TalentFocus Blog

  • In Conversation with Jen Nightingale, VP TalentLens

    by Jen Nightingale, VP Sales and Marketing TalentLens

    How do we ensure assessments don’t reinforce systemic bias?

    By definition, systemic bias is having processes and policies that systematically exclude members of a particular group, or that give preference to members of another group, regardless of whether they are the most qualified- it is institutional in nature, and we see many examples of systemic bias in organizations and in all number of applications. As compared to unconscious biases that are upheld by individuals; both can have negative impact on a whole host of things. It is by using assessments that we can ensure objectivity, they reduce the risk of bias, and that is extremely important when holding yourself and your organization accountable to a fair and equitable selection process. However, I would never recommend using an assessment in isolation. It is an important part of a thorough and insightful process, but equally important are other forms of evaluating potential and a possible relationship like team interviews, interview tasks, targeted conversation, or even having lunch with your candidates! We need to be mindful however that these latter techniques are more vulnerable to our personal and unconscious biases, so again it is extremely important to combine an objective and subjective approach to hiring. The goal is to use a variety of measures to ensure you avoid generalized bias. You want to use a thorough process that evaluates skills related to the job you are hiring for and your overarching goal in that process is to ensure the candidate you hire is set up for job success and career success within your organization.

    I believe it all starts with a thorough job analysis, a deep understanding of the skills and the entire range of competencies required to be successful in the role. You can also consider, a comprehensive understanding of the behaviours and traits that have been found to benefit an individual in a specific role that will naturally translate into true happiness in the job, and culture fit. If you have successful employees in the role now, take the time to understand their profiles…at the end of the day you want to establish a successful fit for everyone involved while welcoming the unique differences of individuals that will drive innovation and diversity. There is a lot that can be learned by studying the job itself, your existing workforce, current performance, desired performance in order to establish your end to end selection strategy and your criteria.

    I personally favour the use of personality and ability assessments along with person to person methods of establishing rapport and culture fit, including understanding one’s motivations and interests. I have found over the years that I am less interested in seeing one’s resume and that there is a far greater resume bias or opportunity bias that shows up when evaluating the resume. Aside from establishing requirements of credentialing, like in your example of nursing, we tend to use the resume as a screener and I believe that there is a lot of great talent that we overlook when we do that. When we read that resume, we are unconsciously or consciously evaluating or ranking one’s experiences or opportunities in life…not necessarily one’s skills. To create a more diverse workforce, let’s place greater importance on an objective assessment vs a resume, otherwise, individuals who have had more opportunities, or who have had a more favourable socio-economic life experience will continue to be advantaged while many skilled, capable and motivated individuals with less experience will get missed.

    How can assessments be used to develop your workforce, increase retention and provide career pathways for incumbent workers?

    Assessments by design are meant to provide insight into the strengths and weaknesses of an individual. Many assessments will provide you a profile report of the individual that gets at that very thing. Some assessments take it a step further and offer a development report, collated information that helps you understand how to strengthen certain areas whether it is through mentorship, formal learning, or self-directed activities that an employee can pursue on their own accord. And then there is the concept of progress monitoring, the notion of assessing at short intervals to see and celebrate the progress one is making with respect to their development goals. While assessments are often used in the early stages of a relationship with an employee, by continuing to use them as part of your talent management strategy you are showing your employees that you are invested in understanding their individual needs with more precision, accuracy, objectivity and you are invested in their long term success and actively preparing a workforce of the future. Active employee development is absolutely necessary in order for a company to be successful and sought after!

    One area of assessment that has become increasingly important to organizations who think about the future, is Critical Thinking, a higher level cognitive skill deemed to be extremely important and predictive of academic and/or leadership success. Organizations who think about building a succession plan of future leaders have found that by measuring Critical Thinking in a proactive way, they can then, through early identification have a pipeline of individuals that are naturally skilled in this area whom they can develop further and consider for future high stakes roles.

