Psychometrics is a scientific field concerned with the theory and techniques of testing personality traits and cognitive ability via different assessments, measurements, and models.
Psychometric testing is used in several fields, such as education, psychology, psychiatry, and recruitment to assess cognitive ability, personal traits, and mental health status.
In the past few years, psychometric testing has become a standard hiring practice: many companies now use online psychometric tests as a part of their recruitment and hiring process. Psychometric testing can be a powerful tool for assessing the strengths and abilities of your candidates. Still, it needs to be used carefully and shouldn’t be the only way you evaluate their skills.
In this article, we’ll look into psychometric testing in the context of hiring and workplace management.
What is psychometric testing?
Psychometric testing uses a series of tests designed by qualified professionals (psychologists or psychometrics experts), aiming to assess:
- Cognitive ability: intelligence, aptitude, skills
- Personal traits: behavior, attitudes, values, interests
- Mental health status: to detect potential disorders or conditions.
It’s interesting to mention that there are a few different methods used in psychometry, which are:
- Observation, or observing the person in different situations. Observation can be a powerful element of your hiring strategy, for example, during job simulations, where you test the performance of your best candidates in your actual work environment.
- Projective techniques, such as the famous Rorschach inkblot test, where subjects need to interpret specific images or scenes. Other similar tests exist, but projective testing techniques are rarely used in hiring.
- Personality inventories or capability assessments, or psychometric tests, which typically come as self-assessment tests, and are used to measure a person’s abilities, skills, or personal traits.
In hiring, psychometric tests are widely used to evaluate skills and abilities that cannot be assessed during an interview and which you couldn’t evaluate based on the candidates’ cover letters and resumes.
Hiring managers use psychometric tests to:
- Get an in-depth evaluation of someone’s strengths and weaknesses
- Complete candidates’ profiles with more data
- Compare candidates between each other
- Assess the potential for a culture and personality add
- Reduce biases and hire a diverse workforce
Psychometric tests are usually used in the recruitment and hiring stage, but you can also use them later in the employee’s journey. For example, companies sometimes use them as a part of a job performance assessment, in employee development and promotion, or as an effort from management to assess teams’ forces and weaknesses and to adapt their management style to employees’ personalities and traits. Besides that, HR managers might use psychometric testing as a part of a leadership assessment to evaluate the capacities of the company’s management team and study its potential for improvement.
What can psychometric tests measure?
Psychometric tests can measure a wide variety of skills, aptitudes and traits, which, as mentioned above, we could put into two major categories: cognitive abilities and personal characteristics.
Let’s look into each one.
You can measure different types of cognitive abilities with tests, for example:
- Intelligence: Psychometric tests can measure intelligence in its different forms: logical reasoning, spatial thinking, mechanical reasoning, emotional and social intelligence, introspection, and more
- Aptitude: Psychometric assessments also allow you to evaluate someone’s abilities, including their ability to learn new skills
- Skills: You can also assess specific competencies, which can be strictly job-related and related to experience and knowledge, or broader skills, such as communication.
You can also measure personality traits, behavior, and motivation:
- Attitudes: You can evaluate attitudes towards other people, new and unfamiliar situations, challenges, etc.
- Behavior: With personality tests, you can evaluate and predict behavior in specific circumstances.
- Values: Values that inform a person’s attitude and behavior can also be measured.
- Motivation: Everyone has different motivators closely related to their work choices and their willingness to excel.
Besides the above, psychometric tests can also be used in a medical context to assess someone’s mental health status. In this instance, they are used by a trained professional as part of a global assessment.
Are psychometric tests accurate?
The short answer is: it depends.
Psychometric tests can be pretty accurate if qualified professionals design and administer them correctly; that is, by using the proper tests for the role and providing applicants with enough context. This way, you improve your chances of getting honest answers and ensuring a positive candidate experience. Additionally, results need to be read and analyzed carefully by trained HR personnel.
For Deniz S. Ones from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, quoted by SHRM, tests can be a powerful tool to assess whether someone would be a good fit for a given role if appropriately used.
