More and more companies are using psychometric tests to evaluate prospective employees. According to People Management psychometric tests are used by 80% of Fortune 500 firms, as well as 75% of organisations listed in The Times Best Companies to Work For.
Despite their increased usage, questions still remain as to whether psychometric testing is a completely fair hiring method. As well as this, we must assess whether they are the best way to determine if someone can fulfil all of a job’s requirements to a high standard.
In this article we will review the benefits and limitations of psychometric testing in recruitment, giving employers the heads up on whether or not to include them in their hiring process
What is a psychometric test?
While the word ‘psychometric’ sounds overly technical, it simply defines ways of ‘measuring’ the mind. The concept has also been around longer than some may realise. Psychometric research has been around since the late 19th Century. One of the first examples was the University of Cambridge's psychometric lab, which studied subjects’ memories, reactions, and attention spans.
When it comes to hiring, psychometric tests can be used to measure an array of skills. These range from verbal and numerical reasoning to identifying trends and patterns.
Those who are unfamiliar with ‘psychometrics’ may be envisioning some form of Freudian scenario. However, they've likely encountered one of the most common psychometric tests, the Myer Briggs Personality Test. That’s right, it’s psychometric testing that tells you whether you’re an Inspector, a Campaigner or a Crafter. This is one of many examples of psychometric tests used by recruiters over the years. Here are just a few more examples (we hope you like acronyms!).
- Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ)
In this test, 32 personality traits are categorised based on how they impact both your work and your relationships with others. Examples include a person's thinking style, their sense of empathy and how they influence others.
The OPQ also includes a ‘social desirability measure.’ This supposedly roots out those who may be hiding their true colours. In other words, the test deters people from offering answers that they think will 'appease' the interviewer.
- SHL Managerial and Graduate Item Bank (MGIB)
The SHL Management and Graduate Item Bank (MGIB) is a test battery, with a range of assessments to measure logical reasoning skills. These assessments test numerical and verbal abilities, using questions based on business scenarios. As the title suggests, these tests are often used to identify candidates for managerial positions or graduate fast-track schemes.
- Raven's Progressive Matrices (RPM)
Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) are a group of non-verbal tests. Candidates have to identify sequences using geometric designs. These tests help determine a person’s capacity for abstract thinking and problem-solving. RPM was originally developed to determine the genetic and environmental factors of cognitive ability. Nowadays it is used across many educational and workplace environments. RPM is particularly common as a pre-interview screening tool, filtering out unsuitable candidates.
What are the benefits of psychometric testing in recruitment?
Psychometric testing evaluates (and importantly, quantifies) a candidate’s ability to perform a range of tasks, taking their result as indicative of skill. Many argue that this effectively reduces risk in the hiring process. According to their research, 81% of organisations believe psychometric tools have helped them make less risky hiring decisions.
One of the big problems with both CVs and traditional interviews is that they’re both subjective ways of measuring a person's skills. Moreover, some of the evaluation criteria can vary on a person-by-person basis. Both of these issues are somewhat rectified by psychometric testing. Not only does psychometric testing offer a standardised approach, but it also provides performance benchmarks. If anyone falls below a certain criterion, they can be quickly taken out of the running.
Psychometric tests can be particularly beneficial for higher-level job vacancies. There is often more of a focus on a candidate's personal attributes and character. These jobs require someone with leadership skills. The successful candidate could be a driver of large-scale organisational change. In that case, that person needs to be able to motivate and inspire others. For these kinds of positions, psychometric testing can quickly weed out unsuitable candidates.
What are the disadvantages/dangers of psychometric testing in recruitment?
The issue with psychometric tests is that companies often think of them as a 'magic bullet' hiring solution. We only need to mention the controversy surrounding Paul Flowers. Also unfortunately known as 'The Crystal Methodist', Flowers had a disastrous reign as chair of Co-Op bank. Upon his resignation, it was found that he was hired partially off the back of psychometric tests.
People became highly invested in psychometric testing for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it was vouched by people with considerable clout. Also, at the risk of sounding flippant, it has a science-y sounding name. Therefore, many people trusted psychometric testing as a surefire way of finding the best person for a job. The reality is that they were never really intended to be the sole means of evaluating a candidate. Rather than companies using these tests as an aid for decision making, they have instead trusted the tests to decide for them.
This is not to suggest that psychometric tests are completely devoid of merit. They can certainly yield some compelling insights (way more than a CV for instance). However, we must remember that when these tests were first developed, they were being used by doctors, researchers, and psychiatrists. Now it seems any Tom, Dick, and Harry can print out a Myer Briggs sheet and say that they’re administering a psychometric test. Richard MacKinnon, an occupational psychologist, puts it quite plainly when he says ‘psychometrics are only as good as the tool – and the hands using it.”
Suppose psychometric tests were carried out by vetted pros, and that they only formed part of an extended job application process. Can we be sure that they provide an objective - and more importantly fair - way of evaluating candidates? Multiple factors could potentially affect the fairness of psychometric testing:
- There has been speculation recently as to whether psychometric testing is biased towards neurodiverse people. Using these tests in recruitment could exclude people with mental health issues or people on the autistic spectrum.
- On a somewhat similar note, a person who is feeling nervous or anxious about a job interview could have the same skills as someone who is feeling confident. However, their psychometric tests could likely reveal different results.
- Some people may be more familiar with psychometric testing, due to their educational background. Therefore, they could be more aware of what answers recruiters are likely to want to hear.
The final, and perhaps the most important question we need to ask, is the extent to which psychometric tests can prove how well someone will carry out a particular job. There are two main issues with psychometric tests.
The first issue is that some of the traits they measure are so broad, that it could potentially be tough to truly differentiate between candidates. After all, as human beings we all have cognitive abilities and communication skills - two things which are measured by psychometric tests.
Secondly, it could be argued that psychometric tests measure more abstract, indirect skills. The problem is that these aren’t necessarily indicative of how well someone would actually succeed in a particular role. Psychometric tests can indicate that someone may have the aptitude for a certain skill. But should we be measuring based purely on aptitude? It could be akin to saying someone whose played Operation has the aptitude to become a neuroscientist. It’s likely you’ll want to hand the scalpel to someone you can be 100% sure that they’ll carry out the job to the best of their ability.
Ultimately, psychometric tests can add some colour to your assessment of a particular candidate. However, it’s unwise for companies to allow these tests to make hiring decisions for them.
With the current debate surrounding the ‘fairness’ of psychometric tests, you may ask whether there are any completely impartial hiring methods. At the risk of blowing our own trumpet, we’d like to tell you more about our bias-free recruitment platform.
Applied’s recruitment software uses blind hiring, so employers can focus solely on a candidate’s skills and merits. Recruiters and hiring managers can select the specific skills they wish to test. This ensures that they hire the unequivocally best person for the role. Finally, each unsuccessful candidate is provided with in-depth feedback. This means they can find out exactly which skills to develop for any future applications.
Interested in finding out more about our fairer, more predictive hiring methods? Why not Request a Demo today?