"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyse you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are."

Bernice Johnson Reagon

Psychometric tools. Something which companies use more and more in recruitment. Why? To make you jump through hoops? Because the HR person needs to find a way of getting some entertainment value out of their sad little job?

Surprisingly, no. Companies use psychometric tests because they believe that it will provide additional useful information to support recruitment decisions.

First, some facts. (And listen up, because then you'll be better informed than some of the people who actually use these things).

Psychometric means measuring mental processes. There are two types of psychometric tools -ability tests and personality questionnaires. The latter are not tests because there are no right or wrong answers, as there generally (though not always) are with the former.

Ability tests encompass verbal reasoning, analysing financial data/statistics, abstract reasoning. These are an indicator of how you process information - a measure of 'mental horsepower', if you like. These should be used when there is evidence to suggest that the factors being measured are important for the job. If you don't do well on these tests, it doesn't, of course, mean that you can't do the job, but it might mean that you would struggle with certain aspects of it. This might sound unfair, but if these are used properly, that is, where there is hard evidence which says that, for example, most people already doing the job got 70% of the questions right in 35 minutes and you've only achieved 10% right in the same time, then this is what it's saying - you might struggle.

What seems particularly unfair is when this is approached rigidly. This newsletter was prompted by a client who was advised that he had been shortlisted for second interview, having demonstrated appropriate experience via his CV and achieved 'best ever' results on an IQ test at the first stage. He then took an ability test and didn't do well so was told that he was pulled from the shortlist. Such a rigid approach is unprofessional and short-sighted. If I were interviewing I would have taken the opportunity to talk through the disappointing results, discover why this was and explore ways of supporting him in getting up to speed in the required skill area. Then decide it if it's a goer or not.

I have no doubt that they were missing an opportunity by binning his application without exploring it further. Their loss, but it left him feeling angry and didn't show the company in a good light.

Personality-profiling. Personally, I love it! But I know that it scares people. They are afraid that it will reveal some dreadful characteristic, unknown even to themselves, which will prevent them from getting the job.

Companies are never looking for clones - honestly! The idea of using personality-profiling is to understand your particular style, approach and strengths.

Ethical use of personality questionnaires in recruitment is again to use the results as a basis for discussion, as a hypothesis to investigate likely ways of behaving in various work situations. I believe that strengths and weaknesses are the same thing - two sides of the same coin. A strength becomes a weakness when it's used inappropriately. So being strongly decisive is great, but if you're leading a team at a time of change, you may need to ensure that you are overt about including their input into your decisions, otherwise they might feel alienated.

So if I were interviewing, I might say something like 'this profile suggests someone who is a decisive and forceful leader - tell me about your leadership style'. The key then is to have plenty of examples to draw upon - where you've behaved as your profile suggests and when you've adapted.

You should always get feedback on your psychometrics. It is unethical to be asked to complete something and not have a chance to explore the results, ideally, as I've said, as part of a discussion rather than one-way feedback. Sometimes it's difficult to build in time for this on the day, though, if interview schedules are tight. If that's the case you should get feedback at a later date.

You should also be clear about why it's being used and what they are looking for - don't be afraid to ask. The data is about you. YOU are the expert on you, so you should take every opportunity to contribute to the picture which is being built up about you.

Used properly, psychometrics can be useful to you as well as to your prospective employer. Developing self-awareness is the foundation for finding the right career. Psychometrics can really help in this, so welcome the opportunity to find out more about you.

Key tips:

  • When you are invited to interview, check whether there will be any psychometrics used.
  • Practice. Do crosswords, word games etc. Invest in some of the books listed below.
  • On the day, try to relax into the tests. Make sure that you understand what's required of you. If you're not sure, ask.
  • If you need glasses to read, make sure you take them with you.
  • Don't try to fudge personality questionnaires. There are usually built-in 'lie-detectors' and what's the point of being recruited as someone else? You're trying to sell you.
  • Get feedback and learn from it.

This article © Copyright Ad astra Career Management. Please do not reproduce this article without permission. If you wish to reproduce this article please contact us.

Recommended books

How to master psychometric tests

Mark Parkinson
Publisher Kogan Page. ISBN 0-7494-3420-1

How to win at aptitude tests

Paul Pelshenke
Publisher Thorson. ISBN 0-7225-2814-0

How to win at aptitude tests Vol II

Iain Maitland
Publisher Thorson. ISBN 0-7225-3261-X

How to pass numeracy tests

Harry Tolley & Ken Thomas
Publisher Kogan Page. ISBN 0-7494-3437-6

How to pass verbal reasoning tests

Harry Tolley & Ken Thomas
Publisher Kogan Page. ISBN 0-7494-3436-8

How to master personality questionnaires

Mark Parkinson
Publisher Kogan Page. ISBN 0-7494-3419-8

How to pass selection tests

Mike Bryon & Sanjay Modha
Publisher Kogan Page. ISBN 0-7494-2697-7



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