Psychometric Test Myths Debunked: The Ultimate Guide for Employers!
Psychometric or behavioural tests measure a person’s cognitive abilities and personality traits relevant to job performance. They’re commonly used in recruitment to assess a candidate’s fit for a particular role. They include tests of intelligence, aptitude and personality.
Intelligence tests, also known as IQ tests, are designed to measure a candidate’s cognitive abilities and potential for learning. This can be useful when you wish to invest a lot in training and want to ensure that new skills will be picked up quickly.
Aptitude tests measure a candidate’s innate ability to perform a certain skill or task. They’re more often used in early-stage careers to help guide jobseekers into employment or to help an employer understand potential. They’re less relevant for experienced hires as they have already demonstrated the ability to perform a skill or task.
Personality tests assess a candidate’s character, emotions and behaviours. They’re used to see how a person is likely to behave in certain situations, how they interact with others and what motivates them. There are many different types of personality tests, but the most well-known and widely used are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Big Five Personality Traits test and DISC (which stands for the four different traits measured: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness).
But just because a test is widely used doesn’t mean it’s any good. Studies on the MBTI have shown there isn’t enough evidence to support using it. Jaime Lane Derringer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, states, “It cannot be reliably used to evaluate applicants and employees.” Even its inventors said that the test isn’t intended to predict job performance or be used in employee selection and recruitment!
How to purchase and use psychometric tests
Many psychometric tests can be purchased online, although you may need to contact some providers.
The cost can vary depending on the test, up to several hundred pounds. A higher cost doesn’t guarantee a better test. Generally, the employer pays the cost; it’s not appropriate to ask the candidate to.
Tests are typically done online or in person by trained professionals. I recommend online providers as the tests are easy to administer and the results usually available immediately.
Candidates are asked a variety of questions, often multiple-choice ones such as:
When faced with a problem, I usually:
a. Look for a quick solution.
b. Take my time and consider all the options.
c. Ask advice from others.
d. Get easily frustrated and give up.
This question is designed to assess problem-solving style. While there’s clearly an incorrect answer, a pattern will be established by asking similar questions.
A typical psychometric test takes 30 minutes or longer to complete.
If the test is taken online, the results may be available immediately. If the test is administered by a professional, it may require a follow-up meeting.
Typically, a detailed report will provide scores and an interpretation of what they mean. Because different tests may have different ways of interpreting results, you may need to ask for an explanation.
Benefits of using psychometric tests
There are various benefits, including:
- Objectivity. Psychometric tests are designed to give objective measures of a person’s abilities, personality traits and behavioural tendencies. They can help reduce bias and the influence of subjective interpretations.
- Standardisation. Many psychometric tests are standardised, meaning that they’ve been normalised on a large, representative sample of people, allowing for comparisons between individuals.
- Predictive power. Psychometric tests can be used to predict how well an individual is likely to perform. This is clearly useful in a recruitment process.
- Complementarity with other methods. Psychometric tests provide a different perspective on an individual’s abilities and traits compared to CVs, Structured Interviews and Reference Calls.
- Self-awareness. Some psychometric tests can help candidates better understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and how they interact with others.
Downsides of using psychometric tests
Naturally, no tool is perfect and disadvantages of these tests include:
- Absence of values. Most psychometric tests don’t consider a person’s values. A sales person and a vicar might in certain ways be very similar: they might both be good orators, engaging conversationalists, gregarious and persuasive. However, their values may be very different, and these influence behaviour.
- Efficiency and lack of applicant adoption. Many providers claim that their tests are an efficient way to assess a large number of candidates compared to the time needed for face-to-face interviews. I expect they say this because they sell more tests and it sounds correct in theory. In reality, I find that it’s hard to get candidates to take a test at the beginning of the recruitment process because it requires so much effort for little perceived reward. In addition, candidates may believe that they’re going to be screened in or out based solely on a test, rather than on a broader assessment. While you may expect a motivated applicant who wants the job to complete the assessment, in reality they could just be desperate.
