Sophie Milliken: What value do you feel that psychometrics adds to the recruitment/selection process?

Hands up if you love psychometrics. Anyone, no, didn’t think so. My own relationship with them is love/hate. I understand that with volume recruitment, particularly of graduates, multiple stages are needed to reduce the number of applicants to equal the required number of hires. What I struggle with is the impact on the candidate experience.

So what is a psychometric test?

Psychometric tests aim to measure attributes such as intelligence, aptitude and personality. The majority of psychometric testing is completed online, though some paper questionnaires remain. Most tests are timed, but some can be completed in multiple sittings. The tests provide potential employers with insight into how well candidates work with other people, how well they handle stress and whether they will be able to cope with the intellectual demands of the job. Tests fall into two main categories: personality tests, which measure aspects of personality, and aptitude tests, which measure intellectual and reasoning abilities.

Personality tests

The idea behind these tests is that it’s possible to quantify a candidate’s personality by knowing how they felt, thought and behaved in a variety of situations (both at work and outside of work). There are lots of tests, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which places candidates in one of 16 personality groups, and the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ), which checks that the candidate’s personality fits with the job.

There are no right or wrong answers with personality tests and to encourage reflection, they aren’t typically completed under exam conditions.

Aptitude tests

There are at least 5,000 aptitude and ability tests on the market. Some of them contain only one type of question (for example, questions involving verbal or numerical reasoning) while others are made up of different types. Aptitude tests consist of multiple-choice questions and are administered under exam conditions. They are strictly timed, and a typical test might allow thirty minutes for approximately thirty questions. Accuracy as well as speed of response is usually measured.  Intelligence levels are compared to a standard, meaning that candidates must achieve a certain score to pass.

Common tests include:

    • numerical reasoning
    • verbal reasoning
    • spatial reasoning
    • diagrammatic reasoning


The impact on the candidate experience

Candidates applying for graduate roles know to expect online tests as part of the selection process. It tends to be the most frustrating stage for them as so many of them fail and they feel it often leads to an impersonal rejection. Even when they get feedback from this stage, it tends to be generic and isn’t hugely helpful to direct them towards what they need to develop for future success with the test.

My own issue with tests is where they are placed in the process and how the candidate’s applications are handled. So for two examples, where company one has a series of tests for its first stage of the selection process. Candidate A fails at this stage and is disappointed but grateful to have had a quick response. Company two asks candidates to complete an online application form which includes five competency-based questions and then submit their CV before they are moved onto the online test stage. Candidate B also fails at online test stage and feels frustrated that they spent 10 hours on their application form answers and tailoring their CV.  The thing that really upsets candidate B is that they don’t even know if their application form answers were ever reviewed. Spoiler – they weren’t.

Both candidates found it hard to understand why they were asked to complete a numerical test that featured a series of questions which didn’t have any obvious relation to the job they were applying to. They had to have a grade B in Maths at GCSE to even apply in the first place so why were they being tested again?

Striking a balance

It is possible for recruiters to benefit from online tests in a way that also retains confidence in the process for the candidates. The best way to do this is to use bespoke tests which include real scenarios from the organisation. So a numerical test that includes questions which relate to the type of Maths which would be part of the role. This is where an SJT (situational judgement test) can be a useful test too. An SJT based upon real scenarios from that organisation feels relevant to the candidate and also gives them a better understanding of the role. Bespoke tests have their measurement system based upon real employees at the organisation so should be a more reliable form of assessment rather than measuring against a pool of people who might be applying for different roles and industries. These tests should provide an opportunity to give more meaningful feedback to candidates too.

Ultimately, psychometric tests can provide valuable information to both candidates and employers, providing that they are done at the right time and with the right, relevant questions. There are ways to prepare and make the most of these tests. Candidates could research the employer values or complete practise tests, unlike this example from a recruiter contact of mine where ‘One of the candidates failed his verbal and numerical reasoning. He said that he was burgled, and it was the burglar who took the test!’