Written By Nishant Muralidharan
Candidate’s behavior is one important benchmark in the recruitment process, far more valued than the aptitude. Psychometric tests go past simply gauging the abilities and knowledge to really judging the genuine individual.
Why does an organization need Psychometric tests?
Are you looking for tools to make more efficient recruitment decisions? Want to assess the suitability of potential employees? Need to further develop the team you have? Need to motivate your employees or retain your most valuable employee?
The solution to these and many more such problems is just an assessment away aka Psychometric Assessment.
How does this guide help?
This guide is the complete resource to psychometric assessments, a must-read for all the HR, recruitment managers, CXOs, a sales manager who is in search for a rockstar salesperson or any corporate manager, for that matter, who is responsible for leading, administering and directing a company towards attaining company’s objectives.
This guide starts with understanding human behavior and skills and summarizing them into personality, cognitive and acquired skills. It moves on to how these personality traits in humans help build a psychometric test.
Once psychometrics assessments are made, the guide talks about their nature: are they valid and reliable? What role does norming play in these kinds of assessments? Hence standardizing the psychometric test.
Also, this guide delves into the vast applications of these tests from an organizations’ perspective. It gives a clear cut picture of how important these tests are and what role they play in recruitments, training and development which covers training need identification along with training effectiveness. Also how organizational planning and the problem of employee retention can be efficiently resolved via these tests.
How much of this guide do I need to read?
If you are serious about improving the efficiency of recruitment based decisions, planning for engaging employees or any such decision, that may, in turn, take huge amounts of time with no such guaranteed results (needless to say, decisions that are aligned to business objectives), we recommend reading this guide front-to-back.
Each chapter of this guide is important to understanding the concept of Psychometric Assessments.
Chapter 1: What is a Psychometric Test?
Psychometric tests explore the candidate’s capabilities, aptitude for the job and personality which fits with the vision and goals of the organization.
What is a Psychometric Test?
Psychometric tests are standard and logical method used to measure the behavioural capacity and mental capabilities of people. These assessments are primarily intended to gauge whether the person is suitable for a particular role based on two core skills personality and ability. They are used
to measure the unseen skills which cannot be accurately evaluated during a face to face interview.
They are the complementary weapon used in the selection process or training purpose to make the hiring or engagement experience better. Acquainting oneself with these tests will aid in a better, faster and precise decision making.
The Psyche of Psychometric Tests
The idea of psychometric assessments hasn’t unravelled itself from the diamond mines, it was always there, it’s existence can be traced to the early 20 th century. Alfred Binet was the mind behind the first intelligence test in 1905.
Since then these tests have been an ingredient of the selection process in organizations, who use these tests to evaluate the candidates on their personality, behaviour and aptitude.
The Types of Psychometric Tests
These objective and unbiased set of questions are a reliable way of assessing the candidate. The assessors presents the candidates with a set of questions to answer, now the question comes-what type of questions? Here is the answer.
Psychometric assessments are an amalgamation of 2 basic categories –
1. The aptitude and ability tests
Measures the cognitive capacity of a person. In these tests each question has one right answer and people need to solve them in a time frame. These tests measure the fluid intelligence of a person which defines the ability to think, reason and solve issues. These tests also measure how people learn from past experiences and apply those to a given situation.
A general aptitude test has everything from verbal, quantitative to logical reasoning which measure the candidate’s observations.
2. The personality and attitude tests
The behaviour of the person is all about the way he/she looks at things or the way he/she approach things. These tests follow the 5 personality model which is the Ocean model of Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
In organizations when we want to understand the candidates behaviour whether they would perform well in a team or strive for better or not be able to cope with criticism, personality assessment is the way out. These tests are the ones which assess the behaviour, motivators and
thoughts of a person.
A package of both tests is the best deal to incorporate while hiring an individual and in order to retain one as well. How would you feel if you hire the best coder but an aggressive one? It becomes important to study the emotions as well as the skills of the person to understand who you really are hiring.
There are companies that provide organizations with the inventory of such assessments which make the hiring easier and smoother. The concoction of mental and measurement in organizations makes hiring, retention through employee engagement better.
Over the last decade, psychometric assessments moved from being a luxury into becoming an industrial norm across different stages of the employee lifecycle. It has become an integral part of the business world. Despite its deep roots in the organizational ecosystem currently, the field remains largely vague to most people not labeled professionals in the field of psychology. And many overlook the aspect of measurement.