Not all tests were designed to be used in a hiring context, though. For example, the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), also known as the “16 personalities test”, which is widely used by companies worldwide, isn’t intended to be used for making hiring decisions, according to the Myers-Briggs Foundation. If you decide to use this test (or similar personality tests), you should use it only to get a better idea of your candidates, but not as an evaluation tool on its own.
Psychometric tests aren’t 100% accurate—and aren’t meant to be
Psychometric tests aren’t intended to be a 100% accurate tool. They cannot be used on their own to predict future job performance, as they’re related to overarching qualities and abilities rather than to specific skills and domains of expertise. Instead, they should be one element of a comprehensive approach to hiring, together with structured interviews (which Google themselves are using in their hiring process) and other skill assessments.
For example, even if someone is highly conscientious, extraverted, and creative, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’d be a good fit for the role of a marketing director. For that reason, psychometric tests are best used in combination with other skill assignments for specific job-related skills. This way, you can get a solid understanding of someone’s capacities, which you can use to analyze their resume again and prepare for a structured interview.
Tests need to be used to inform decisions, not to replace the decision-making process
While psychometric tests provide additional data and help hiring teams better grasp the candidate’s strengths, they are only as good as the information you feed them with, i.e., the answers the candidate provides. They simply add a layer of information to the bigger picture and cannot replace the insights of an experienced hiring manager or a well-designed hiring strategy.
The Big Five (OCEAN) test, for example, was developed as a simple way to measure where everyone fits on a continuum of five key traits: extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Specific behaviors or personal characteristics were measured and grouped together in clusters and related to each one of these traits. The key to its accuracy is its simplicity, as Scientific American points out: the test is only as good as the information provided by the test-taker, and the results depend entirely on whether their answers are accurate.
Candidates will try to figure out what you expect from them, which undermines tests’ accuracy to an extent
It’s important to note that candidates could influence results in their favor, at least to an extent: candidates could provide answers in line with what they believe you’d expect to see. This is especially true for personality tests, as SHRM points out.
For highly competitive positions, candidates will probably do their homework and could try to paint a more favorable picture of themselves, especially for personality tests. The results of cognitive tests remain somewhat more difficult to influence, but with plenty of training, applicants could still perform better than they otherwise would. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though: someone who is highly motivated and driven to succeed will likely demonstrate the same level of determination to do well on the job.
With resumes and cover letters, you may have the same problem. According to a 2019 survey by Monster, 85% of recruiters agree that candidates exaggerate their skills and competencies on a resume. For that reason, it’s essential to create a comprehensive hiring strategy that uses psychometric tests in combination with several other tools and techniques. This way, you can get a detailed, in-depth overview of the skills and abilities of each candidate.
How can companies use psychometric testing to make better hires?
Psychometric tests are an essential tool that can help hiring managers and teams make data-driven decisions and keep their personal biases in check. Instead of relying on gut feeling and unstructured interviews, you can design a multi-step data-driven hiring process that uses psychometric tests, job-related skills tests, and structured interviews to inform decisions. Tests can give you a solid understanding of what each candidate is like, beyond their experience and motivation. By comparing candidates and analyzing results, hiring teams can predict the candidate’s fit for a role and get information that is otherwise nearly impossible to get from a resume or even an interview.
Again, the caveat is that hiring decisions shouldn’t be based on psychometric tests only: instead, they’re one of the many tools that allows you to analyze a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s now look into the pros of psychometric testing.
What are the advantages of psychometric tests?
Psychometric tests have several advantages, which make them an excellent tool to use in your hiring process. They:
- Help you make data-driven hiring decisions: A solid hiring process is based on data-driven hiring decisions, and psychometric tests can help you complete the picture you have of each candidate with new data.
- Help you quickly filter out candidates and proceed only with the best: If you administer the proper tests, you can instantly see whether someone has the right set of cognitive abilities & personality traits for a role. This lets you optimize resources: by concentrating only on your best candidates, you shorten the time-to-hire and reduce the cost-per-hire. The hiring process is very resource-intensive: the average cost-per-hire, according to SHRM’s talent acquisition benchmarking report, is at $4,425, and the time to fill a position is nearly 40 days.
