Psychometric tests have been used since the early part of the 20th century and were originally developed for use in educational psychology. These days, outside of education, you are most likely to encounter psychometric testing as part of recruitment or selection process. Tests of this sort are devised by occupational psychologists and their aim is to provide employers with a reliable method of selecting the most suitable job applicants or candidates for promotion.

The word psychometric basically refers to the measurement of the mind. Unlike facets such as education, skills, experience, appearance and punctuality, the behaviour traits and personality of a candidate can be much more difficult to assess during an interview.

In an age where every decision needs to be justified, backed up and informed by data, psychometric testing contributes a key element of science in an industry that has often relied on gut feeling and synergies between the recruiter and jobseeker when making important hiring decisions. In fact, more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies utilize psychometric profiling in recruitment.

Psychometric tests aim to measure attributes like intelligence, aptitude and personality. They provide a potential employer with an insight into how well you work with other people, how well you handle stress, and whether you will be able to cope with the intellectual demands for the job.

Some employers choose to use psychometric testing during their recruitment process to help give a better overall evaluation of a candidate and hopefully secure the best fit for the role. There is some debate over the value of psychometric testing, but prospective employers who use it believe that it can give a more objective overview of a candidate’s character, strengths, weaknesses and working style. Typically, a psychometric test should never be used in isolation, but as one component of a wider, integrated evaluated strategy.

Psychometric testing can measure a number of attributes including intelligence, critical reasoning, motivation and personality profile. An interview process can be fairly subjective and although employers will normally assess skills and experience fairly accurately, much can still be left to gut instinct regarding aligned values.

A psychometric test aims to provide measurable, objective data that can provide a better all-round view of a candidate’s suitability. It could be argued that psychometric testing offers some scientific credibility and objectivity to the process of recruiting. It perhaps provides a more fair and accurate way of assessing a candidate, as all applicants will be given a standardised test.

Most of the established psychometric tests used in recruitment and selection make no attempt to analyse your emotional or psychological stability and should not be confused with tests used in clinical psychology. However, in recent years there has been rapid growth (particularly in the US) of tests that claim to measure your integrity or honesty and your predisposition to anger. These tests have attracted a lot of controversy, because of questions about their validity, but their popularity with employers has continued to increase.

Traditionally, these tests have taken the form of pen and paper, multiple choice questionnaires, but increasingly they are moving into a digital realm. This means they can be quick and easy to integrate into any stage of the recruitment process.

Some organisations often favour psychometric testing as a way of screening (and subsequently eliminating) large amounts of candidates at the start of a recruitment drive. In this case, psychometric testing could help to drastically reduce the hiring manager’s workload, as it helps to swiftly identify a smaller pool of suitable applicants who have the potential to perform well in the later stages of the interview process.

In today’s environment, there are different types of types of tests, but generally they will be used to measure how people differ in their motivation, values, priorities and options with regard to different tasks and situations. In terms of personality, the tests can give an indication of the working style favoured by a candidate and how they interact with both their environment and fellow workers.

The tests are helpful at analysing the more “hidden” traits of an individual. Formal education and past experience will not always provide a clear, up-to-date assessment of these personal skills. Aptitude tests, for example, could help to provide a better, more realistic and current view of a candidate’s abilities than a formal certificate of education.

A psychometric test must be:

  • Objective : The score must not be affected by the testers beliefs or values
  • Standardized : It must be administered under controlled conditions
  • Reliable : It must minimize and quantify any intrinsic errors
  • Predictive : It must make an accurate prediction of performance
  • Non Discriminatory: It must not disadvantage any group on the basis of gender, culture, ethnicity, etc.

Psychometric tests fall into two main categories. Personality questionnaires, which try to measure aspects of your personality, and aptitude tests,  which try to measure your intellectual and reasoning abilities.

Personality Tests

Most employers recognise that personality is of great importance in success at work. Consequently, most of the psychometric tests that you will be expected to take as part of the recruitment process will include a short personality test.

The principle behind these tests is that it is possible to quantify your personality by asking you about your feelings, thoughts and behaviour in a variety of situations both at work and outside of work.

You may be presented with statements describing various ways of feeling or acting and asked to answer each one on a 2 point , 5 point or 7 point scale. The number of questions you are expected to answer varies from about 50 to 200, depending on the duration of the test.

Personality has a significant role to play in deciding whether you have the enthusiasm and motivation that the employer is looking for. It also determines how well you are going to fit into the organisation, in terms of your personality, attitude and general work style. In most working situations it’s the personalities of the people involved that affect the day-to-day success of the organisation. If a manager can’t motivate their staff or the team doesn’t work well together, then quality of service and productivity will suffer.

There have also been significant changes in the past 20 years in the way that organisations operate. For example, management styles tend to be less autocratic and there are usually fewer levels of management than there were. The move towards more knowledge based and customer focussed jobs means that individuals have more autonomy even at fairly low levels within organisations. In addition, most organisations expect to undergo frequent changes in the way that they operate in order to remain competitive. All of these factors have contributed to your personality being seen as more important now than it was in the past.

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, verbal ability, numeric reasoning ability etc) while others are made up of different types of questions. If you are unsure what types of questions to expect then ask the human resources department at the organisation you are applying to. This will not count against you as you have a right to prepare yourself for any tests you are asked to sit.

The different types of aptitude tests can be classified as follows:

Verbal ability – Includes spelling, basic grammar, ability to understand analogies and follow detailed written instructions. These questions appear in most general aptitude tests because employers  usually want to know how well you can communicate.

Numeric ability – Includes basic arithmetic, number sequences and simple mathematics. In management level tests you will often be presented with charts and graphs that need to be interpreted. These questions appear in most general aptitude tests because employers usually want some indication of your ability to use numbers even if this is not a major part of the job.

Abstract Reasoning – Measures your ability to identify the underlying logic of a pattern and then determine the solution. Because abstract reasoning ability is believed to be the best indicator of fluid intelligence and your ability to learn new things quickly these questions appear in most general aptitude tests.

Spatial Ability – Measures your ability to manipulate shapes in two dimensions or to visualise three-dimensional objects presented as two-dimensional pictures. These questions not usually found in general aptitude tests unless the job specifically requires good spatial skills.

Mechanical Reasoning– Designed to assess your knowledge of physical and mechanical principles. Mechanical reasoning questions are used to select for a wide range of jobs including the military as well as many craft, technical and engineering occupations.

Fault Diagnosis– These tests are used to select technical personnel who need to be able to find and repair faults in electronic and mechanical systems. As modern equipment of all types becomes more dependent on electronic control systems (and arguably more complex) the ability to approach problems logically in order to find the cause of the fault is increasingly important.

Data Checking – Measures how quickly and accurately errors can be detected in data and are used to select candidates for clerical and data input jobs.

Work Sample – Involves a sample of the work that you will be expected to do. These types of tests can be very broad ranging. They may involve exercises using a spreadsheet if the job is administrative or they may include giving a presentation or in-tray exercises if the job is management or supervisory level.

Don’t Make Assumptions about Your Own Abilities

It is very important that you don’t make any assumptions about your own abilities in these areas. For example, many people assume that they won’t have any problems with verbal ability questions because they got an ‘A’ in an English exam. They may have a point if they got the ‘A’a few months ago, but what if was ten years ago? It is very easy to ignore the effects of not reading as much as you used to, and of letting your spell-checker take care of correcting your written English

However, it is important for prospective employees to understand, it could be that an employer is looking for a particular result in the test, and rejects candidates who do not fit the bill. You won’t have failed the test as such, but you won’t get the job.