Psychometric Tests – a question

There’s an article in today’s Guardian that caught our eye today, that talks about the use of psychometric tests in recruitment.  These tests have been around for years, and they have always been fairly controversial.  We have some clients who take the results of these tests very seriously, other clients who dismiss them entirely, and still others who don’t know what they are.

Psychometric tests

These tests can be very useful, but they are only part of the story.  Actually, the same goes for technical tests, references, cvs, and interviews themselves.  The perfect candidate might have a badly-written cv, or might be nervous, or might be better in a work situation than in the artificial environment of an online exam.  The role of the recruiter is to try to interpret all these elements together in order to find the best person for the job, asking the right questions where the tests, the cv, or the interview throw up areas of potential mismatch.  Sometimes we get it wrong, but the more tools we have at our disposal, the lower this risk.

They never said it would be easy!


Here’s the original Guardian text:

Psychometric tests in job interviews: what are they looking for?

News that the Co-op bank’s disgraced former chairman, Paul Flowers, landed the job because he did better in psychometric tests than rival candidates have brought this element of the recruitment process into the spotlight. What exactly are they?


They’re about discovering who you are

“When people talk about psychometric tests, they sometimes mean questionnaires,” says Mark Parkinson, a business psychologist who puts together both for organisations. “A test is something with a right or wrong answer, which might be used to measure numeracy or literacy, for example, while a questionnaire would be used to find out about someone’s personality.” Employers may use one or both of these in the recruitment process.

The questionnaire is supposed to discover what kind of person you are in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily admit to in an interview, with questions designed to expose how you behave and what motivates you. A good test will be set up to pick up on any inconsistencies and make it difficult for you to put on an act – there is a built-in “lie scale”. An aptitude test is supposed to show how good you are at tasks required in the job and may measure how quickly you get to the right answer. The employer may have a minimum score you have to achieve, or be looking for the candidate with the best score, says Parkinson.

They need to be part of a process

“If you’re recruiting for senior people these days, you will usually do something called an assessment centre – this will involve an interview, a work sampling and a psychometric test,” says Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University. “An interview on its own is a very poor predicter of ultimate success.”

So too are the other elements, when taken alone. For example, looking at the quality of someone’s work, without knowing how they cope with decision-making, makes it hard to know if they will be able to work in an environment where speed is of the essence.

Parkinson says the results should always be validated at an interview. If someone comes across as sociable, they should be asked to give an example.

They only work if the employer knows what they want

Parkinson says they are only any good if the recruiter knows what they are trying to measure and why. “Where they often fail is when people try to use them to assess things that you can’t measure, such as creativity or leadership,” he says. The recruiter needs to decide what kind of traits they think make a good leader and look for those.

You can’t pass or fail a personality test

“You can’t actually ‘ace’ a psychometric test – the recruiter is using it to see what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how they match up with the job requirements,” says Cooper. He points out that while for some roles, scoring highly for sociability would be in your favour, if you were applying for a job auditing sensitive accounts or running a remote lighthouse, it might count against you.

However, while the other elements of the recruitment process should be taken into account, it could be that the employer is looking for particular results in the test, and rejects candidates who don’t fit the bill. You won’t have failed the test as such, but you won’t get the job.

They have a dark side

Some questionnaires now try and establish the “dark side” of your personality and how traits might be displayed if things go wrong and you find yourself under pressure. Arguably, Co-op Bank’s recruiters should have used this one.