The pros and cons of psychometric testing
Employers like to know as much as possible about candidates, so what can psychometric tests offer those looking to recruit?

What is psychometric testing?

Psychometric testing is predominantly associated with self-report questionnaires, which ask questions about behaviours, attitudes, preferences, motives and values. “Sometimes psychometric tests are also performance based, like ability tests where candidates have to solve different kinds of numerical, graphical or verbal problems,” says Dr. Paul Barrett, Chief Research Scientist with Cognadev, an organisation specialising in the development of psychological assessments.

Barrett says there can be particular advantages in using psychometric assessments as part of a recruitment strategy, but notes some of the benefits may not always be applicable to small businesses. “The reality is most small employers need someone skilled in a particular role, and that will depend far more on their biographical data and experience,” Barrett says.

Large numbers of employers use psychometric testing as part of their selection process, as poor recruitment choices have significant consequences for both employees and small businesses. But what are the benefits and potential risks of using psychometric assessments?

The pros of psychometric testing

  1. Attracting the right people to apply

Even before candidate interviews, IT Company Extreme Networks uses psychometric principles to help guide their selection process. “Prior to hiring, we work out the personality type we want and write the ad appropriately,” says Managing Director James Eling. “This helps attract the right people.”

Extreme Networks uses principles from the DiSC personality test during the selection process. DiSC is a tool used to encourage non-judgemental discussion of people's behavioural differences. Once a candidate has been hired, employees attend a seminar where they explore their own personality type and how it fits in with others.

Eling points out that the business strives for a blend of personalities and that there is no “right” personality type. “This is particularly so in our engineering team,” he says. “We need people who are great project managers, troubleshooters and great in dealing with people. While we may have a preference for a type, our mantra is to hire for attitude and train for skills, so a great candidate with a different personality type to what we were looking for will still get the job.”

  1. Assisting with employees’ preferred communication style

Eling says psychometric assessment has been a significant factor in improving performance, particularly with regard to employee collaboration and cooperation. “What DiSC profiling does is it helps ensure people are communicated with in a manner that helps them,” he says. “It also helps them understand how to better communicate with others.” The area where it has had a big impact is team performance, but Eling notes, “it also has a massive role in customer service”.

  1. Reducing attrition and improving engagement

Jodette Cleary, Chief People Officer with online marketplace Hipages, says since introducing a customised role-fit psychometric test as part of the hiring process for their sales and services teams, the results have been marked. “We have reduced attrition in our teams, increased employee satisfaction and have seen better performance,” she says. “The other benefit is the tests help hiring managers understand their new team member and be better positioned to tailor their management style to best fit the individual.”

The cons of psychometric testing

  1. Over-interpreting test results

The ever-present danger, says Barrett, is that an employer might begin over-interpreting a test report. They may develop interpretations based upon a lack of knowledge about the test and what it’s actually assessing. “This is where how the test is sold to an employer matters greatly, as does the format of the report it produces,” he says. Jodette Cleary adds, “Small businesses should ensure they utilise the expertise of the test provider in assessing and interpreting test results.”

  1. Psychometric tests must be used in conjunction with other methods

Small businesses should be careful not to base all of the decision to hire someone on psychometric tests. “The tests are an additional data point in the decision to hire,” says Cleary. Hipages establishes internal benchmarks of the best performers in their teams, and uses these to assess their test results against potential new hires. “This is harder for smaller businesses with smaller teams,” admits Cleary.

  1. The cost

While automated web-based psychometric assessments can be a useful initial screening tool, many tests need to be be delivered by professionals trained in administering and interpreting them. “Small businesses don’t have huge budgets for assessment,” says Barrett. “They often just need to know if a person is going to be a risk, rather than looking at a 20-page report and trying to figure out what they should be looking at in a 20-attribute profile!”

And for small business owners who may be thinking of using psychometric testing, Barrett has this final caution, “an unstructured informal interview has been shown to be of greater validity than any self-report psychometric test other than of ability.”