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Prepare for psychometric testing

Published on: 25 Mar 2008
What are psychometric tests?

They are tests designed to help potential employers build up a better picture of you than can be gleaned from an interview.

The aim is to find out your strengths, weaknesses, teamwork skills, natural aptitudes and so on, but the format varies. Some tests are paper-based, others are computer-administered. Some firms employ specially trained, in-house personnel, others use outside experts. It is not an examination: the questions may not be intellectually demanding, but they are designed to reveal information about you.

What’s wrong with a traditional interview?

Academic research shows that appointments made on the basis of an interview alone have a one-in-nine chance of success. Testing increases this by a factor of six. Interviews are simply too prone to bias, with decisions being made on the basis of which applicant the interviewer “liked” most.

Also, some important personal characteristics, such as teamworking skills, reasoning ability and personal empathy, are difficult to assess at interview. Tests are a more reliable indicator of aptitude – especially when the test has been designed for the job in question.

Will tests replace interviews?

No. Tests are not a substitute for interviews, but a tool that enables the employer to understand the candidate better and thus tailor the interview to the individual. This makes the recruitment process fairer for the employer and the applicant.

How accurate is this picture of the applicant?


It depends on the test – and the tester.

A professionally constructed test, used appropriately and administered under guidance, can build up a highly accurate picture of a candidate, as anyone who has sat a psychometric test and heard the results can usually confirm.

How can psychometric testing help employers?

First, it will save money – the Institute of Personnel and Development’s 1997 labour turnover survey found that each recruitment mistake can cost up to £4000.

Employees who are not suited to the job may make expensive errors, and all the money spent training them will be wasted when they leave. Also, people who are not up to the job create stress for other people. A poor manager can have a devastating effect on a whole department.

Second, employment legislation increasingly requires employers to make recruitment decisions that are not subject to racial, sexual or other discrimination. Psychometric techniques – properly conducted – are a proven way of eliminating or minimising recruitment bias.

What should I bear in mind if I am asked to sit a test?

Do not panic and do not try to outwit the test designers by giving the answers you think they are looking for. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to answer. This is particularly important if the test is being used to assess your personal development. If it is part of the recruitment process and you do not get the job, it will still help you gain some insights into how others perceive you.

Alex Burnip is managing director of human resources specialist SHL.