- Give you a clear overview of each candidate’s abilities, skills, and personality: You get in-depth, detailed information on each applicant’s performance potential, cognitive abilities, and personality. This way, you can analyze each applicant’s profile to see how someone would fit in a given role. For this, you need to clearly define what you’re looking for and analyze results correctly: is a skill nice-to-have, or is it crucial for success in this role?
- Allow you to measure things you couldn’t otherwise detect: Cognitive ability and personality are difficult to grasp from a resume or a cover letter and cannot be tested easily during interviews. With the right set of tests, and when using them as a part of a comprehensive hiring strategy, you can drastically improve your understanding of each applicant’s capacities.
- Let you compare many candidates at a glance: You can analyze multiple profiles at once and compare them. Tests allow you to collect vast amounts of data and see how everyone scores for various traits and cognitive skills to detect your best candidates and disqualify the rest accurately.
- Promote diversity and inclusivity: With psychometric tests, you’re reducing the extent to which your gut feeling (otherwise said, biases) influences your hiring decisions. This way, you can objectively assess candidates and hire a diverse workforce from all paths of life.
What are the disadvantages of psychometric tests?
Psychometric tests aren’t a 100% accurate tool: they come with shortcomings and limitations that you need to consider. Let’s look at the disadvantages of psychometric tests.
- Tests don’t give you 100% of the information needed to hire someone: Psychometric tests shouldn’t be the only tool used to assess a candidate but should be a part of a holistic approach to hiring and a global talent assessment strategy instead. Remember: tests aren’t a crutch but simply one more tool in your toolset.
- They might be poorly designed: There’s an abundance of online psychometric tests, but not all of them are well-designed or accurate. Additionally, many of them aren’t intended to be used in hiring at all, which is why it’s crucial to choose a test provider that develops recruitment skills tests.
- Candidates might alter their responses to build a better picture of themselves. If someone really wants the job, they’ll do their homework on what are the desirable traits you’re likely looking for and will try to give the “right” answers. Therefore, it’s vital to analyze test results in context and use structured interviews to dig deeper.
- Candidates might feel anxious or stressed by taking tests. Sometimes, psychometric tests can give you a false negative simply because some candidates do not perform well in timed assessments or feel stressed and anxious. Psychometric tests also don’t account for cultural differences, and not everyone enjoys being tested. This leads us to the next point:
- Tests might lead to a negative candidate experience. Suppose you administer tests without giving enough context or explaining what your hiring process looks like, or providing feedback (or at least setting the right expectations about feedback). In that case, candidates might have a bad experience. This could harm your employer brand and scare away skilled applicants. This INSEAD article gives us a good illustration of what could go wrong when a test is mismanaged. As two executives recall, putting someone through a thorough personality assessment without giving them enough context might feel confusing at best and humiliating at worst.
How do we address these vulnerabilities of psychometric testing at TestGorilla?
To help you make the most out of psychometric tests, at TestGorilla we:
- Give you a wide variety of tests to use. For each position you’re looking to fill, you can administer a few different tests. This way, you can get an in-depth assessment of your candidates’ skills and easily compare them. We advise you to use both psychometric and specific tests that are highly relevant to the job role you’re looking to fill to get the complete picture.
- Only hire subject-matter experts to create tests. Our tests are developed by subject-matter experts, with the guidance of our team of psychometric experts. We use the principles of test theory to create a solid framework for our tests. Psychometric tests are then peer-reviewed to guarantee their effectiveness. We verify the content validity of each test using both the UGESP framework of employee selection and the US Department of Labor’s skills analyses.
- Constantly improve the quality of our tests. Our test development team and subject-matter experts work together to improve the quality of our tests continuously. We analyze test results and assess whether questions are aligned with the goals of the test and whether they aren’t too easy or too difficult to provide accurate results.
- Take into consideration the candidate experience and help you build a positive employer brand. While our tests are timed, candidates can take them at home, in a low-stress environment, and at a convenient time for them. This is considerably less stressful than a formal interview. You can also use your own logo and brand color to personalize tests.
What are the different types of psychometric tests?
In general, psychometric tests fall into two major categories:
- Cognitive ability tests
- Personality tests
Let’s take a quick look at each one.
