I Am Being Asked To Sit Psychometric Tests – Help!

I was approached recently by a client who is being asked, as part of her interview process, to sit some psychometric tests.  For her, this is more frightening than the interview itself, as she does not know what is involved, did not like school very much and considers psychometric testing to be a mean trick designed to make her feel like a failure.

So let’s have a look at psychometric testing and see if we can put some of those fears to bed.

What Is Psychometric Testing?

Psychometric testing is a way to accurately and fairly assess candidates’ abilities and removes the bias which may be held by hiring managers, who have a habit of hiring people like themselves, people they like the look of, or those who went to the same school as them.  Psychometric tests are a very useful way to eliminate discrimination in the workplace.

Psychometric tests which have been developed by reputable companies such as CEP (formerly SHL) will have been tested on over 100 people to make sure they are valid.  This means that they have actually been proven to indicate whether or not someone will do well in a job or not.  So for example, if you are being interviewed for a role as an accountant, you may be asked to complete a numerical reasoning assessment, which will involve you working out information from a variety of graphs and charts.  If you do well, the expected outcome would be that you would do well at that sort of work in a job.  If you do poorly, it would raise a red flag to the interviewer and indicate to them that further questions or research about you as a candidate, may be needed.

What Type Of Tests Are There?

There are two major types of psychometric tests.  The first are straightforward ability tests.  These can include verbal ability tests where you will be expected to read a paragraph of text and answer questions about it; numerical reasoning tests where you will be asked to interpret graphs and charts; and other types of test which may look at skills like adding and subtracting (if you are working in a banking role); spatial awareness (if you are working in a role where this is required); or your attitude to safety (if safety is a key requirement in the environment you will be working in).

The second types of test are personality-based tests.  Some of these look at your basic personality, others will look at your motivation and what makes you tick.  With these tests you will be given a series of questions and asked which are most and least like you.  They are not always easy as there is not an option for “none of the above are either like or dislike me”.

How Will The Tests Be Administered?

There are 2 major ways that testing is done.

You may be placed in a room with up to 12 other candidates, be sat at a desk and do the tests manually with a pencil and answer sheet.  The administrator will be very strict about when you can start and when you have to stop.  You must follow their instructions to the letter.

Secondly, you can be asked to complete the test on a computer or tablet.  This will be the same test but will be scored by a computer and a report printed out.  The report will be exactly the same as the one produced by hand (by an assessor), it will just happen faster.  This test will either take place in a room with other people (who will also be on computers or tablets), or you will be in an interview room on your own completing the test.  Either way, there should always be an assessor with you to make sure that the test rules are followed to the letter.

What Should Not Happen (but sometimes does).

You should not be emailed a test and asked to complete it at home without an assessor being with you.  If this happens, anyone can complete the test and there is no evidence that you have done it.  This completely destroys the whole fairness and equity of the test. 

How you might ask? 

Take this example: My background is HR and I have worked in it for over 18 years.  If some bright spark decides that they want to do numerical reasoning as a test for an HR role (separate argument as to whether or not it is relevant), that I am applying for, I am in a bit of trouble.  I am not very good with numbers – present me with a graph and set of statistics and I turn into a gibbering wreck.  However, my neighbour is an excellent accountant who is Head of Finance in a large multi-national organisation.  I might just offer her a bottle of wine (or a free evening of babysitting) for her to sit the test for me.  I/she scores highly, I get the job as they think I am brilliant, but it was completely unfair, as I never sat it in the first place, someone else did.

You might say that all is fair in love and job hunting, but the whole point of psychometric testing is that it is supposed to be fair and an equaliser.  If the tests are not conducted in a formal and professional environment, they are not fair and there is no point in doing them.

You can’t take your driving test without a professionally trained assessor being there, so why should psychometric testing be any different?

The second thing that should not happen but sometimes does, is that organisations will just take the report (either the manual one completed by the assessor or the print out from the computer) and just assume that it shows who you are.  The organisations that do this are generally regarded as amateurs who are pretending to be professionals, but actually aren’t.

What Will Happen With My Test Answers?

Your answers will be mapped onto a chart.  If the tests are ability tests (for example verbal or numerical reasoning), you will be given a percentile rating.  This will show what percentile of people you did better at, compared to the comparison group that is being used (and not compared to the other candidates who are sitting the test).  So if, for example, you came in at the 35th percentile, this would mean that you scored higher than 35% of the comparison group.  If you came in at the 75th percentile, this would mean that you scored higher than 75% of the comparison group.  The same tests can be ranked against different comparison groups (for example new graduates, senior managers), allowing them to be used for multiple groups of people.

If the tests are personality or motivational, then you will be mapped onto a chart of specific character or motivational traits.  A professional organisation will then base their interview around these traits to see how closely you feel you match.

An unprofessional/amateurish organisation will just assume that it is accurate and will just use it as part of the assessment process, presenting it to the manager as being “this is how they are”.  Unfortunately laziness and lack of knowledge, means that a number of organisations do this and there is little you can do about it.

Do I Have Any Rights?

You can ask for feedback on your results and a professional organisation should have someone trained and willing to give you feedback.  It is best practice that they should do this.

Can I Practice In Advance?

Many companies will provide you with practice tests in advance of the assessment day, so you know what to expect.  If they don’t, then have a look online.  SHL/CEP is one of the most reputable providers of properly validated tests, and they have a number of practice tests available for you to complete free of charge on their website.