    The same can be said for retooling or reskilling workers, assessments used in conjunction with a thorough job analysis (including jobs of the future) can create the path to redeploying our workers as demands on our organizations change. It is my belief that down the road, the intel you can gain from assessments will be not just be in the hands of the employer; I see the future as one where employees and individuals have access to this data so that they can proactively show their capabilities, their strengths, their motivations, interests; a time where they can have more ownership in order to make better informed and more personal academic choices, career selections, and customized learning plans. The better we get at understanding who we are; we will automatically get better at what we do and why we do it.

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  • Building resilience

    by Angus McDonald, Chartered Psychologist

    Few will ever have experienced a time such as this. The world is facing a threat the like of which has not been seen in over 100 years. We’re all in this together. The need to act collectively is great if we are to manage and eventually overcome what will be for many, the greatest ever challenge to their day-to-day lives. The message of collective action is repeated daily by politicians and the media. Many countries have brought in temporary laws to enforce changes. Just as important, maybe more so, are rapidly developing social norms that nudge people to behave in new ways, probably the best example of which is social distancing.

    So, we’re all in this together. Yes. And no. Whilst coronavirus may be bringing the world together in an unprecedented way, we don’t have to look too far to see divisions. Geographical divisions are great, as the spread of the virus across the world affects different countries at different times and at different rates. It lays bare differences in countries’ infrastructure, especially in terms of healthcare. Even within specific countries, the experience of the current situation will differ greatly from place to place. And it needs to go even more localised. We need to appreciate how it affects each and every individual.

    So, maybe we’re not in this together in the same way. For over a century, psychologists have puzzled over why two people exposed to the same event can react very differently to it. Initially this was studied in relation to extreme events like war, natural disasters or accidents. Interest then turned to the more mundane, looking at the impact of everyday events on people’s psychological health. One outcome of this was the development of ‘life events checklists’ which assigned objective weights to specific events – divorce, illness, getting a parking ticket and even Christmas. However, simply recording what events a person had experienced turned out to have little bearing on their wellbeing. What was far more predictive was the meaning of the event to the individual and the resources they had available to them to deal with it.

    A key message to take from this is that we will all deal with the current situation differently. Our behaviours and feelings will result from an interaction of our specific situation and our individual characteristics. People on the front-line’s psychological wellbeing, especially medics but also all emergency services and those who are required to interact with the public like shop workers, may be particularly at risk. Control is important here. People with greater personal control over situations tend to have better health outcomes; it gives the belief of being able to change things in a way we want, being able to act rather than simply acted upon. These people tend to be more resilient and resistant to stress.

    Resistance to stress is a core aspect of personality. It is found in many assessments and can give valuable insights into how people typically deal with stress. At a fundamental level, people react differently to pressurised, stressful situations. Some naturally show strong reactions which may leave them vulnerable, especially when they may not be adequately supported. However, it is more subtle than simply being resistant to stress or not. Whereas some respond flexibly to changing situations, something that is more relevant now than ever, others do not. They find comfort and reassurance in routine and what is predictable, and so change may adversely affect their sense of control and so wellbeing. Further, some may be very good at keeping their emotions in check, so they appear healthy to others. Not outwardly showing signs of stress will not necessarily mean that someone is coping well.

    For people working at the front-line, recognising that our reaction to a situation may be different to our colleague’s reaction is an essential first step in supporting them to build resilience. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, but support that meets everyone’s individual needs and so allows them to remain effective. Personality assessments provide a powerful way of appreciating such differences. They are a short-cut to getting to know someone and to understanding how they are likely to be reacting to the current situation. By appreciating this uniqueness, we collectively build resilience. After all, we’re all in this together.

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  • Fostering innovation

    by Angus McDonald, Chartered Psychologist

    Human history is the history of innovation. Our ability first to adapt to our environment and then to adapt our environment to us, is unparalleled. Our innovations have given us the life we lead today. Whilst many bring huge benefits, the benefits of some are questionable. Others have a clearly negative, often unforeseen, impact, leading to situations where further innovation is needed to put things right. What is clear, is that we are on a path where innovation will become ever more important. There’s no going back from here.

    Much has been written about the creative mind and the psychology of innovation and creativity – the search for the chemistry of the ‘eureka’ moment. However, looking at selected great leaps forward, typically associated with individual moments of deep insight, is probably a distraction. The gradual developments, whether individual or collective, that make up the far greater body of innovation, is where the future lies.

