HR & Management

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Are all the myths around psychometric testing true?

4 Mins

Claim: Tests don’t work

Reality: By and large, they do. Any reputable test will give consistent results and the evidence shows that applicants who perform well on a well-chosen test will also perform well on the job – and this increase in performance might be just enough to give you an edge over your competitors. 

Of course, no selection method is perfect, and people may point to a star employee who did poorly at the selection tests, or a struggling employee who performed well, but on examination these will usually be turn out to be the exceptions to the rule. 

Claim: Tests aren’t worth the money

Reality: There are sometimes (not always) set-up costs in using tests, but once these have been factored in, the ongoing cost of using them is often relatively inexpensive – sometimes as little as £5 to £10 per applicant. In combination with their ability to select the right people, this usually makes psychometric tests good value for money, delivering an excellent return on investment.

Claim: Tests are just the latest fad from HR. We’ll soon be on to the next thing.

Reality: Psychometric tests have been around since the start of the 20th century, and began to be used in selection not long after. Surveys (for example, the CIPD resourcing and talent planning survey) show that the use of psychometric tests has been fairly consistent over the last few years. Like it or not, they are here to stay.

Claim: Tests are unfair and biased. I don’t want to get sued

Reality: They have often been shown to be fairer than other selection tools. Qualifications, job experience, interview questions, group exercises and other methods are all subject to bias; for example, a recent study by Moss-Racusina, Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham and Handelsman (2012) showed that application forms from female applicants for a lab manager job were consistently rated lower than applications from male applicants – even though, apart from gender, the CVs were identical in every respect. 

Psychometric tests have been carefully standardised on large groups of people so that undue bias is eliminated, and any differences between groups (men and women, for example) can be accounted for. 

Claim: I suppose tests might be OK in selection, but once someone is actually in the job, they aren’t needed

Reality: Psychometric tests, and personality questionnaires in particular, can give people insights into who they are and how they operate that would be difficult to achieve (in any reasonable timescale) in any other way. And of course, this deeper understanding of oneself and of others translates into very real business benefits in areas such as building team coherence, reducing damaging conflict, helping employees to be more productive, and reducing turnover.

Of course, tests aren’t perfect and they can’t do everything. They are at their best when used alongside other proven tools, such as structured interviews, and organisations do need to choose the right test for the job (if you don’t believe me, try eating your dinner with a hammer or bashing in a nail with a fork). 

Even when tests are used effectively, it can still be easy to give the candidate a poor experience and put your brand at risk – just don’t bother explaining to candidates why they are being asked to do the test, don’t give them feedback on the results, and don’t tell them why they were successful or unsuccessful. But if you can avoid these pitfalls, the use of psychometric tests can give an organisation a competitive advantage.

John Hackston is head of Research & Development at OPP.

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