Cognitive ability tests
Cognitive ability tests evaluate specific skills and abilities in relation to the open position you’re looking to fill. You can assess many cognitive abilities with tests, such as:
- Intelligence in its different forms, such as reading comprehension, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, numerical reasoning, and more
- Aptitude and skills, which can either be broad, like communication skills and time management, or narrower skills related to specific jobs, like negotiation skills, working with data, accounting, and more
Are IQ tests cognitive ability tests?
Yes, IQ tests are a type of psychometric cognitive ability test but can be administered only by trained professionals. There are many different IQ tests: the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities, and more. IQ tests aren’t commonly used in recruitment and might be considered unethical. Companies usually prefer other cognitive ability tests or game-based assessments. A famous example of the latter is IBM’s Cognitive Ability Assessment.
- Attitudes and behavior in specific circumstances, and especially new and unfamiliar situations.
- Values such as honesty and integrity, which inform a person’s actual behavior, can also be measured.
- Motivation, which is different for everyone. Some employees will be mainly motivated by praise and recognition among teammates, while others will thrive when they see the positive results of their work.
Personality tests cannot be used as a standalone assessment tool but should instead be a part of a carefully defined strategy that considers company culture, team cohesion, and diversity. They can predict job performance to an extent when combined with other cognitive ability tests.
Are game-based tests similar to psychometric tests?
Some companies, such as IBM, use game-based tests to assess candidates’ cognitive abilities. Those assessments are a type of psychometric test, and require applicants to solve puzzles, order numbers, compare shapes, and more. They’re timed, and the difficulty level increases with each solved puzzle.
Game-based tests are a viable form of evaluation and can predict job performance to an extent. Some candidates enjoy them, but most feel stressed by the time constraints; a quick Reddit search shows that not all IBM candidates have a positive experience with the Cognitive Ability Assessment. So, if you opt for game-based tests, these need to be carefully designed and selected. Alternatively, you could simply use standard cognitive ability tests and assess skills such as numerical reasoning, spatial reasoning, intermediate math, and more. Make sure to set clear expectations and give your applicants enough information on the hiring process to guarantee a positive candidate experience.
Can personality tests predict job performance?
Companies use personality tests to better understand candidates’ personalities and predispositions to assess their potential for a culture add and predict future success. Of course, the traits that can help you accurately predict future performance largely depend on the specific position, but some are universal.
Let’s look into the details.
Conscientiousness, or an individual’s capacity for self-discipline, organization, and diligence, is thought to predict performance relatively accurately across different roles and industries, as evidenced by a multitude of studies. This is especially true for less complex jobs, for example, customer service roles; for executive and other high complexity positions, this link is not as strong.
The Big Five (OCEAN) test, which measures candidates’ conscientiousness (in addition to their extraversion, agreeableness, openness to new experience, and emotional stability), is among the most studied psychometric tests in the workplace. A 2019 meta-analysis performed by Michael P. Wilmot and Deniz S. Ones confirms that conscientiousness is a powerful predictor of success at the workplace.
Positions that are a better fit for extraverted candidates include leadership, marketing, or consultancy roles. The popular belief that salespersons need to be extraverted to be successful might not be true, however. According to Adam M. Grant from the University of Pennsylvania, ambiverts (people who fall in the middle of the extraversion vs. introversion continuum) have an advantage for sales positions compared to pure extraverts.
Openness to innovation
In dynamic environments where innovation is a key priority (notably, tech companies, startups, and disruptive businesses), openness to new ideas and concepts is crucial. It will help both employees and companies thrive.
Which are the skills and traits you should test for?
To make the most out of psychometric tests, you need to define the specific qualities you’re looking for in your ideal candidate for the position you’re looking to fill. For each role, these will be different. While several skills are universally necessary (for example, communication skills), those aren’t necessarily the ones you’ll test for during the hiring process.
Defining the right skills and traits to test for requires a multi-step process:
- Define the role itself in cooperation with the manager who’ll be working with your future employee. This will also help you write the job description and analyze the results of your applicants.
- Assess other similar roles at your company and define the qualities successful employees share. Look into performance reports and talk to your leadership to determine the skills and traits that make the most significant difference.
- Differentiate between the “must-have” vs. “nice-to-have” skills and traits you’re looking for. Not all qualities are crucial, so order them by importance.