    And we need this now, more than ever. Our current situation means that individuals, teams, organizations and whole nations are needing to find new ways of working together. Many employees now find themselves working from home, having to conduct meetings, training courses and other typically in-person events using virtual technology methods. Companies are already looking to the future, anticipating how they will need to adapt to a world different from only a few months ago. The ability to innovate will separate those that succeed from those that don’t. And for life to fully return to what it was, we will all rely on the ability of drug companies to find new vaccines.

    We’re all innovators. We learn, grow and develop, changing all the time. We may not all do it in the same way, at the same rate or to the same extent, but we all do it. Some people are seen as being more ‘innovative’ than others, but everyone has a role to play in the process. And without involving everyone the process is often incomplete and the results far less than they might have been. The challenge is to nurture innovation in all its forms, especially when working with disparate teams that may have limited opportunities for direct interaction.

    An important aspect of innovation is how we view change. This is a core aspect of thinking style commonly labelled ‘openness’ or ‘pragmatism’. In fact, openness and pragmatism are often seen as opposite ends of a continuum. At one end you have people who embrace change, conceptual thinking, creativity and independence of thought – these are the change agents. At the other end you have people who value what is known, are practical and outcome focussed, and who are happy to take the lead from others. Though not always viewed as drivers of change, for these people change is steady, incremental and introduced only after consideration. Both have an equal role to play.

    In today’s complex world, innovation is rarely individual. Instead it is the result of many people coming together with different knowledge and alternative perspectives. In such a situation, the catalyst for successful innovation lies in how we communicate, explore issues and work together. Again, we can think of this as a continuum. At one end you have those who readily communicate, want to talk through their ideas and innovate through acting with others. At the other are those who want to take time to think through their ideas independently, presenting them for consideration only when they have had time to think them through and reflect. This sounds a lot like the classic personality dimension of ‘introversion’ and ‘extraversion’. Again, both have an equal role to play in innovation.

    So, we have two aspects of personality that independently relate to innovation. But when we put them together, we get something much more powerful. Everybody’s personality preferences will vary along the extraversion-introversion scale and along the pragmatism-openness scale. Combining these two scales gives insight into richer variations; how these characteristics work together and support innovation, as shown below.  

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  • Critical Thinking Skills and the Workplace: Is Corporate Culture a Barrier?

    by Wyn Davies, Global Product Manager, Pearson TalentLens

    While numerous research studies show that the ability to think critically is a vital skill required in many job roles across all industries, a recent article in Human Resources Online outlines some examples of critical thinking being stifled or prevented due to organizational culture and climate.

    What is critical thinking?

    There are a number of definitions of what constitutes critical thinking but there is a general consensus that the key elements are:

    • Logical reasoning and evaluation of arguments to solve problems and draw logical conclusions

    • The ability to question and recognize facts from assumptions and hunches

    • Creative thinking

    Pearson TalentLens defines critical thinking as the ability to look at a situation and clearly understand it from multiple perspectives whilst separating facts from opinions and assumptions.

    The Human Resources Online article identifies proficiency in critical thinking, complex problem solving, innovation, collaborating, and effective communication, as entry-level job requirements. These findings are reinforced in a 2016 World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, that looks at employment, skills, and workforce strategy for the future.

    Despite the wide-spread recognition of the importance critical thinking and decision making play in the workplace, there are many examples of those skills being stifled. Questioning the policies or procedures set forth by those in upper management is frowned upon, which goes against the core principles of critical thinking, which has questioning at its heart.

    In some organizations, anyone questioning or challenging the assumptions of management or offering something that goes against the status quo is seen as “not on board” or a “trouble maker”. There are also numerous examples of organizations that have suffered as a result of decisions that were made without the benefit of critical thinking.

    Have you ever heard any of these comments?

    • “If you’re not on board then get off the bus.”
    • “Anyone who disagrees with ‘X’ does not last long here.”
    • “We tried that before and it did not work.”
    • “I always agree with what my boss says.”

    All of these indicate a work culture where critical thinking is stifled.

    What can be done to overcome this?

