Psychometric testing and the hiring process

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Maybe this has happened to you: the HR professional who is facilitating the hiring process has called you and asked you to complete a test that they send you by email or wanted to schedule time to meet with an industrial psychologist.

If you have ever wondered what this is or why companies do this, read on.

One of the primary challenges with HR in general and recruitment specifically, is that we are working with people, therefore we must make decisions almost entirely with subjective data. In recruitment, the hiring manager will adapt a job description based on the needs of the position, the team and company objectives. When we begin reviewing résumés and speaking with prospective candidates, we are in a sense testing out a theory in the practical world – that the talent we initially required is out there in the market and willing to come and work for us.

There is no magical “instinct” or “gut feeling” that any manager or HR professional is born with that makes them more capable to select and hire people. In fact, I would argue that it is dangerous to think this way because the concept is fraught with unconscious bias. In HR, our job to bring standardization to the hiring process, meaning to do as much as we can to level the playing field and compare apples to apples. Examples of this would be to ask all candidates a standard set of questions and to have all the same interviewers meet all the candidates. This fosters conditions to ensure that decisions are based on comparing concrete facts and corroborating observations as opposed to hunches and snap judgments.

Psychometric testing comes in to play as one of the elements used to support a hiring decision. It provides additional behavioural data to be used alongside the candidate’s technical experience and the information gathered in the interviews to lead to an effective hiring decision.

More on psychometric tests

So what are psychometric tests and how are they used? I found this definition from the Institute of Psychometric Coaching that elaborates on this question in a clear and concise manner:

Psychometric tests are a standard and scientific method used to measure individuals’ mental capabilities and behavioural style. Psychometric tests are designed to measure candidates’ suitability for a role based on the required personality characteristics and aptitude (or cognitive abilities). They identify the extent to which candidates’ personality and cognitive abilities match those required to perform the role. Employers use the information collected from the psychometric test to identify the hidden aspects of candidates that are difficult to extract from a face-to-face interview.

There are a wide variety of psychometric tests out there and companies use any number of them for varying reasons. The more common evaluations are behavioural and cognitive assessments, but depending on company needs or position requirements, there are tests to evaluate mechanical or spatial awareness, potential appraisal, and to verify the alignment with the company’s core competencies. Many psychometric tests can be completed online in a few minutes, which simplifies the process for both the company and the candidate.

Generally, for the evaluation of more senior- and/or executive-level positions, these will include a meeting with an industrial psychologist. Online testing is reliable and valid, however this type of interview allows greater depth and a more well-rounded understanding of the individual. In addition, given the strategic nature of these positions, the results can be interpreted and reinforced with the supporting evaluation of a licensed professional.

Misuse of psychometric testing

While online resources and more comprehensive results have facilitated the use of psychometric testing in the hiring process, there will unfortunately be instances of misuse. Should you encounter any of the following while you are in the interview process, consider these the situation carefully and ask any questions you feel are necessary.

  • Being asked to complete a test before meeting anyone from the company. This is unfortunately quite common. As I mentioned earlier, a psychometric test should be used in conjunction with interviews to arrive at a hiring decision. They are not intended to be used to screen candidates.
  • Not being given adequate time to complete a test. Nowadays, most testing done online is relatively quick and convenient. With that said, it is common courtesy to allow a couple of days to complete the test. Candidates need to have the most ideal conditions possible to ensure that the test yields accurate results. It is only fair to give a reasonable heads-up so that a  person can make any necessary arrangements. You should be able to complete the test in a calm setting and without interruption, unless the test indicates otherwise. If you are contacted in a rush and asked to complete the test before the end of the day, this situation is not ideal.
  • Using tests with no “faking scale”. On a personal level, I like the Myers-Briggs test, also known as MBTI. At the same time, it is not a test I would use for hiring, because there is no faking scale. A faking scale is a term commonly used describe the factors built into a test to compensate for the test-taker consciously or unconsciously influencing the result. It is natural that in a recruitment setting, a candidate will want to be hired and this has an influence – they will want to give the “best” answers to increase the odds of being selected. A proper pre-employment test should have these factors built in, and unfortunately, MBTI and other tests like it do not. We will discuss the uses of MBTI in a future post, however, if you are asked to do this type of test for hiring purposes, this should raise a flag over the relevance of its use.

Psychometric testing is a broad and fascinating subject that is hotly debated in the HR community. Hopefully this article has been an introduction so you can be informed should you be asked to take one in the near future.