Aug
4
2017

Psychometric testing: an inappropriate approach

There’s a real trend towards using psychometric testing as part of a recruitment process these days. Many private companies thrive on the invention and distribution of the perfect psychometric test which is supposed to inform your choice of candidate when recruiting for a position. There’s an entire field of psychology, personal and organisational that goes into these things, and they’re quite a comprehensive examination of ‘personality’ and how people perform under pressure, and in a team environment.

I can see why people feel inclined to use it.

Recruiting new staff is always an unknown of sorts, it’s difficult to predict from a 60 minute or so interview and a written application, even with referees, what a person will be like on the job and in the team you already have. With the emphasis on ‘team fit’ right up there with the right skills for the job, it’s difficult to make a decision that you feel comfortable with. So the inclination to use some sort of evaluation or test such as psychometric testing to give you some indicator of whether a person will be a good team player is quite strong.

Psychometric testing is designed to try and measure personality aspects or mental abilities, traits such as potential for leadership or calm under pressure. By unintended design, this will produce test results that favour a particular type of person.[1]  The tests are designed using the personality traits and aptitudes of an already successful ‘ideal’, and enable an employer to source ‘carbon copies’ of that ‘ideal’ candidate, which completely eliminates diversity from the employment picture.

A test might attempt to evaluate your numerical aptitude, for example. It might also ask questions about risk taking at work, or in general. And if you score low on the numerical aptitude and high on the risk taking, unlike the ideal candidate the test was based on, you may not be selected for a job in a finance section or as an accountant.

Do these tests actually work?

But, there’s more and more research coming out about the use of psychometric testing, and it’s not all good. There also appears to be an entire industry arising out of this practice to provide coaching and practice tests to improve test results – suggesting that with enough practice you can produce the results on a psychometric test that an employer is looking for – not an accurate representation of ability or aptitude.

And that’s the problem:  the results can be skewed. And there is an increasing amount of research and case law showing assessments of people with a disability are discriminatory.  In a recent case in the United Kingdom, an employer using a psychometric test was found to have discriminated against a person with Aspergers.

The test contained multiple choice questions which were virtually impossible for the potential employee to answer or interpret due to her difficulty with social interpretation and her reasoning in hypothetical scenarios. She had asked if she could submit short narrative form, a request which was refused.[2]

In the US, employers using psychometric testing are now routinely warned about the use of the testing method when recruiting by the manufacturers of the tests themselves, because of the risk of discrimination defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a recent case in the United States, an employer was found to have discriminated by using such a test to determine the suitability of employees with a disability for promotion.[3]

There’s increasing discussion about the pros and cons of psychometric testing, but because of the growing evidence that the tests are simply unfair and discriminatory towards people with a disability, we don’t use them.

We’ll continue to rely on the ‘old’ method – interview, references and applications - with reasonable adjustment in place for those who require it. 

 

[1] https://theconversation.com/why-workplaces-must-resist-the-cult-of-personality-testing-5540

[2] http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/05/04/applicant-with-asperger-s-syndrome-wins-significant-tribunal-case.aspx

[3] http://rapidlearninginstitute.com/blog/personality-test-runs-afoul-ada

 

There’s a real trend towards using psychometric testing as part of a recruitment process these days. Many private companies thrive on the invention and distribution of the perfect psychometric test which is supposed to inform your choice of candidate when recruiting for a position. There’s an entire field of psychology, personal and organisational that goes into these things, and they’re quite a comprehensive examination of ‘personality’ and how people perform under pressure, and in a team environment.

I can see why people feel inclined to use it.

Recruiting new staff is always an unknown of sorts, it’s difficult to predict from a 60 minute or so interview and a written application, even with referees, what a person will be like on the job and in the team you already have. With the emphasis on ‘team fit’ right up there with the right skills for the job, it’s difficult to make a decision that you feel comfortable with. So the inclination to use some sort of evaluation or test such as psychometric testing to give you some indicator of whether a person will be a good team player is quite strong.

Psychometric testing is designed to try and measure personality aspects or mental abilities, traits such as potential for leadership or calm under pressure. By unintended design, this will produce test results that favour a particular type of person.[1]  The tests are designed using the personality traits and aptitudes of an already successful ‘ideal’, and enable an employer to source ‘carbon copies’ of that ‘ideal’ candidate, which completely eliminates diversity from the employment picture.

A test might attempt to evaluate your numerical aptitude, for example. It might also ask questions about risk taking at work, or in general. And if you score low on the numerical aptitude and high on the risk taking, unlike the ideal candidate the test was based on, you may not be selected for a job in a finance section or as an accountant.

Do these tests actually work?

But, there’s more and more research coming out about the use of psychometric testing, and it’s not all good. There also appears to be an entire industry arising out of this practice to provide coaching and practice tests to improve test results – suggesting that with enough practice you can produce the results on a psychometric test that an employer is looking for – not an accurate representation of ability or aptitude.

And that’s the problem:  the results can be skewed. And there is an increasing amount of research and case law showing assessments of people with a disability are discriminatory.  In a recent case in the United Kingdom, an employer using a psychometric test was found to have discriminated against a person with Aspergers.

The test contained multiple choice questions which were virtually impossible for the potential employee to answer or interpret due to her difficulty with social interpretation and her reasoning in hypothetical scenarios. She had asked if she could submit short narrative form, a request which was refused.[2]

In the US, employers using psychometric testing are now routinely warned about the use of the testing method when recruiting by the manufacturers of the tests themselves, because of the risk of discrimination defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a recent case in the United States, an employer was found to have discriminated by using such a test to determine the suitability of employees with a disability for promotion.[3]

There’s increasing discussion about the pros and cons of psychometric testing, but because of the growing evidence that the tests are simply unfair and discriminatory towards people with a disability, we don’t use them.

We’ll continue to rely on the ‘old’ method – interview, references and applications - with reasonable adjustment in place for those who require it. 

 

[1] https://theconversation.com/why-workplaces-must-resist-the-cult-of-personality-testing-5540

[2] http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/05/04/applicant-with-asperger-s-syndrome-wins-significant-tribunal-case.aspx

[3] http://rapidlearninginstitute.com/blog/personality-test-runs-afoul-ada

 

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