    Before any change can take place, there needs to be realization — usually from upper management — that critical thinking is vital, yet not being encouraged. Once this happens there are a number of practical interventions that support the shift to thinking more critically:

    1. Assess or measure the current levels of critical thinking in the workplace.

    Pearson TalentLens publishes the globally renowned Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal.

    The online test is linked to a profile, interview, and development report, which can be a useful tool in management development and coaching interventions. The test measures an individual’s levels of ability in three key areas:

    • Recognition of assumptions
    • Evaluation of arguments
    • Ability to draw logical conclusions

    Ready to test your own critical thinking ability? Email talentlens@pearson.com, mention this blog, and ask to take the Watson Glaser test.

    2. Pearson also offers a number of highly interactive and practical training interventions aimed at developing the skills and behaviors involved in critical thinking. Interventions include the popular Critical Thinking Bootcamp and Critical Thinking University.  

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  • The Importance Of Both IQ & Critical Thinking In Staff

    by Wyn Davies, Global Product Manager, Pearson TalentLens

    A recent article in Business Insider supports what numerous research studies demonstrate and what IOs (Chartered Psychologists) and increasing numbers of business leaders believe: Cognitive ability is the best single predictor of performance in a job. The article goes on to say that this predictiveness increases further when combined with measures of social skills, drive, and personality traits. So what exactly is cognitive ability and why don’t all recruiters measure it?

    Cognitive Ability

    Psychology today defines IQ as a construct that encompasses problem-solving abilities, spatial manipulation, and language. Many professionals use the term IQ and Cognitive Ability interchangeably. There is overall general cognitive ability (referred to as g by psychologists) as well as distinct specific abilities (s) as shown below.


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  • Harnessing the Power of Numerical Reasoning to Build the 21st Century Workforce

    by Wyn Davies, Global Product Manager, Pearson TalentLens

    In this blog post, Wyn Davies – Global Product Manager, Mary-Ann Hanson – Sr. Research Director and Kama Dodge – Sr. Research Associate at Pearson TalentLens look at the differences between various forms of “numerical reasoning” tests and how these differ to the sort of math tests taken in school.

    In a rapidly changing world, replete with an explosion of technology and an emphasis on data-driven organizations, the ability to interpret numerical data and reason with numbers is highly important at many levels in numerous roles across a variety of organizations in both the public and private sectors.

    What is Numerical Reasoning?

    When you think of math, numerical calculation is likely the first thing that comes to mind. Calculation is the act of adding, dividing, multiplying, or subtracting numbers of various magnitudes and in various formats (e.g., integers, decimals and fractions). This is, in fact, what many numerical assessments measure – the rote application of formulas and rules to make calculations, sometimes referred to as number facility.

    Numerical reasoning, on the other hand, goes beyond calculation and involves higher-order mathematic skills. It focuses on determining how to approach and solve problems that have numerical content. It includes the ability to evaluate the situation, select problem-solving strategies, draw logical conclusions, develop and describe solutions, and recognize how those solutions can be applied.

    What is the relationship between tests assessing Number Facility and Numerical Reasoning Ability?

    Academic grades in mathematics tests demonstrate an ability to learn and apply mathematical formulae and techniques, but they do not necessarily measure the ability to manipulate and reason with numerical data. However, because it is almost impossible to measure numerical reasoning without tapping into basic math content, a knowledge of number facility is required.

    A study was carried out into the relationship between test scores when a group of individuals completed two Pearson tests: one focusing on arithmetic computation and the other focusing more on numerical reasoning. The correlation-coefficient of DAT Numerical Ability (a test that focuses on arithmetic computation and number facility) vs. NDIT (a test measuring numerical data interpretation and reasoning), recorded a moderately high correlation score of r = .55.

    Why is Numerical Reasoning Important?

    Numerical reasoning ability is important for success in a variety of jobs. For example in more than 30% of the over-900 occupations in the O*NET national job description database in the USA, numerical reasoning ability is rated as important or higher. For 22 of these occupations, numerical reasoning was rated very or extremely important (www.onetonline.org). Employers seek candidates who can apply the math they have learned constructively and critically, rather than simply by rote. Most importantly in-depth research shows that cognitive ability and reasoning tests are the best predictors of actual job performance – higher than school and college test grades.