- Map out the top five skills that are key to this role and that you’d like to see in your best applicant.
- Look into research that explores the link between those skills and job performance for similar roles. Of course, you won’t find any conclusive research for some positions, so you might look into the broader context in which the job fits or omit this step.
- Select one to three skills to test for to avoid overwhelming candidates with too many tests. Remember, the hiring process needs to be well-structured and efficient for everyone involved. Combine them with a personality test if you’re looking for specific personality traits or if you’d like to test for culture add.
- Look into the results and compare candidates to determine who the best ones are.
In addition, for each role where you used psychometric tests during the hiring process, you’ll have extensive data that you otherwise couldn’t get, which can help you make better hires in the future.
How can you continuously improve your hiring process with the help of psychometric tests?
Around 6 to 9 months after you hire, you can compare the expected and actual job performance of the person you selected. If you notice a mismatch between the two, you need to examine the reasons behind it and decide how to improve your hiring strategy and potentially the onboarding process. You can begin by asking the following questions:
- Did we test for the correct skillset?
- Are there other skills that might have predicted job performance better? If so, which ones?
- Does this person actually have the skills they showed during the hiring process?
- Did we use psychometric tests in combination with the right set of other hiring tools and methods?
- Did we rely too much on psychometric tests? (Or not enough?)
- How does this person perform in comparison with their colleagues?
- Is the onboarding process adapted to the requirements we have?
This analysis will help you further refine your hiring procedures, which many companies aren’t doing. According to Peter Cappelli for Harvard Business Review, two-thirds of US companies aren’t actively monitoring and analyzing the quality of new hires, and only a small percentage are looking into stats such as time-to-hire and cost-per-hire.
Examples of psychometric tests
TestGorilla has an extensive library of psychometric tests to help you optimize the hiring process and select the right candidate. Tests are timed and take 10 minutes each; most of them contain multiple-choice questions.
In this section, we’ll give you some examples from TestGorilla’s test library, which you could use in your hiring process, as well as roles for which those tests could be relevant.
Of course, you need to analyze each position you’re looking to fill and define your specific requirements for it, but if you’re looking for some quick ideas on how you could use different skills assessments, below you can find several examples.
Examples of cognitive ability tests
Let’s first look at some examples of cognitive ability assessments:
- Verbal reasoning: With this test, you can measure candidates’ capacity to draw accurate conclusions from text and evaluate relationships between words and phrases. Verbal reasoning is one of the key skills in many fields, so it’s not limited to a particular set of roles. You can use it for positions in law, marketing, sales, journalism, and consulting, among others.
- Mechanical reasoning: The mechanical reasoning test assesses candidates’ familiarity with fundamental concepts of physics and mechanics, for example, the principles of force, movement, velocity, as well as the functioning of pulleys, wheels, levers, and gears. You could use the mechanical reasoning test for blue-collar jobs, such as HVAC technicians, equipment installation technicians, maintenance mechanics, and machine operators. You could also use it for engineering roles or to hire technical salespersons.
- Spatial reasoning: The spatial reasoning assessment covers skills such as mental rotation, spatial visualization, mental folding, and spatial working memory. You could use the spatial reasoning test for engineering roles or other STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs.
- Numerical reasoning: The numerical reasoning assessment evaluates applicants’ abilities to interpret numbers, percentages, and fractions, to understand numerical patterns, and to analyze text, tables, charts, and graphs. Strong numerical reasoning skills can be helpful in roles such as accounting, auditing, and finance, but also for technical roles. Software engineers, developers, and data analysts are also expected to have strong numerical reasoning skills.
- Attention to detail (visual): The attention to detail test assesses applicants’ ability to pay close attention to visual information, cues, and details. Candidates will need to match images, find differences, identify patterns and distinguish details. You can use this assessment to hire graphic or web designers, lab technicians, or data analysts who work with visual data.
There are many other cognitive ability tests available in our library, which you could also combine with job-specific assessments, such as financial modeling in Excel, working with data, HTML5, or even specific software tools, such as HubSpot CRM.