- Testing too early in isolation. A common mistake made by inexperienced hiring managers is to abdicate responsibility for effective screening by using personality tests to make decisions for them. Tests should never be used in isolation, and certainly not on their own to screen applicants in or out. Instead, they should be considered in a broader context.
- Testing when a decision has unofficially been made. If psychometric tests are taken near the end of the recruitment process, hiring almost feels like a foregone conclusion. Often, the candidate is hired regardless of the results, which makes a mockery of the test.
- Limited validity and reliability. Some personality tests are new or niche and so the representative sample may not have been normalised on a large group. This means that they may not accurately reflect an individual’s true personality or they might be inconsistent.
- Limited predictive power. Although personality tests can provide insight, they’re not an infallible indicator of future behaviour. They should not be the sole basis for making decisions about hiring, promotion or the assignment of staff to particular projects. This problem is compounded by the fact that test results can be influenced by how a person is feeling in the moment: whether stressed or relaxed, for example. It’s possible that someone could take a test more than once and get different results.
- Bias. While psychometric tests may help with objectivity, they can in fact be biased against certain minority groups. This is because the sample groups used to create the tests were often from the same culture and background. Many psychometric tests were created in the US and benchmarked using American subjects, but there are clearly big cultural differences between America and the UK, France, Germany and other countries. Additionally, many tests were biased towards white males civil servants more than 60 years ago. As organisations have become more diverse, the tests need to reflect this.
- Stereotyping. Some employers looking at the results of personality tests may unfairly stereotype an individual, jumping to incorrect conclusions about their abilities or potential. For example, one test measures extroversion versus introversion, and the employer may have the stereotype that introverts won’t fit into the team dynamic and so are inherently “bad”.
- Professionals may be required. Some personality tests require a trained professional to assess the results and offer guidance on how to use them effectively. This can cause delays and become expensive.
- Misinterpretation. The results of a personality test may be misinterpreted or overgeneralised, leading to misconceptions.
Recommended use of psychometric tests
As you might guess, psychometric and IQ tests are something of a Marmite approach that interviewers and candidates tend to love or loathe.
I’m wary of recommending psychometric tests to SMEs because it can be so hard to choose the correct one and the results are easily misinterpreted.
If you're going to proceed with psychometric tests, using them at the right time is crucial. Too soon in the recruitment process and few applicants will complete them, and inexperienced hiring managers may use them to avoid making a proper shortlisting decision. Too late, and the results tend to be ignored because hiring a certain candidate feels inevitable.
When using psychometric tests, I therefore recommend carrying them out between the first and second interview because:
- Reviewing test results can validate gut reactions and assumptions, while creating an opportunity to clarify issues during a second interview.
- Sharing the results with a candidate can help you understand how self-aware they are. They may think that the results are nothing like them, but at least this opens up a deeper conversation. And if they’re unsuccessful, they’ve gained something from the process.
If you don’t need a second interview because you’re confident in your decision, then you don’t need a psychometric test.
Before giving a psychometric test to candidates, I’d first give it to your existing employees because:
- You should know your existing staff well enough to judge if the test results are objective and a good indicator of performance. The test should identify your Good Performers and Great Performers.
- Your existing staff can act as a control group against which to benchmark candidates.
- Most importantly, you’ll see that Great Performers have different personality types. There’s no “correct” type, and this should remind you to use the results only as guidance.
Whatever psychometric test I choose, I’ll usually ensure that:
- The test can be easily administered and the results reviewed without a professional being required.
- The test has been validated using a large representative sample drawn from a diverse range of people.
- The results are widely respected as being objective and having good predictive power.
Overall, appreciate that there are no absolutes in human behaviour. Personality tests must be used within a broader context that includes CVs, Structured Interviews, Work and Culture Assessments and Reference Calls.