Should all employers be using psychometric testing to screen candidates?

pyschometric testing

Psychometric tests are increasingly being used to differentiate talent as the job market becomes even more competitive with bad hires proving very costly. In this blog, Bramwith Consulting’s job market expert, Ben Riley investigates more and the benefits for employers.

In previous blogs , I’ve discussed and debated how recruitment has changed with new innovations (video interviews, social media marketing etc) coming in and how important it is that recruiters and also employers are constantly looking to embrace these changes and utilise every tool available to find and secure the best talent. As an employer of staff myself, I am very interested in ways that I can identify and employ the highest calibre staff at Bramwith Consulting as well as helping my clients to do so as well, so am fascinated by the science behind psychometric testing.  I have used psychometric testing before but never really thrown myself in to see all the benefits.  As such, we have just started trialling psychometric testing for all new hires at Bramwith to look for trends of who we hire and reject, as well as over a longer period to assess what the traits of top performers are, if indeed there are any common denominators.

 Generally speaking, there are two types of tests and good practice suggests that both should be used as they can complement and increase the validity of assessment:

  1. Ability, Aptitude or Cognitive Tests such as numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, inductive reasoning and situational judgement tests.
  2. Personality Tests which measure behavioural style, opinions and motivators, temperament, career interests and personal values.

Clearly Ability, Aptitude or Cognitive Tests are useful for assessing specific skills, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day as I am keen to focus on the Personality Psychometric Tests.  Personality psychometric tests have been used since the early part of the 20th century and were originally developed for use in educational psychology. The War Office started using them in the 1930s and the success was rolled out from armed services to the civil service and into business. Psychometric testing is now used by over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK and more than 80% of the Fortune 500 companies in the USA. With the global nature of big business, it’s no surprise that they are also used in at least 70 countries worldwide. Test use is growing across the globe: major Chinese banks use tests to employ senior managers, and Indian call centres use them to reduce staff turnover. But they are not only used by large organisations. According to Personnel Today, 70% of UK companies with over 50 employees use psychometric tests, so, they’re being used heavily but I’d say from personal experience that 5% of my clients have asked candidates to do any such test prior to making an offer of employment….largely because a lot of these companies use personality psychometric testing solely for graduate recruitment or low skilled workers.

Employers favour psychometric tests because they can provide a standard and scientific method to measure individuals’ mental capabilities and behavioural style. So they can predict how well a candidate will fit into a role or a company and they can unearth hidden aspects of candidates that are difficult to glean from an interview. This can also mean that you hire to have either lots of people with a similar cultural profile or indeed can deliberately hire complimentary candidates to supplement the existing team.

They can be a quick and cost-effective method of eliminating unsuitable candidates and appear fair as every candidate for the job will get the same tests, with no right and wrong answer but where the results are open for interpretation. Tests can also be anonymised to ensure employers look at candidates objectively, rather than risking bias. These tests range in price from being free but for the most part cost £10-30 per test (can be over £250 per test though!) although this goes up if it is highly tailored for that firm and the price goes down based on volume that you buy them in.

What is the personality psychometric test itself though?

They’re all different depending which firm’s test you take; they can be a standard test or personalised test developed for that employer, but in essence, it’s 10-20 minutes long, a multiple choice test asking the applicant a number of cultural and behavioural questions in slightly different ways to see where their personal preferences lie. My personal favourite is the DISC style test which assesses several values and behvaioural traits but focuses mostly on 4 key styles compared:

  1. Decisive – How you tend to approach problems and make decisions
  2. Interactive – How you tend to interact with others and share opinions
  3. Stabilizing – How you tend to pace things in your environment
  4. Cautious – Your preference for established protocol / standards

Effectively the results tell the individual taking the test what they already know, as they answer these multi-choice questions themselves, but as an employer who possibly only interviews the candidate over say 2 hours, it gives an interesting insight into who they are culturally. These can then be used to make sure they are aligned with the job that they are interviewing for – Recruiters tend to be high in the “Decisive“ style and HR professionals tend to be high in the “Interactive” style as are required to demonstrate stakeholder management skills, effective communication skills, and a structured and planned approach to tasks.

Use Psychometric Tests alongside your Standard Interview Process

In my opinion, these psychometric tests are not, however, the Holy Grail and must be used with care. According to The Psychometric Project, a collaborative project from UK universities and research students: “It is crucial, for any company using psychometric testing in their recruitment process, that there is no discrimination in the tests they are supplying to candidates, as this could result in unfair bias and the best people not being found for the job. For the individual taking the test it is important that they know they have the same opportunity as anyone else of being selected for the role, and are not hindered before they have begun.”

I’d add that the results surely must vary based on the environment that the test is taken in, the mood of the applicant when taking the test etc so as much as possible the conditions should be standardized so the results can be compared as accurately as possible. The more questions answered, the higher the likelihood that you can make sure the results are accurate as well, which does imply a more expensive test will be more accurate!

In 2013, Co-op Bank hired Paul Flowers as their Chairman based largely as he “did well in psychometric tests”, without the broader CV you’d expect, including a lack of any banking experience. He then had to step down amid allegations of buying illegal drugs following an expose in the Mail of Sunday newspaper.  This occurred days after he appeared in front of the Treasury committee over the Co-op Bank’s £1.5 Billion black hole in its balance sheet, so again I’d warn against using these tests in isolation but instead as part of an overall screening process.  John Rust, Director of the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre puts this better when he told the Financial Times: “Openness to experience is one of the big five scales in personality testing, and clearly one that Mr Flowers may have scored highly on. But you would need to follow that with an interview that asked exactly what type of experiences he is open to.”

Brent Greeson argues “that culture fit is the most important aspect of retaining great employees above anything else” and it’s hard to disagree with him. As a recruiter, I find the employers who have the strongest and clearest set out culture and values are the most successful businesses with the best retention of staff and staff satisfaction. Various studies have also shown the importance of a diverse workforce (strong gender balance, ethnic diversity etc) as well but a diverse group doesn’t mean you need a group with different values and beliefs, so although someone may look and sound different when interviewing them, it’s not so important what they look like but more about their matched values and beliefs and such tests can help draw this out for an employer. As such, any test that allows you to get a clearer view of the potential new hire must be a good thing to complement your recruitment process, bring up questions that you can delve into in more detail in the formal interview process.

In Conclusion

There is definitely a place for personality psychometric testing in any recruitment process. Most employers will use on-line tests for the lower skilled roles, so graduate recruitment would seem a good way to screen out and screen in candidates who fit the successful profile alongside a strong CV. I also think there is a place in experienced hire recruitment, not to screen anyone out but to understand that individual’s motivations so you can ensure you are probing throughout the interview process where you may have unearthed a concern. All screening processes should be multi-faceted involving a number of interviews with a number of different people and the more data and discussion points you can feed into those discussion should be a really good thing to ensure you make the right hires.

What do you think of personality psychometric testing? Do you use them in your screening process? Please comment to let me and the wider community know your thoughts!








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