Psychometric testing is a widely used tool in the hiring process, administered to assess the cognitive abilities and personality traits of job applicants. But is there a scientific link between this type of assessment and successful hiring decisions?
This article explores the development of psychometric testing and its effectiveness in predicting job performance.
What is psychometric testing?
Psychometric tests are standardized assessments, designed to measure human abilities and characteristics systematically and objectively. They're used in a variety of settings to provide a comprehensive understanding of an individual's abilities and limitations.
For example, they may be used in an educational setting to identify gifted students or those that need additional support, or they may be used in a mental healthcare setting to inform effective treatment pathways.
Another popular application of psychometric testing is recruitment. Employers worldwide use these assessments to streamline the selection process and better determine candidate suitability. There are various types of psychometric tests available to help with this.
Types of psychometric tests
Generally speaking, psychometric tests fall into two categories - aptitude and personality tests.
Rather than assessing learned knowledge, aptitude tests measure an individual's cognitive function, challenging the test taker on things like critical thinking and problem-solving. This indicates their ability to perform specific tasks or acquire specific skills.
When used as part of the recruitment process, these tests give employers insight into each candidate's potential, rather than their experience.
Aptitude tests themselves come in many variations, with popular test types including:
Personality tests are a type of psychometric test that measures an individual's personality traits, characteristics, and behaviors. Some, like the HEXACO personality test, are designed to assess a range of personality dimensions such as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Some personality tests measure personal motivators, while others focus on an individual's interests.
Personality tests are used in various settings, including employment, education, and mental health. In the employment context, they are often used to help businesses identify candidates whose personality traits align with both the job requirements and the organizational culture.
The history of psychometric testing
The history of psychometric testing dates back to the 19th century when Sir Francis Galton - an English mathematician and scientist - began developing measures to assess human intelligence.
Galton was interested in the idea of hereditary genius (he was Charles Darwin's half-cousin) and believed that intelligence was inherited. He developed the concept of the 'mental test', which involved measuring sensory and perceptual abilities, reaction times, and other mental processes.
In the early 20th century, the field of psychometrics continued to evolve. Alfred Binet and Théodore Simon developed the first modern intelligence test, the Binet-Simon Scale, in 1905. This test was designed to measure cognitive abilities and identify children who needed special education.
During World War I, psychometric testing became more widely used in the military to assess the mental and intellectual abilities of recruits. The Army Alpha and Army Beta tests were developed to evaluate literacy and intelligence. These tests are considered the first large-scale applications of psychometric testing.
In the following decades, psychometric testing continued to grow and expand into new areas, such as personality assessments and vocational guidance. In the 1940s, Raymond Cattell developed the 16 Personality Factor (16PF) test, which remains one of the most widely used personality tests to date.
The 1960s and 1970s saw further developments in the form of computerized testing and performance assessments, and that innovation continues to this day with advancements in technology and research.
Can psychometric testing predict job performance?
Psychometric testing has been used for many years in the hiring process with the very aim of predicting job performance, and studies have shown there is a significant correlation between the two.
A 1983 study by Schmidt and Hunter analyzed the results of over 85 years of research on the subject. It found that, on average, the correlation between cognitive ability tests and job performance was 0.51, meaning that approximately 26% of the variance in job performance could be predicted by cognitive ability test scores.
Another study by Barrick and Mount in 1991 found that personality tests were also predictive of job performance, with personality traits such as conscientiousness, emotional stability, and extraversion significantly linked.
Despite the positive results, it's a widely held belief that psychometric testing alone cannot predict job performance and that other factors such as motivation, work experience, and job-specific skills also have a role to play. Nevertheless, many employers continue to use psychometric testing as part of a talent assessment framework.
Figures suggest that of the Times Top 100 companies, 75% use some form of psychometric testing in the recruitment process, as do 70% of UK businesses with 50+ employees.
Which companies use psychometric testing?
Psychometric testing is popular in many sectors, particularly those that commonly run graduate recruitment drives such as finance, banking, law, and technology.
Some examples of companies known to use psychometric tests are:
Google - Google is well known for its rigorous hiring process, which includes several rounds of interviews and psychometric testing. The company uses a range of tests including cognitive ability and personality tests to assess a candidate's fit with the company's culture and job requirements.
Procter & Gamble - Procter Gamble uses psychometric testing to evaluate a candidate's problem-solving skills, creativity, and leadership potential. It also uses situational judgment tests to assess a candidate's decision-making abilities in real-world scenarios.
McKinsey & Company - this global management consulting firm uses psychometric testing to assess cognitive abilities, personality traits, and problem-solving skills. It also uses a case interview, where candidates are presented with a business problem and asked to provide a solution.
Other notable companies to use psychometric testing include accountancy firms Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC, and finance firms including Goldman Sachs, Legal & General, Natwest, and Santander.
How to use psychometric testing to hire the best people
Psychometric testing is a powerful tool that can help recruiters and hiring managers to identify the best candidates for a role. One of its major benefits is that it helps eliminate human bias from the hiring process. By using objective measures of ability and personality, employers can make more informed decisions.
But as with any such tool, it's only effective when used well. Here are some practical tips on how to use psychometric testing to hire the best people:
Determine the most suitable tests - there are many types of psychometric tests available, including aptitude assessments, personality questionnaires, and situational judgment tests. Consider the role and the skills required to determine which type of test, or tests, are most suitable.
Use the test at the appropriate stage of selection - psychometric tests are most useful when used as an early screening tool to shortlist candidates quickly and efficiently. They can also be used later in the recruitment process to validate impressions made at the interview.
Administer tests properly - it's important to ensure that tests are administered properly to obtain accurate results. Consider using a qualified testing professional or a reputable psychometric test provider.
Use it in conjunction with other methods - while psychometric testing is useful, it should be used alongside other recruitment methods like interviews, work samples, and reference checks. This will help you get a more complete picture of the candidate's abilities and job fit.
The scientific link between psychometric testing and hiring the best people
The scientific link between psychometric testing and hiring the best people is supported by research that suggests it is an effective tool for identifying candidates who are likely to perform well in a given role.
Studies have shown that cognitive ability tests, for example, are strong predictors of job performance and can help single out candidates with high potential for success.
Personality tests too are useful in this regard, with research showing certain traits such as conscientiousness and emotional stability to have a positive relationship with job performance.
Whilst psychometric testing is not a perfect tool, it can help eliminate human bias and provide a more objective measure of a candidate's abilities and fit with a role. When used properly, psychometric testing can certainly assist recruiters and hiring managers in making more informed decisions about the best candidates to employ.