Psychometric and other tests

While interviews remain the most common method for selecting candidates (used in three quarters of UK companies, slightly less in the public and non-profit sectors), they can be subject to bias by the interviewer(s). Therefore, organisations also use tests. These may be practical tests, such as keyboard and telephone skills and psychometric tests measuring intelligence, personality, aptitude, reasoning, decision making, and interpersonal skills.

Just as attainment tests (e.g. exams) are designed to show what a person knows or the technical skills they have, so the various forms of psychometric test are designed to show what a person might be capable of and the type of behaviours they exhibit. Research by the CIPD reveals that just under half of organisations use some form of psychometric tests – more prevalent in larger organisations (35% in organisations with 1,000–5,000 employees, 52% with over 5,000 employees).

There has been increasing use of psychometric testing, particularly as many are now provided online by third party providers, at a relatively low cost. Occupational psychologists design and develop most tests and both administering and analysing the results is a skilled task: there is even a British Standards Institution international standard. However, tests should not be used as the sole method of recruitment, and Acas advises it is possible for psychometric testing to be discriminatory.

Cognitive ability tests

These assess a person’s thinking and problem solving ability and measure maximum performance under timed conditions. It’s important to match the test type to the requirement for the role. These tests often include a combination of tests such as verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning for managerial and professional occupations, or spatial and mechanical reasoning for more manual roles. Cognitive ability tests are used widely due to their high level of proven ability to predict future performance in a role.

Aptitude tests

Designed to measure an individual’s potential to excel in certain skill areas requiring specific abilities, such as spatial, perceptual, verbal, numerical, manual dexterity, etc., and can therefore be related to the needs of the job.

Trainability tests

Candidates for jobs needing certain skills are shown how to do a new task and then observed to see how well they have responded to the ‘training’ in picking up those new skills. These tests can be tailored to the type of job to be filled.

Attainment tests

Tests devised by an employer to display the skills and achievement level of the candidate in a given area (e.g. IT skills) necessary to the job – and so prove their qualification to do it.

Personality tests

Their premise is that a personality test can tell you a lot – but they are highly controversial: it can be difficult to determine what is being measured, whether a personality remains constant or develops with time and circumstance, or even if a personality can be measured at all.

Other issues include candidates giving answers they think most suitable, and that personality tests run the risk of curtailing diversity. It is also worth remembering that training, attitude and experience may have a bigger impact on job performance than personality alone.

However, personality tests can give a categorisation of psychological character, which can determine the best way to develop a person when they are in the role. The psychological dimensions typically examined include:

• extroversion

• emotional stability agreeableness conscientiousness openness to experience.

Team tests

These tests work on the principle that every team has specific roles and that a team made up of the right combination of personality types will be more successful than one with too many of the same personality types. While this may provide useful information about how a person’s skills are best used, it is questionable how far they should directly influence the recruitment process: teams frequently change, and someone’s preferred team role may not bear any relation to the skills and experience needed.

Emotional intelligence tests

The concept behind emotional intelligence (or EQ for Emotional Quotient, to mirror IQ) is that to be successful requires the effective awareness, control and management of your own emotions plus an awareness and understanding of other people’s feelings. As such, it argues that the traditional general intelligence test is too narrow because it does not measure social skills. EQ testing encompasses: knowing your emotions, managing your emotions, motivating yourself, recognising and understanding other people’s emotions, and managing relationships. However, some academics argue it should never be used for recruitment and that it has far more value in performance management.