Psychometric Testing: Is It Really Comparing Apples With Apples?

By Bernadette Eichner - Feb. 15, 2015
Ready To Hire Your Next Employee?

Psychometric testing is sort of like vegetarianism. Nearly everyone thinks they know what it is and has an opinion about it. But dig a little deeper and most of us cannot explain the fundamental principles or myriad variations of either.

I should probably disclose a couple of things at this point. I’m a meat eater, so not really clued up that well on Vegetarianism! And I’m an accredited administrator of various Psychometric tests, so clued in just enough to be a fountain of knowledge or a pain in the neck!

There are over a dozen different types of vegetarian diets – eggs but no dairy, dairy but no eggs, raw not cooked food, nuts that do not need to be plucked from a plant, diets that exclude any product produced by an animal to diets that include everything but the animal’s flesh itself.

It’s the same for psychometric tests. There are literally hundreds of different tests out there developed by various psychologists around the globe, each one designed for a specific purpose based on particular hypothesis. It’s certainly not a case of comparing apples with apples.

They range from tests that determine how well someone can add or subtract, to personality tests to see if people can get along in a quiet, urban office environment through to tests designed to accurately identify military personnel who may be suited to special operations work in the most dangerous situations you can think of.

What is a Psychometric test?

A Psychometric test is a standard and scientific method used to measure individuals’ mental capabilities and behavioural style. In layman’s terms, they are tests that can tell you if ‘Jack’ or ‘Mary’ will ‘cut it’ in a particular job in your company.

Tests are designed to measure candidates’ suitability for a role based on the required personality characteristics and aptitude (or cognitive abilities) as desired by you, the employer. The results provide you with an insight into how well a person is likely to work with other people, how well they are likely to handle stress and whether or not they are likely to cope with the intellectual demands of the job.

Most tests are predictive of some ‘non-test’ behaviour of interest, e.g. “Is Jack likely to hit me when he gets angry?” or “Will Mary need to take stress leave after every conversation about her work performance?”. Most tests describe the behavior in terms of how it compares to the norm, which has been arrived at by testing large group of subjects in various situations over a period of time, so it’s pretty reliable. Some tests are criterion-referenced, the objective being to see if the subject can attain some pre-specified criterion.

This is about the point I hear people start to shift in their chairs and check their phones for messages! All this can sound a bit like Swahili around a campfire about now. You know someone is saying something that might be interesting but you can’t understand a word of it! Let’s break it down into something a bit easier to digest.

Essentially, there are two main types of psychometric tests – personality and interest tests and aptitude and ability tests.

  • Aptitude and ability tests measure a person’s ability to perform or carry out certain tasks
  • Personality questionnaires measure a person’s particular way of doing things, and specifically how that person interacts with their environment and other people.

What are they used for?

In the workplace, psychometric tests are generally used for:

  • Recruitment. The right test can add real value to your screening processes. Ability and aptitude testing can help you narrow the field of candidates quite quickly. Be careful with personality tests here though. Best practice recruitment processes only use test results as part of a thorough selection processes, never in isolation.
  • Team Building. Personality testing is very popular and quite valuable in team building programs. A program that enables team members to be more self-aware and learn how to better work with others can have a very quick and positive impact on team communication and performance, the effects of which are often long term.
  • Future Proofing. A combination of aptitude and personality testing can assist with company decisions around who is best to be promoted into what positions, ensuring the company’s future success.

Many companies use psychometric tests religiously as part of their recruitment, employee engagement and performance management strategies. (Some research puts this figure as high as 70% of companies in Australia and the USA.) Others use them sporadically for a variety of different reasons, while others don’t use them but think they should. And then there’s the group who think the whole thing is pop psychology and about as reliable as reading tea leaves!

Why do some people swear by testing and others don’t?

Like everything, psychometric testing has advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages include:

  • Cost-benefit. The tests are reasonably inexpensive to administer and can save you thousands of dollars in the long run if they effectively weed out unsuitable employees.
  • Truth serum. Test results get past candidates who may be telling you what they think you want to hear in an interview, rather than the truth.
  • Apples vs apples. The format is standardised and therefore every candidate is treated equally, ensuring not only those with well rehearsed interview techniques get noticed.
  • More carrots. Test results provide a framework for further interview questions or specific information that needs to be explored during reference checking.

Disadvantages are:

  • Copycats. There are various tests that purport to be psychometric tests but aren’t. It’s very difficult for the untrained eye to know the difference and this can create problems.
  • Quacks. A lack of proper and correct training for test administrators results in incorrect interpretation of results.
  • Liars. Some candidates will not respond truthfully, resulting in an incorrect assessment of their skills.
  • Influencers. Some candidates have sat numerous tests over the years and have learned how to influence the results.
  • No guarantees. A candidate’s long term success with the company is not guaranteed just because they do well in the test. This is especially true with personality tests.

What test should you use?

There are thousands of providers of psychometric tests and all are passionate about the particular tests they want to foist on you. Each of them will talk until the mung beans sprout about why their preferred assessment tools are superior to someone else’s. And it can all get a bit confusing.

But … and here’s the big “heads-up” moment … Providers are required to be accredited to use and interpret recognised, legitimate psychometric testing tools. So if you don’t use their preferred tests, they are unlikely to be able to offer you an alternative. Put more bluntly, they will not be able to make any money out of you!

I can hear you asking “So how do we know if we are being fed a load of bullsh*t or not?”

It’s very much a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know” and this makes it easy for charlatans (because there are some) to prey on your ignorance.

The answer is not to run away from what can be a valuable addition to your recruitment and performance management efforts. Rather, get informed so you can actively engage with a provider about what they offer.

I’m going to resist the urge here to reel off a bunch of different tests you can use and give you my opinion of them. Psychometric testing isn’t about what others want to do but what you want others to achieve for you.

The best way to determine what test is best for your needs is to first be clear about why you need one. Ask yourself:

  • What are we testing for?
  • Why do we need the information?
  • How are we going to use the information?

Where can you find a test provider?

The next step is to find someone who is accredited to administer and interpret the type of test you need. The internet is a great starting point and most countries maintain a national register of accredited providers. So you won’t be lacking for choice and now that you know why you want one, you are halfway there to achieving success!

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.


Bernadette Eichner

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.

Find Your Next Hire Out Of Over 5 Million Candidates

Get connected with quality candidates whose resumes on Zippia best fit your job description.

Related posts

Find Your Next Hire Out Of Over 5 Million Candidates

Get connected with quality candidates whose resumes on Zippia best fit your job description.

Topics: Building Culture, Candidates, Employer branding