    Introducing NDITTM Numerical Data Interpretation Test

    In order to help organizations ensure that their employees have the numerical reasoning skills needed for success in crucial roles, Pearson TalentLens has developed the Numerical Data Interpretation Test (NDIT). NDIT focuses on the interpretation and manipulation of the types of numerical data routinely encountered in the workplace. NDIT is based on sophisticated approaches to test development, administration, and scoring.

    NDIT is a timed item-banked test containing content of high relevance to real numerical problems encountered at work, which improves applicants’ testing experience and fairness impressions. The questions vary in difficulty and format, including multiple-choice and open-ended items.

    How Does NDIT Differ From Other Numerical Tests?

    In addition to NDIT Pearson TalentLens also publishes other numerical ability or reasoning tests that include:
    DAT Numerical Ability assessment measures number facility.
    DAT Numerical Sequences (published 2018) requires the test taker to find the missing number in a sequence. The numerical sequences presented follow a logical rule based on elementary arithmetic. An initial sequence is presented from which the rule must be inferred. Numerical Sequence tests are similar to matrices tests of which Raven’s is the most well-known. This test may be suitable to measure aspects of numerical reasoning for individuals with only a limited knowledge of math or who have low verbal ability.

    ANRA measures sufficiency of information and estimation of quantities. ANRA is like a test of numerical critical thinking and it has a high correlation co-efficient (r = .44) with the Watson-Glaser (a test of verbal critical thinking ability).

    What Evidence is Available to Support the use of NDIT?

    A white paper written by two of our Research IOs that explains more about NDIT and its correlation with other test scores will be published soon.

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  • What is Inductive Reasoning?

    Inductive (or abstract) reasoning, is the ability to analyze information and solve problems on an intricate, thought-based level.

    Completing an abstract reasoning assessment as part of the selection process provides a picture of candidates’ fluid intelligence – this is the ability to think clearly and make sense of complexity.

    Fluid intelligence differs from crystallized intelligence – this is a measure of the knowledge and skills acquired through experience; for example, at school/college or in a job.

    Many theorists believe you are born with fluid intelligence and that you cannot develop it to any great extent. In addition, having high crystallized intelligence does not necessarily mean you have high fluid intelligence.

    Measuring abstract reasoning provides a clear indication of your candidates’ fluid or general intelligence – this provides a good barometer of their general ability to solve problems and complex tasks.

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  • Raven’s APM and Watson-Glaser: Comparing Two of the Best Cognitive Assessments

    When you think of assessing cognitive ability, two names come to mind in the crowded pre-employment marketplace: Raven’s™ Progressive Matrices and Watson-Glaser™ Critical Thinking Appraisal. Both are feature-packed assessments with versatile administration and reporting capabilities and can be administered in US, UK, Australian, and Indian English, Spanish, French, and Dutch. Let’s learn more about when to use each one!

    Getting to know Raven’s and Watson

    Raven’s™ Advanced Progressive Matrices (APM) is among the best nonverbal assessment tools available which makes it a great choice for multilingual workforces. It is designed to measure an individual’s ability to perceive and think clearly, make meaning out of confusion, and formulate new concepts when faced with novel information. People that score well on Raven’s are often described as being good “problem solvers” and “quick learners.” The nonverbal aspect of the APM minimizes the impact of language skills on performance on the assessment, which makes it ideally suitable for use across languages. For this, the APM offers the ideal combination of predictive power and cultural flexibility.

    The Watson-Glaser™ Critical Thinking Appraisal is the leader in assessing critical thinking ability and predicting performance in fast-paced positions requiring high-level thinking and analysis. It measures a combination of critical thinking attitudes, knowledge, and skills. More specifically, it tests an individual’s: 1) the ability to recognize the existence of problems and an acceptance of the general need for evidence in support of what is asserted to be true; 2) knowledge of the nature of valid inferences, abstractions, and generalizations in which the weight or accuracy of different kinds of evidence are logically determined; and 3) skills in employing and applying the above attitudes and knowledge. Watson-Glaser is an extremely popular assessment used worldwide to assess decision-making skills and managerial readiness.

