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What role should psychometric tests play in the recruitment process?

Psychometric tests are playing an increasingly important role in recruitment processes. Their popularity stems from their ability to explore a candidate’s qualities in different ways. There are two main types of psychometric tests: a personality test will assess personality and behavioural traits, whereas aptitude tests focus on cognitive ability. Psychometric tests are used globally, often playing an integral role in the recruitment and selection process of new candidates.

Why are psychometric tests important?

Psychometric testing provides employers with extra information, allowing them to separate candidates more easily. As young job seekers continue to achieve more highly, it becomes more difficult to sort candidates by their achievements in education. This issue has provoked changes in the armed forces recruitment processes and the Army maths test was introduced in order to help separate applicants for technician training (Jenkins). This is an example of how aptitude tests may be used in order to assess cognitive ability.

In other instances, an employer will use a personality test which will help them predict how a candidate will perform in the long term. Some tests will predict an individual’s career path or their typical response to pressure. This offers employers an insight into a candidate’s potential rather than just their current ability. Therefore, in an effort to reduce the number of early resignations, the Navy introduced personality tests to their recruitment process (Jenkins).

In recruitment processes which revolve solely around interviews, the interviewer is omnipotent, as is their unconscious bias. In the United Kingdom, it was reported that female engineers were often subject to discriminatory questioning by interviewers (Anderson). In response to the demands of equal opportunity legislation, psychometric tests provide employers a simple way to reduce biased decisions and comply with the law.

Psychometric tests may also be used as part of a screening process to funnel out candidates who do not have the aptitudes or the personality type the employer desires. Logistically this is of great benefit to employers as it reduces an interviewer’s workload and saves time. The initial stages of the Barclays recruitment process are heavily based on this model – only those who succeed their personality and behavioural tests make it to the next stage (Graduatemonkey). 

What are the issues?

The biggest issue for psychometric tests is reliability. Mettl, who create psychometric tests, suggest that there is no way for tests to be 100% reliable (Mettl). Various aspects of psychometric tests, such as their fixed answers reduce their reliability. Fixed answers mean that a candidate may be forced to give an answer they do not feel applies to them, which may alter their test results. Alternatively, some candidates may attempt to give perfect answers or may have trained for their tests using one of the plethora of websites which offer psychometric test tips and revision. Although these tests can be manipulated by a candidate, it is also worth noting that the algorithms used do not analyse everyone perfectly and it is therefore expected that some individuals will contest their results.

Due to the limitations of psychometrics, SuccessDynamicsAlliance advise within their reports that psychometric tests should never be used as the only method of assessing an individual:

Psychometric instruments should only be used as a part of a structured, fair, and documented process, whether one is recruiting, team building, or engaged in individual development.  Personality Profile must never be used in isolation as a means of assessing an individual.

However, not everyone follows that advice. Despite his inexperience, Paul Flowers became the non-executive director and chairman of the Co-operative Bank through scoring highly on a psychometric test – most likely an aptitude test. In the first half of 2013 the bank lost £700 million and later a £1.5 billion black hole was found in the bank’s finances. It was revealed at a Treasury Select Committee that psychometric testing had been a major factor in hiring Flowers and further questions from the Committee revealed that he had no knowledge of the bank’s assets, loans or investments (The Guardian).

Other issues do exist. Psychometric tests are expensive with a Myers-Briggs personality test costing as much as £40. There is also a question mark over the inclusivity of psychometric tests: The system does not account for people who have different cultural backgrounds or language barriers. Some candidates may find it difficult to understand the questions being asked of them, and therefore may answer incorrectly; again impacting results.

How should psychometric tests should be used?

There is no doubt that psychometric tests provide multiple benefits. As unbiased discriminators, psychometric tests can be used at various stages of a recruitment process, provided that they are used in tandem with interviews or other methods. Although it is a costly service, the additional information which can be obtained through psychometric tests enables employers to discriminate between candidates more easily.

Yet the Paul Flowers scandal showed clearly that psychometric tests have their limits. Whilst they undoubtedly help facilitate the recruitment process, their reliability should never be overestimated. An interviewer’s judgement should still be paramount when selecting a candidate and interviews should be conducted after a candidate sits a psychometric test to confirm the results.

 By Tristan Gower


This entry was posted in Market research, tagged Professionals, Recruitment, Market Research and posted on September 18, 2019

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