Psychometric Testing

by Claire Walsh and David Hoad

Advantages of psychometric testing

When properly selected and used, psychometric tests can be of great benefit to both employers and employees in, for example, assessing job-related competencies. Choosing the wrong person for the job can be a significant cost to an organisation in terms of disruption and money (tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds in the case of a management or specialist post), as well as being demoralising for the person mistakenly appointed. In career and development work, tests and profiles can help people better understand their interests, ambitions and motivations, as well as their abilities and aptitudes.

Most tests are also difficult to ‘fake’, and so will often give a more accurate indication of a characteristic than may be gained just through interviewing, role-plays and so on. They are also objective: they exclude ‘good impressions’, personal preferences and other distorting factors, and enable one person to be accurately compared with another in a fair and unbiased way.

Tests can be used to challenge stereotyped judgements made by interviewers and often enable a more objective analysis to take place than is possible by interviewing alone... Using tests can lead to substantial gains for an organisation in terms of increased output and efficiency, better quality staff, higher morale, more effective performance, lower training costs and reduced turnover.

Best Practice in the Management of Psychometric Tests (SHL Group plc 2000)

Provisos

There are no substantial disadvantages to psychometric tests when they are suitable for the intended purpose and used well, so the main problems occur if they are selected or used unprofessionally. For example, using a personality test on its own is of limited use in selection, where the main focus should be on abilities and competencies (though personality traits may indicate resilience, culture fit and so on).

Similarly, it is not usually helpful to rely too much on psychometric tests of any kind – even when used well. Tests are therefore best used in a well-planned combination with other techniques, such as with structured competency interviewing in selection, or with coaching in career counselling.

There is also a risk that inexpert users may make inaccurate interpretations of test results, which does a disservice to the user, the test taker and the organisation, and also damages the credibility of the use of tests.

Among other pitfalls are the use of tests that (usually inadvertently) discriminate unfairly against some test-takers. For example, some job applicants might be disadvantaged because of cultural differences, sight problems or English language skills, even though these factors may not be relevant to suitability for a particular role.