What’s the point of psychometric testing?

You’ve probably done an online personality and/or ability test before – who can resist being able to find out how ‘agreeable’ you are, or what your Myers-Briggs type is? Of course you want to know if you have a better vocabulary than the 64% of graduates that can’t spell properly! You may also have taken a test as part of a team building exercise or development program. Now you can expect to come across psychometric tests as a standard part of the hiring process.

UK company Psychometric Success reports that psychometric testing is used by over 80% of Fortune 500 companies in the US and by over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK. In Australia, Human Resources Director magazine reports that about 40% of recruiters and employers ask job applicants to sit psychometric tests, and it seems that they are becoming more widespread.

Part of the testing process measures skills and aptitudes, or cognitive ability, while the other aspect assesses personality. Personality tests are used to assess such things as interpersonal style, adaptability, coping skills, emotional intelligence, values and motivations, and honesty. You can read more about them at Challenge Consulting.

Steven Booker, Principal Consultant of People Services at Challenge Consulting, says that while recruitment is not an exact science, ‘psychological tests  are the most scientific tool we have for predicting how a person will perform in a job and how much they will enjoy it. Further, he says that ability (work-related IQ) testing has the highest ability to predict job performance out of all recruitment methods, including interviews.  Tests of cognitive ability correlate strongly with performance (0.5 correlation coefficient, where 0.5 is considered a strong correlation), while an unstructured interview has very low predictive value. In a situation where a wrong hire costs organisations dearly, the return on investment for psychometric testing is huge, he points out. ‘Testing doubles the accuracy of recruitment.’

Challenge People Services consultants are often asked, ‘What’s the point of psychometric testing? Surely a smart candidate will work out the “right” answers and tell the recruiter or employer what they want to hear?’ While that is possible with poorly designed tests that are not well administered, the right test given in the right way will enhance the recruitment process. Properly formulated tests have a built-in ways of finding attempts at deception, and anybody identified as trying to ‘impression manage’ (i.e. fake) the profile is unlikely to be assessed as suitable for a role, particularly if it requires honest and integrity as most roles do.

Additionally, personality testing is used partly to look for the right fit between the candidate and the organisation. ‘Faking it’ is hard if the candidate doesn’t know what the organisation is looking for. It’s also counterproductive. It’s in nobody’s long-term interest for somebody to pretend to be an extroverted person, for example, when they are not, and for them to then struggle – and ultimately fail – in a sales role that requires a lot of interaction with customers.

Booker says most employers are worried about the time psychometric testing might take. ‘The vast majority of testing takes between one and three hours’, he says. So they need not be concerned that the candidates will be subject to hours of rigorous exams, followed by weeks of waiting for results, as many employers express concern that they are putting the candidate through an unpleasant rigmarole. ‘Once they are asked to undergo testing, a candidate usually guesses that they are being seriously considered for the role’, says Booker. He explains that the tests are best administered supervised, accompanied by a discussion with the candidate at which they can give and receive feedback about the outcome.

Remember, psychometric tests are only one part of the recruitment process, and other information, such as a structured interview and what your references say about you, provide important information too. A good recruiter or hiring manager will look at every piece of information about a candidate and consider the place of each in informing their hiring decision. However, if you want to double the accuracy of your recruitment process, consider using psychological assessment.