Examples of personality tests
Some of the personality tests in our test library include:
- DISC test: With the DISC test, you’re testing how your applicants express emotions based on four behavior types: dominance (D), influence (I), steadiness (S), and conscientiousness (C). William Marston developed the test. You can use it to hire for any position or to understand employees better and improve team dynamics.
- The Big 5 (OCEAN) test: This test is one of the most studied assessments in recruitment, and it can help you predict job performance reasonably accurately if you know which traits your ideal candidate should possess. It evaluates candidates’ extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability.
- 16 types: The 16 types test is similar to the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and is based on Carl Jung’s theories. It allows you to analyze applicants’ cognitive style, decision-making process, motivations, and lifestyle preferences. You can use it to understand applicants or employees better.
You shouldn’t use personality and culture tests to evaluate candidates but rather to better understand their behavior, personalities, and the things that motivate them. You should always use them in combination with other assessments, tools, and methods; this way, you get a detailed picture of each candidate’s capacities and personality traits.
What jobs require psychometric testing?
You could administer psychometric tests for different roles. Jobs that traditionally require psychometric testing include law enforcement, aviation, education, social work, and more, but nowadays, companies of all fields and sizes administer psychometric tests.
In 2021, countless businesses are using psychometric testing as a part of their hiring process, including Accenture, JP Morgan, Microsoft, and Tesla, among others, according to Yale University.
You’re not limited to specific roles you can test for; instead, you need to define the skills you’d like to see and check which tests would allow you to evaluate those skills.
How are psychometric tests carried out in practice?
Let’s now look at the practical details of the psychometric testing process once you’ve decided which tests make the most sense for the role you’re looking to fill.
The process is broken down as follows:
- Collect resumes and send out tests to candidates
Once you collect enough resumes, you might either decide to pre-screen candidates based on their resumes and send tests to the ones you select, or send out tests to everyone and use them as a pre-selection tool. Don’t overwhelm candidates with too many tests, though—we recommend using a maximum of five tests per assessment—and always be clear and transparent about your recruitment procedures. Give enough context and explain how tests will be used to assess applicants’ skills and what they should expect from you, and how long the hiring process will last.
- Give candidates sufficient time to complete test assessments
Give candidates approximately a week to complete tests. If you need to hire someone fast, you can shorten this period, but you need to be clear about it: give a deadline in at least 72h from the moment you administer tests, and be mindful of holidays and time zones, especially if recruiting globally.
- Assess candidates’ results
Look at the results of each candidate to see how they performed on each test and get a clear picture of their cognitive strengths and weaknesses, as well as of their personality traits. You can look at results in context, as well, by comparing candidates to each other. You can anonymize test results to minimize gender, name, race, or nationality biases and simply look at results.
- Screen out candidates that don’t meet your requirements
With the data you now have, you can begin screening out candidates. Disqualify the ones that don’t meet your selection criteria and start looking into the details of how your other candidates performed. Keep disqualified candidates informed, and thank them for their time and interest.
- Compare the best candidates and select the ones you want to interview
Now it’s time to concentrate on your best candidates: compare the ten top-performing candidates and look into their results from each assessment. See which candidates performed particularly well in the core skills tests. Look at their resumes and cover letters. Are there any red flags or discrepancies between test results and what’s in each resume? Are there any candidates who stand out?
- Interview your top candidates
Interview only a select few candidates; interviews can be very resource-intensive, so concentrate only on your best applicants. Structured interviews will help you keep your biases in check.
Psychometric tests help you make better hires and eliminate bias but use them carefully
Psychometric tests are an excellent tool that you can use to make better hires and build a data-driven recruitment process, which you can improve with each new hire. You need to use them carefully, though, to guarantee a positive candidate experience and get the right set of data.
To recap, here are a few key tips on how to build a solid hiring process with the help of psychometric tests:
- Analyze job roles carefully and define which skills are crucial for success
- Set clear expectations and give enough context when you administer tests
- Keep your candidates updated at every step
- Use tests to enhance the information about each candidate you already have, not to replace the decision-making process
- Analyze the quality of each hire you make to see what’s working and get rid of what isn’t
Psychometric testing allows you to minimize hiring biases, hire an inclusive workforce, and concentrate on what really matters.