In fact, almost all domains of applied psychology unites under the concept of measurement. Psychometrics are designed to do just that, and the term itself is an abbreviation for ‘psychological measurement’.
In most cases, psychometrics include a combination of personality and cognitive tests. And for the longest time, they’ve been splitting hairs in the organizational ecosystem.
It’s easy enough to find a camp of seasoned professionals labelling the test as a valuable resource, and another that brands the same as a pseudo scientific pile of crock. If you’d like to know which side works stronger than the other, reading further would suffice the need.
It stands to reason that each person is built differently, or rather – they have an idea of their own personality type. It could perhaps remain within the realm of polar opposites; reserved or outgoing, sensitive or thick-skinned.
Psychometricians and psychologists have tried to tease the science out of what defines personality, and if it makes sense to attribute individual differences to the way people think, feel or behave. And while there are many ways to measure personality, psychologists have mostly forfeit the idea of dividing humanity into types. They have instead refocused to the concept of personality types.
The most widely accepted set of traits lie in the realm of the Big Five or the Five Factor Model:
Developed in the 1970s by two research teams led by Robert R. McCrae and Paul Costa of the National Institute of Health, and Lewis Goldberg and Warren Norman of the University of Michigan and the University of Oregon, the Five Factor Model constitutes the ingredients that make up individual personalities. The literature would better progress by perhaps understanding what each trait entails.
A shorthand to openness to experience, people high on this trait appreciate art, enjoy adventure, are wildly curious, imaginative, and open to change. People on the opposite spectrum of this trait prefer to stick to their habits and avoid new experiences. While changing personality is considered near impossible, the degree of openness has been shown to change through adulthood.
In 2011, researchers studied the effect of psilocybin, a hallucinogen, on a controlled group of varied people. Under the effect of these magic mushrooms, the subjects became more open after the experience. Considering the effects lasted at least a year, researchers concluded that the change may have been permanent.
People marked with this trait tend to remain organized with a strong sense of duty. They are achievement focused, dependable, and disciplined. In the opposite spectrum of the trait lies people high on spontaneity, tending to freewheel and perhaps fall into bouts of carelessness. This trait has also shown strong correlation to achievement in school and on the job.
The constant battle between extraversion and introversion possibly ranks amidst the most recognizable of personality traits in the Five Factor Model. Extraversion – on one side – is often linked to a person’s ability to remain sociable, chatty and draw from a crowd’s energy. They’re often assertive and cheerful in their social interactions.
On the flipside, introverts require plenty of alone time. People in the realm tend to process social interaction differently.
While often confused with shyness, the two are quite different. It’s easy to define shyness as a fear of social interactions or an inability to function socially. Introverts, on the other hand, could be perfectly charming at social interactions or parties – preferring isolated or smaller group activities.
Agreeableness defines the extent of a person’s warmth or kindness. This translates to a person being more trusting, compassionate, or helpful. Once more, people on the disagreeable segment tend to exhibit signs of being cold and suspicious of other people. They are also the least likely to cooperate.
In a fascinating study, men high on agreeableness were judged to be better dancers by women. It suggested that body movements could also perhaps signal personality.
But in an organizational ecosystem, disagreeable men tended to earn more than their agreeable counterparts. On the other hand, disagreeable women somehow failed to show the same salary advantage, suggesting the demeanour uniquely beneficial to men.
George Costanza from Seinfeld, a long-running sitcom, is famous for his neuroses. He blames it on his dysfunctional parents, worries about almost everything, obsesses over diseases and germs to a fault, and once quit his job over not having access to a private bathroom. While this is easy to dismiss as nothing more than a laughable character from a famous sitcom, the personality trait remains real.
People high on the trait tend to worry frequently and find themselves repeatedly slipping into bouts of anxiety and depression. In 2012, a study found that neurotic people with good salaries upon earned raises became less happy with the extra income. In contrast, people low on neuroticism tend to remain even keeled and emotionally stable.
Beyond the Five: Could Personality Change?
The answer is maybe. In 2017, Psychological Bulletin furnished 207 published research papers that revealed studies about altering personality via therapy. The Nature vs. Nurture debate also plays part in fluctuating personalities through the course of time. It identifies with whether the environment determines human behaviour – life experiences – against the concept of a person’s gene code.
- Nature: This is pre-wiring and is influenced by biological factors, primarily genetic inheritance.
- Nurture: Taken as the influence generated from external factors such as the experience, learning or exposure on an individual.
