), they are far from the truth. Legitimate psychometric tools are usually rigorously designed and validated so as to ensure that when apply they are both valid and reliable.


– One way to ensure that tools you are going to use fit your purpose is to ask for the technical information as to how the tool is being constructed and what validation studies were done. Being more informed, you will be able to choose the right tool for your intended use. If service providers are not able to do so, my advice is to STAY CLEAR of that tool.


– Other forms of psychometric tools include assessment and development centres. These culminate forms of cognitive tests, personality questionnaire, exercises and interviews. Assessment and development centres are usually done from 1 to 2 days. Assessors will be used to pull evidence from these areas to provide a written report of individuals being assessed. While IO psychologists are not always engaged to do such work, always remember that the whole process needs to be sound and robust. This will be all subject to how the AC /DC is being designed. Again, checking the credentials of the person selling and designing the service is vital. A trained consultant will usually address your intentions and advice appropriately while somewhat inexperienced consultant will propose to you mostly off the shelf solutions. This distinguishes a consultant vs. a salesperson. I am a strong believer in providing valued services and solutions and not just providing sub-standard services. Do not be fooled by jargons used by some consultants, they are there to give you the impression that they are knowledgeable. However, on the contrary, it is the consultants who are able to provide succinct and clear logical processes to your needs who will be your prevailing business partner.


– You just can tell whether the consultants know their craft or they are just pulling wool over your eyes. Do not be afraid to ask the right questions. It is the way they articulate their suggestions after hearing your needs that can be a determinant to how good they are going to be doing the work. While a proposal that has 20 pages with fanciful process funnels might seem impressive, the test is how the work is conducted and carried out. Remember you are paying the consultants for their expertise, so they should be providing you with that.

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