Two years ago Andrea Cunningham decided to create a senior level of management by promoting from within her growing public relations firm, Cunningham Communication. Cunningham, who tends to "make decisions based on intuition rather than fact," felt she needed more objective opinions to help her assemble the right team for her $8-million Santa Clara, Calif., company. So she hired Lynne Waldera, a Chicago-based organizational psychologist, who gave Cunningham and her six candidates two-hour "executive assessments" to identify personality traits and evaluate quantitative skills. Psychological testing in disguise? Well, not exactly.

For $1,000 a candidate, Waldera conducts an interview and administers a 15-minute problem-solving test. "I might ask them to tell me about leadership positions they've held in the past," explains Waldera. "People can see there's a relationship between my questions and the job. It's very different from asking, 'Do you like your mother?' " She notes patterns of behavior and will offer her recommendations if she's asked, but she does not relay specific answers to her clients. Candidates may schedule a "feedback session" to discuss results with Waldera.

What can the process tell you about your employees that you don't already know? Cunningham reports that based on Waldera's assessments, she promoted one of the six original candidates, but she concedes that the psychologist's findings were "an affirmation of my own thinking." Still, Cunningham says, Waldera's input has helped her avoid costly mistakes, and she now uses Waldera's services when hiring new employees.