|17th August 2022||Emma Ogden|
SUMS Consultant, Emma Ogden, explains the purpose of psychometric assessments and explores the benefits of using psychometric assessments as part of your organisation’s recruitment and staff development programmes.
While I am admittedly an advocate of psychometric assessments, I understand the mention of ‘psychometrics’ often encourages the super-sceptics to raise concerns about their use and purpose, questioning their validity, reliability, and credibility.
To some extent, I understand the cynicism. You may be familiar with the Paul Flowers case. The former Co-Operative Bank Chairman led to a loss in finances and high-profile sex and drugs scandals. One of the reasons for hiring him in the role was: that “he did very well in the psychometric tests”.
This case could have put psychometrics at the heart of the blame for one of the most high-profile, misjudged appointments and serve as the obituary for psychometric testing. On the contrary, the market for tests has since continued unabated. It would be rare to find someone who has not at least dabbled in their use, whether in recruitment, development or applying for a role themselves.
What is a psychometric assessment?
Psychometric assessments measure potential performance (such as ability, aptitude, or attainment) and personal qualities (such as motivation, personality, values, and preferred ways of working). Put simply, psychometric assessments are a standard tool which can be used to assess:
- Intellectual abilities and suitability of individuals for a position based on the ‘cognitive’ requirements and competencies of the role.
- Personality characteristics, potential behaviours, and ways that they interact with their colleagues, customers or other stakeholders (including in times of high pressure or conflict).
Normally, psychometric assessments are used within a recruitment process, but also add value to development, team building, culture and engagement, career conversations and organisational change.
My first word of caution; it is important that we refer to these as assessments and not tests. This is not me being vernacularly pedantic; the word ‘test’ immediately insinuates that there is a right and a wrong way. This may be appropriate when looking at aptitude or ability, but it certainly would not be with behavioural qualities. Instead, an assessment will help to uncover preferences. For instance, someone with a less strong preference for influencing is not incapable of influencing, rather, it is something they find less comfortable.
I am not going to advocate or talk about a specific type of psychometric assessment. Many exist, and you will be familiar with assessments such as MBTI, DISC, 16PF, Big 5, and Insights. They all have their value, but as I will be stressing throughout this thought piece, need to be context-specific and aligned to the overall purpose or aim that you are trying to achieve.
Why are psychometric assessments important?
Their use in recruitment processes
There are clear benefits to considering assessments as part of your recruitment process.
Psychometric assessments are statistically correlated with high job performance; meaning that the higher the assessment score, the higher the resulting job performance tends to be. Furthermore, research has found that psychometric assessments have the highest ‘predictive power’ in terms of the ability to assess a candidate’s aptitudes to undertake a role.
It is relatively easy for candidates to become ‘interview ready’. The wealth of free resources available (standard interview questions to practice, tips, and guidelines) risks that you will struggle to truly differentiate candidate potential. That, coupled with the most standard approach adopted by recruiters (a formal interview and presentation) really does not allow the best candidate to shine.
Aptitude and ability tests help give the candidate a realistic assessment of what the job will involve and enable you to assess how their skills. For example, a role in Finance will require an ability to extract, interpret and analyse data and figures. This could be measured through a numerical reasoning test; adapted for the context of your institution and set at an appropriate level for the candidate.
Secondly, the behavioural side of a psychometric assessment can enable you to get a true sense of candidate ‘fit’. When an employee’s personal and professional values and beliefs align and complement the employer’s, there’s a higher chance of employee engagement, higher performance, and commitment.
You will all be familiar with the concept of unconscious biases; we all have them, and they all exist. They have a significant influence on hiring decision-making. An example is similarity attraction or affinity bias. It is human nature to want to surround ourselves with people we like and have a rapport with, and recruiters may use this as motivation when making hiring decisions, even if those similar traits and characteristics are not correlated with on-the-job performance. Understanding fit is therefore about ensuring alignment with the role, the company culture, and values. A psychometric assessment can understand preferences for traits such as collaboration, autonomy, leadership, and influence. All of which are key elements of your cultural blueprint.
It is not just similarity attraction bias which can be managed through psychometric assessments; confirmation bias (deciding based on ‘instinct’ rather than fact), heuristic bias (judging someone based on superficial factors which do not fit your mould), halo/horns (focusing on a positive or negative aspect of the candidate) can also be effectively combatted through a variety of selection techniques, of which psychometrics should heavily feature. The resulting impact can be a fairer, equitable way to screen and select candidates, based on their talent, potential and attributes, rather than the ‘can’t-put-my-finger-on-it’ quality that you ultimately must try and justify in your feedback.
