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6 tricks for using psychometric tests correctly

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Psychometric tests have had some bad press lately – witness the laughter from MPs when it was suggested that Paul Flowers was selected as Chairman of the Co-operative Bank because “he did well on the psychometric tests”, despite having almost no banking experience.

We don’t, of course, know exactly what happened at the Co-op; but we do know that, in general, psychometric tests have been shown to be among the best tools you can use in your selection process. 

Incorporating tests on top of structured interviews and other objective assessments adds real value by increasing the quality of each hire – and, used properly, helps you to avoid big recruitment mistakes. The cost of a bad hire, after all, is something any growing business should look to avoid.

So how can you best use psychometric tests without coming unstuck? Here are six simple rules:

1. Know exactly what skills, attributes or behaviours someone will need in order to be successful in the role. If you don’t get this first step right, tests can be very effective at selecting the right person, but for a different job to the one you should be recruiting for. The end result: you choose the wrong person for your vacancy.

2. Choose assessments that measure the attributes you have defined as relevant to the job. Remember that different psychometrics will tell you different things. For example, an ability test will tell you if a candidate has the underlying ability to do the job, but not whether they will typically put this into practice – for this a personality questionnaire will be more useful. This is one reason why ability tests and personality questionnaires are often used together in selection.

3. Select tests that are reliable (give consistent results) and valid (predict job performance and measure what they are supposed to measure). There is a large body of research showing that psychometric tests are among the most reliable and valid assessment methods you can use. To help you choose a good test, publishers should be able to provide reliability and validity information for the specific tests they supply.

4. Use tests alongside other methods. Each selection tool will give you a slightly different window onto the candidate and their suitability for the role, so using a combination of assessments such as ability tests, structured interviews and personality questionnaires typically works well. Use the evidence from all the results to make the best decision. And don’t forget to do the easy stuff first – if an applicant doesn’t have the qualifications or experience essential for the role, why have they got to the interview or testing stage?

5. Use tests in a cost-effective way. Administer less expensive assessments first (and therefore with more people) and more expensive tools later (and therefore with fewer people). Tests may be more cost-efficient than you think, as they do not have the hidden costs of (for example) an interview, which could tie up the salaries of two managers for over an hour per candidate. Consider using online tests.

6. Make sure that you have the expertise needed to use tests effectively and ethically. Traditionally this has been achieved via training programmes, covering topics such as choosing the right tests, administering tests to applicants, interpreting results, using these results to inform selection decisions, and giving feedback. Much of this expertise can now be embedded in computer-based systems, allowing wider access to the benefits that psychometrics can bring. Do, however, be cautious about using tests that appear to be available without either training or a computerised ‘expert’ framework.

There is a great deal more that can be said about using tests in selection – but these six rules should give you a firm foundation.

John Hackston is head of research and development at OPP.

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