As far back as the 1690s, John Locke coined the term tabula rasa or blank slatism. It depicted that behavioural traits are almost always a function of environmental influences. This was held in high regard for much of the 20th century.
However, as both nature and nurture factors were found to contribute exponentially, the idea of personality as a consequence of either nature or nurture were viewed as outdated or naïve by most scholars of human development by the early 2000s. In fact, the two parts are known to heavily influence each other.
It is now considered ancient – the complementary existence of the two concepts, nature and nurture. Before going any further however, considering the varied use of the words personality and behaviour, it seems appropriate to pause to distinguish the two almost interchangeable terms.
Is There A Distinction Between Personality & Behaviour?
Author of the title, Performance: The Secrets of Successful Behaviour, Robin Stuart-Kotze identified personality as a concept that solidified at about five years of age. While we, as human beings are known to be more flexible, it is still widely believed that the changing of one’s values, attitudes, aspirations, and beliefs – the core elements of personality – is difficult.
On the other hand, despite much of behaviour being a result of an individual’s values or beliefs, it is considered easier to behave differently – if only for a short moment of time – than to change core beliefs. However, different behaviours that convert to successful outcomes have been known to change even deeply held views or beliefs.
Another popular definition of personality hinges on predictability. According to Wright, personality finds its roots in the relatively stable and enduring aspects of an individual that sets them apart from other people. It formed the basis of predictions concerning future behaviour also.
Personality, in this sense is neither about social skills nor evaluation. It instead manifests into those aspects of a person said to account for behaviour and therefore their situational judgments in the future.
Understanding the difference is necessary. For example, self-awareness is the fundamental facet to all phenomenal leaders. If an individual is self-aware of preferred behaviours given the situation, it becomes easier to thereby adapt or change outcomes with respect to the same.
Aptitude: The Second-Half to Psychometrics
At the turn of the 19th century, Charles Edward Spearman, an English psychologist, and the pioneer of factor analysis coined the ‘G’ or General Intelligence Factor. It was the underlying commonality to all aptitude, and a part of his two-factor theory of intelligence that also accounted for an s-factor of specific intellectual abilities.
Modern researchers continue to expand on the concept despite early criticism of the same. However, there is no denying that intelligence is complicated. An aptitude is a combination of characteristics indicative of an individual’s capacity to acquire, with training, some specific knowledge, skill or set of organized responses, such as the ability to speak a language, to become a musician, to do mechanical work, by definition at least.
Therefore, it is possible to say that aptitude defines a person’s potential ability in an activity of a specialized kind, but within a restricted range.
In terms of an example, when we identify an individual as someone with an aptitude for teaching, it implies that he or she has the capacity or ability to acquire proficiency in teaching under appropriate conditions.
Surprisingly, the nature vs. nurture debate finds its presence within cognitive intelligence also. Is it reasonable to assume a person showing musical aptitude to possess a musical throat? Yes. It is however, equally possible for that individual to have developed musical aptitude in the company of good musicians.
Just as it is with personality though, it is safer to conclude that the cognitive intelligence or aptitude of an individual – at any instant of time – is a consequence of both heredity and environmental factors.
Interestingly, aptitude may also remain a function of a part of the brain called the neocortex, which makes roughly two-thirds of the brain. As probably the most advanced part of the brain, it also determines what we’ve popularly come to know as the left or right brain dominance.
This attributes left-brain dominant individuals as cold, clinical, or linguistically proficient among others. While right-brain dominant individuals exhibit bouts of brilliance in creativity, emotional expression, and intuitiveness.
It forms an important aspect of psychometrics simply because of its versatility. Oxford tests for aptitude in history, astronauts test for spatial aptitude, pilots test for psychomotor aptitude to ascertain fitness for the sky. It’s because of this feature that aptitude also translates to the effectiveness with which an individual acquires specific skills.
Considering Both Halves: Personality & Aptitude
In an organizational context, psychometrics has a lot to do with testing both before and after employment. Aptitude measurement covers the understanding of an individual’s intelligence and ability to acquire new skills, becoming a future indicator for high performance.
Contrarily, personality and behavioural tests account for the assessment of traits that attribute to the positive impact of the individual based on the environment that exists within the organization to begin with. In simple words, if the aptitude tests tell whether a person can do the job, psychometrics assure if the candidate actually fits the role in
It’s this combination perhaps, that necessitates the requirement of psychometrics across stages in the employee lifecycle, impacting business outcomes and bottom lines based on apt implementation.