Be role specific
The second note of caution; any psychometric assessment must be appropriate to the role and the recruitment process. A thorough job assessment and analysis need to be undertaken to ensure appropriate assessment selection and benchmarking. There must not be too much emphasis on qualities or traits which bear no relevance to an individual’s ability to perform in the role and it should be used to help inform the final decision; not be the tool by which a final decision is solely made.
Their use as a development tool
A properly administered and developed psychometric assessment is an effective mechanism to increase individual self-awareness and shine a light on where the focus needs to be for future development. Self-awareness, understanding individual abilities and preferences and their implications on behaviour and impact on others, is key to improving team dynamics and culture.
Developing insight on strengths and weaknesses, vulnerabilities and passions, idiosyncrasies and normalness can help individuals understand who they are, how they best contribute and how they might behave in specific situations. This can increase individual and team resilience, ensure deployment of skills to make the best use of strengths, and also highlight development needs to enable people to feel more comfortable with their less preferred traits. This is particularly vital as we enter the unknown but familiar state of future ways of working. Whether this is hybrid, blended, dynamic, face-to-face, virtual or any other form, it is inevitable that individual, team, and institutional culture is going to change.
Psychometric assessments are a mechanism to identify skills gaps and potential shortages for the future. While we always have had (and always will have) skills gaps, the post-Covid landscape again provides rocky ground for identifying and predicting this. A CBI report in 2019 outlined a digital skills gap, and this was before we entered into a global lockdown and shift to online working. Other influences such as Brexit or the recession will continue to play a part in the shifting landscape and the inability to fully predict what the future workforce requires.
Not only does this context reinforce the need to develop skills, but also to nurture talent. The shift to ‘grow your own’ and prioritising the retention and engagement of staff is an effective way of securing a more stable workforce environment and culture. Again, psychometric assessments can help with the identification of skills gaps (whether that be technical knowledge or softer behavioural competencies) through ability, aptitude, and behavioural assessments. From there, you can design and develop programmes which will enhance those skills, increase engagement and performance and ultimately future-proof your workforce.
Where can psychometric assessments go wrong?
While I have campaigned for the benefits of a well-optimised and developed psychometric assessment process, I do recognise that they can have potential pitfalls. This is often not down to the assessment itself, but rather the context in which it is used.
One of the reasons that psychometric assessments are not viewed in a positive light is because they are dysfunctionally used as a one-off initiative, not embedded into a programme of activity and being the sole tool used to achieve an aim.
Take as an example, two different occasions when I was asked to complete psychometric testing.
The first time, the assessment was used following an organisation-wide change programme and sought to embed employees into their new roles. The assessment covered ability, aptitudes, and behaviours to provide insight into skills development, culture, and new team dynamics to build rapport, collaboration, and positive working relationships. Everyone received an individual feedback discussion with a trained facilitator as well as a full summary of their results and it was embedded within the local 1:1 management discussion to ensure it was relevant and live.
The second time was part of an application process for a role I was applying for. A personality and behavioural style questionnaire was sent to me before my formal interview, I completed it, but the results were never discussed with me directly, either before my interview or after being offered the role. I asked for a copy of the results after being appointed and I was eventually sent it, but this was accompanied by the admittance that it served no purpose within the hiring decision-making process.
While these may be two extreme examples, I can appreciate that if the second example had been my only personal experience of using psychometric assessments, this piece would not have been written and I would be fully embedded in the sceptic camp. Unfortunately, this is also an experience that many others face. To me, the result was more frustrating than anything else, but in some cases, poor administration of psychometric assessments can result in discrimination and bias. For instance, if an assessment does not provide appropriate adjustments for differences in gender, racial or cultural groups and disabilities there can be resulting different performance outcomes for specific groups.
It is imperative therefore that a psychometric assessment is driven by the outcome you are seeking. Undertaking a detailed and thorough role analysis, having trained specialists who understand the current culture and desired competencies, can administer, and interpret the results accurately and provide tailored, purposeful feedback to participants are all ways in which this can be achieved. Not only will this improve its validity, reliability, and accuracy, but it will also ensure it is appropriate to the context, adapted as required to meet participants’ needs, benchmarked against an appropriate sample, and provides clear guidance and recommendations for individual and team development.
How can SUMS Consulting help with psychometric assessments?
SUMS Consulting offers to undertake psychometric assessments on behalf of its members to help improve the match between the person and the job and to promote personal development. The assessments objectively measure test takers against criteria crucial for success.
SUMS Consultants who undertake the assessments are accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and align with the Code of Good Practice, to ensure we meet all the standards of competence defined by the BPS for the relevant Certificate(s) of Competence in Occupational Testing. We are committed to the highest standards of practice in all use of psychometric assessments to maximise the benefit of assessments to the client and to promote fairness and equality of opportunity.
Please consult our SUMS Policy on the use of psychometric assessments