Psychometric Testing

Qualifications alone are no longer a reliable methods of screening and differentiating candidates. Interviews will always be part of the picture but there is a need for additional selection and developmental tools. Appropriately chosen and administered psychometric testing has proven validity in this area.

There has been much discussion in recent years about whether qualifications at all levels are getting easier. Added to this, new age discrimination legislation could mean asking for a graduate is discriminatory against older applicants; it’s a simple fact that fewer people had access to study for a degree 30 years ago.

Many people are sceptical of psychometric testing as well as concerned about cost. Indeed as recruiters we would say that psychometric testing is one of a range of tools and should never be used in isolation.

The evidence for psychometric testing is compelling when compared against other selection tools.

Relying purely on what candidates say on their CV can be risky. For example; research from Personnel Today indicates that 12% of people admit to lying on their CV’s. Whilst MORI research indicated that over 1/3rd of Britain’s working population have lied on their CV’s and 14% of workers believed there was nothing wrong with exaggerating previous experiences.

At interview stage many employers are poorly prepared to conduct an interview; these can be unstructured and casual meetings that reveal little more than the CV. Clearly structured competency based interviews give a far greater insight by requiring candidates to demonstrate or evidence their claims of skills or ability.

Psychometric testing can provide still further insight, but is only valid if the tests used are relevant to the role; so job analysis and test selection are important factors. It’s another popular misconception that this kind of testing is all about personality profiling and psycho-babble. In reality the vast majority of tools used are in fact ability tests relating to specific skills such as numeracy, verbal reasoning or checking ability; things which have a direct impact on a candidate’s ability to do a job. They are as relevant on the shop floor as they are in the boardroom. Of course there are personality profiles and again the validity of these is well proven. They can be very useful in understanding team dynamics and how to manage and motivate individuals.

The range of ability tests is vast and covers:

• Numerical Reasoning

• Numerical Analysis

• Numerical Estimation

• Verbal Reasoning

• Verbal Analysis

• Verbal Application

• Verbal Evaluation

• Interpreting Data

• Diagrammatic

• Checking

• Spatial Checking

• Mechanical Comprehension

• Fault Finding

• Verbal Comprehension

• Visual Estimation

• Basic Checking

• Numerical Computation

• Verbal Usage

• Classification

• Creative Thinking

How to use testing in the selection process:

The first step is to conduct some form of job analysis; put simply this is to understand the skills that are required for the role. That is, for someone to be successful in the role, what skills must they posses? For example, a legal professional may need excellent verbal comprehension and verbal reasoning skills, whilst an accountant may need Numerical reasoning and analysis skills. People in production environments may need mechanical comprehension, fault finding or classification (sorting) skills.

You may find that a role requires a range of skills and so you should decide which are most important and give their results greater weighting.

It is crucial that tests are carried out properly and professionally in accordance with the supplier’s procedures to ensure validity and avoid advantaging or disadvantaging any particular individual; creating a level playing field if you will. The more consistent you are the more consistent and therefore reliable will be the results.

The other key element to consider when using psychometric testing is at what stage to use them. There is no easy answer to this as there are many types of test and of course many situations where their use can be applicable. However there are tests specifically designed as an initial screening tool. These are a quick and effective, perhaps most importantly objective, method of making the initial cut. Many organisations however reserve testing to later in the process to help differentiate between the best of the short listed candidates; perhaps opting for a more in-depth assessment.

The other factor which many site is cost. It is true that conducting in-depth personality profiling takes time to administer and feedback and indeed requires a qualified practitioner to do so; clearly this may cost many hundreds of pounds. It may be worth considering the cost implications of making the wrong decision on a candidate, particularly where personality types are important to their success in the role fro e.g. sales or senior management

More typical is the use of ability testing which, whilst this still requires a qualified practitioner, they can be conducted for the order of tens of pounds per candidate depending on how many tests are done. With proven validity it is clear then that ability testing cannot be discounted on the grounds of cost.

A Tool to Avoid Discrimination

There is no doubt that psychometric testing can, when used as part of the process, improve selection in terms of the quality of candidate chosen. However an important benefit is in helping employers avoid unwittingly discriminating. We are all human and there is a natural tendency for people to like “someone like us”. Whilst there may be no malicious intent, it is discriminatory and organisations risk stifling themselves in their own conformity. An objective assessment method, such as psychometric testing, which focuses on ability to do the job helps avoid such direct, indirect or accidental discrimination.

Is it Worth It?

Each employer must judge this for themselves. Obviously there are more employers who don’t use testing than those who do. However there is clear evidence to support testing and so long as the tests chosen are appropriate to the role there is no doubt in my mind that they are useful when used alongside other techniques such as competency based interviewing.

The bottom line is that in most cases the costs per candidate are minimal certainly compared to the costs and implications of employing someone whose skills are weak and who may have to be replaced.