    How would you compare these assessments?

    Raven’s APM and Watson-Glaser can be compared in terms of the types of reasoning they assess. The APM measures inductive reasoning, in which the premises of an argument are believed to support the conclusion but do not entail it (i.e., they do not ensure its truth). Induction is a form of reasoning that makes generalizations based on individual instances. More simply, inductive thinking is when you arrive at a conclusion on the basis of some evidence (e.g., All the squirrels I’ve seen have furry tails. Therefore, all squirrels have furry tails). Comparatively, the Watson-Glaser measures deductive reasoning, where arguments move from given statements (premises) to conclusions which must be true if the premises are true (e.g., All apples are fruit. All fruit grows on trees. Therefore, all apples grow on trees.). In this form of reasoning, the premises of the argument ensure its truth or falsity

    When should you use each assessment?

    Both assessments measure types of cognitive abilities, so either can be used with a high degree of confidence for predicting a candidate’s job performance. The Raven’s APM may be more useful in contexts where a measure of cognitive ability is needed but language and/or cultural differences may be an issue. Raven’s items consist of graphics arranged in a matrix, whereas the Watson-Glaser’s items include more detailed written passages that require one to delineate subtle nuances to arrive at the correct answer. Thus, the Raven’s APM is often used for complex jobs such as IT professionals and engineers that require a high level of reasoning ability but not necessarily a high level of verbal fluency and comprehension. In contrast, the Watson-Glaser is often used for jobs such as lawyers, teachers, salespeople, nurses, and managers in any field, where reasoning is important and a high level of verbal fluency and comprehension is necessary for successful performance.

    In addition, since the Watson-Glaser evaluates critical-thinking skills that can be improved with training, it is likely to be useful for evaluating the baseline of an employee’s level of critical thinking before they enter a professional development course or workshop.

    The verdict

    Both assessments are among the industry’s most proven pre-employment tools and are increasingly used for employee development (with a full suite of critical thinking training programs offered based on Watson-Glaser). Use Raven’s APM when you want a great measure of cognitive ability across cultures when you don’t want language skills to influence scores. Use Watson-Glaser when the job requires a high level of verbal fluency and decision-making responsibilities. These assessments are among the best at helping you identify and develop talented individuals ready to succeed in the 21st century and advance in your organization.

    Contributors: John Trent and Chad Fife

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  • World’s Toughest Tests and Final Exams

    In addition to the fact that life itself is a test, there are a number of other scholastic and professional challenges along the way that would defeat even the best of us. That said, below is a list of the hardest final exams you could ever face and, if you're lucky, you'll never have to take them. (Not in any particular order!)

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  • Relationship Between Feeling Personality and Critical Thinking

    Personality type fans will probably not like this post, but statistics aren’t swayed by popularity.

    As someone who has been a fan of personality type for years and is a certified practitioner for both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Golden Personality Type Profiler, I am well-acquainted with the general message about personality type. As you should learn in any personality type debrief, no personality type is good or bad. In addition, no personality type is better than another.

    However, based on studies conducted for the Watson-Glaser assessment, there is a very important difference between the critical thinking results for someone with a Thinking preference versus a Feeling preference.

    As you can see in the Technical Manual for the Watson-Glaser, the study shows that individuals who report a Feeling preference on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator showed a statistically significant negative correlation with the key critical thinking ability Evaluating Arguments (r= -.27).

    In addition, individuals who reported a Feeling preference on the Golden Personality Type Profiler showed a statistically significant negative correlation Drawing Conclusions (r= -.21) while the Thinking preference showed a statistically significant positive relationship with Drawing Conclusions (r= .26).

    In other words, all personality types are not created equal when it comes to critical thinking ability.

    So, what should you do to improve the critical thinking skills of your employees (both Thinking and Feeling types). Some people believe “practice makes perfect,” but I believe what Vince Lombardi once said, “Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

    Without expert coaching, and consistent training and follow-up, one cannot improve their critical thinking skills. For more information on improving your critical thinking skills, click here.

    Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. 

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