Posted by Adam Blanch on 21 March 2014
Employers naturally want to know everything they can about potential employees, and they want that information to be accurate, so psychometric testing can seem like the goose that laid the golden egg. However, if you remember Jack and the Beanstalk, you’ll understand that acquiring the goose has both its pros and cons. So, too, does psychometric testing.
At its best, psychometric tests can give you a relatively accurate and insightful picture of a candidate’s suitability for a role. If you’re looking for a quality salesperson, for example, then someone who is an extrovert with high verbal reasoning skills and high achievement motivation is a better bet than the introvert who specialises in abstract thinking. Well-validated tests generally return reliable results and can help you avoid the situation in which a person is an interview star but can’t back it up with performance.
Recruitment mistakes are costly, and tests are good insurance against them. They can weed out the bad choices and reveal the exceptional performers. They can also help you assess how good a ‘fit’ someone is to a team or a role based on personality and ability.
Tests are developed and validated using sample populations that have no reason to be dishonest. Job applicants, on the other hand, are motivated to tell you what you want to hear. Also, a savvy job applicant can study the standard tests, trying to figure out the ‘right’ answers. They may even pay for coaching. The other side of this coin is that test anxiety and unfamiliarity can create a false negative, whereby a person’s results don’t reflect their true potential.
Many psychometric tests must be delivered by people trained in administering and interpreting them. This can cost significant money in either training in-house personnel or hiring third-party professionals. You should weigh the cost of psychometric testing against the value of the role. For low-level positions, an interview and simple online test may be enough, but for specialist skills and high-responsibility positions, you may want to invest the extra money.
Psychometric tests often contain biases that disadvantage people who have different cultural backgrounds, language barriers, psychological dispositions and even anxiety around testing. They may well be the best candidate for the job but are eliminated by the recruitment process. Given the importance of diversity, non-discrimination and ethical business practices in today’s world, you should carefully consider using psychometrics, lest you suddenly discover a legal ‘giant’ chasing you back down the beanstalk.
If you are going to use psychometrics as part of your recruitment process, it’s best not to rely on one test or to put too much weight on a single result. Use a battery of tests and combine the results with interviews, role-playing exercises and reference checks. Tests work best when you use them as supplemental information, not the definitive answer.