Psychometric Testing – still relevant?

Most employers will be familiar with the use of psychometric assessments for the purposes of assisting in the recruitment process. The psychometric assessment of individual differences for the purposes of matching abilities and personality to job role function has its origins in military applications dating back to the First World War. Whilst the instruments have obviously undergone significant development since then, the basic premise remains – to achieve the greatest level of synergy between individuals and the jobs that they perform. The theory goes that the closer the match between ability and personality and the requirements of the job, the more suited, engaged and productive the employee will be.

The use of psychometric testing became popular in Australia in the early 1990′s when organisations began to appreciate the value of assessing a candidate’s cognitive abilities as well as their particular personality traits as part of the recruitment process. The use of tools assessing such factors as verbal and numerical reasoning, as well as problem solving ability became the mainstay of standard recruitment processes for a wide range of roles from graduate positions through to executive level appointments. Personality profiles also proved valuable in predicting behavioural responses likely to be observed in the workplace enabling employers to make informed decisions regarding likely cultural fit of a prospective employee.

The range of psychometric tools on offer today are extensive with most being available online and at a fraction of the cost that they were even 5 or 10 years ago. This means that quality assessment tools are more accessible than they have ever been to employers, and as a result they are being called upon to assist in recruitment decisions more and more. The question then becomes, after all this time and the changes we have experienced in the employment market as well as other generational factors, are such tools still relevant for Australian business?

The answer to this is a qualified ‘maybe’ if used according to the following guidelines:

  1. The test or assessment must be a valid tool. In simple terms this means that the test must measure what it is designed to measure. A test should be statistically validated and be produced by a reputable and widely regarded publisher. Avoid cheap or free online tests claiming to provide the same levels of insight as some of the other more established tools.
  2. Ensure that the assessment process is undertaken by someone trained in the use of the tools they are using, and under controlled conditions. The decisions you will be making will be important ones – make sure you remove the ‘noise’ from the process.
  3. Seek professional assistance in interpreting the information from test results. If you do not have anyone in-house that is trained in the interpretation of the assessments, engage and external party to help you understand what the results mean.
  4. And most importantly, understand that psychometrics are one part of an overall recruitment process – they are NOT the most important source of information and should be used as a guide only.

At the risk of overstating that final point, this is the greatest mistake that I have seen employers make when considering the outcome of psychometric testing. It is easy to place all your eggs in the one basket and make decisions based entirely or almost entirely upon the test results. The mystique of psychometrics can make them a tempting talisman. As sophisticated as they are, remember that psych tests are an artificial prediction of on-the-job performance. Many factors can contribute to how an individual performs under test conditions such as stress, illness, test-taking technique etc. and these results must be considered in conjunction with the other sources of information gathered during the recruitment process.

Despite the marketing hype of many a recruitment agency, there is no ideal candidate. The recruitment process is merely an efficient way of understanding what an employer is buying in a potential candidate. A behavioural interview undertaken by a skilled interviewer is still the most effective way of assessing suitability but don’t forget the resume and reference checks either. Each of these sources of information are important, but only relevant when considered in light of the entire recruitment process.

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