An Open Section on Domain Tests
Skill tests are designed to measure the level of skill in an applicant or employee across a variety of topics and areas important in the workplace. For example, it may include data entry, coding or even typing. It also covers the broad spectrum of tools that would be required in an organizational set up.
There are several advantages of utilizing a well-made skill test as a part of a pre-employment selection process or maybe an employee development program.
At the same time, when it comes to the development of said tests: they are meant to be valid. For instance, an MS Excel test would test the applicant’s knowledge on Excel and its features without straying from the topic in question. There are different levels within the skills test to consider also, ensuring that the questions become more difficult through the rising levels of difficulty.
Validity is not the only criteria of consideration though. A good test for skills is also reliable and consistent. The idea is that if an employee or candidate tests for a similar assessment at two different points of time, they ought to perform in a reasonable similar manner. The idea being that an individual with sound working knowledge of MS Excel is unlikely to no longer possess said skills at a later time.
In terms of reliability, it is also important for the test-maker to consider:
- Opportunities for Trial and Error
- Too much or too little time for the completion of questions
- Updation of content for the test to account for newer aspects of the skill
Lastly, a sound skills test does not discriminate against people based on anything but their ability to demonstrate and apply said skills. Everyone with the appropriate level of skill must be allowed passage into the next stage.
Paper & Pencil personality tests in an organizational context was near nonexistent prior the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, contemporary application of these measures and tests for personnel selection could be attributed to the field of management science and turn-of-the-century industrial psychologists.
Interestingly, through the aftermath of World War I, with the expansion of American business in terms of size, complexity, competition and employee regulation, the development of rational management systems pushed into the spotlight. It recommended the application of scientific methods to organizational problems.
I think we need a topic on understanding human personality, behaviour and inherent traits and abilities, Knowledge and externally acquired skills before we deep dive into Psychometric Tests, It is important for reader to develop understanding of how different traits, skills, abilities interact to form personality and behaviour of individual
Would You Trust Personality Tests?
By raw definition, personality tests gathers information about an individual to make inferences about personal characteristics. These include feelings, behaviours or thoughts. They are designed to measure aspects of personality that determine – or are predictive of – successful performance at work, thinking style, workplace relationships, task management, feelings and motivation.
But coming to the basic question, would you trust personality tests? Models of personality have ranged from Eysenck’s 2-dimensional personality model to Cattell’s 171 traits with a ton of others in between. With the development of sophisticated meta-analytic techniques, researchers have been able to aggregate specific traits into broad behaviours that define job performance.
In the 1990s, estimates of the validity of personality testing inched toward the development of factorial approaches that have come to be known as the Big-Five Personality Dimensions – Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, and Agreeableness. These factors have shown to reliably predict ratings of job and training proficiencies. Despite modern flaws, and even those mentioned above, these tests have proven to be successful also.
It’s interesting to note that from this example, and also from many others – personality assessments are rarely among tests to be considered on a stand alone basis. They do function best in combination with a battery of others. It’s why you’re likely to find different recipes to psychometric assessments, the most common pairing being between personality and cognitive tests.
Cognitive tests are all about measuring your competence and intellectual capabilities. It also works into understanding your logical and analytical reasoning abilities in a very specific area. This translates to a reasonably accurate assessment of your abilities to use specific job-related skills and to predict consequent job performance.
They are generally time-limited with results measured against past test-takers; this extrapolates into a comparable assessment of a person’s level of ability or aptitude.
Cognitive Ability Testing & Fairness in Selection
Despite high utility and predictive validity by cognitive tests, few use them as selection tools. A reason for this is in cognitive tests’ inherent issue in producing group differences or adverse impact. For example, African-Americans or Hispanics score lower in comparison to the general population. At the same time, Asian-Americans tended to score higher.
Interestingly, legal challenges to cognitive ability testing began with the famous 1971 Griggs v. Duke Power case. In the case, the Supreme Court ruled that when a selection test produces adverse impact against protected groups, the company must furnish a defense by showing that use of the test is a business necessity.
Historically, courts have held narrow interpretations of business necessity that require companies to show that no other plausible or acceptable selection alternative exists. In consequence, several companies abandoned the use of cognitive tests.
Over the years, there have been several attempts to mitigate this such as norming or banding.
Would You Use Cognitive Tests?
To reach a conclusion using an aptitude or cognitive test is erroneous, to say the least. But the test doesn’t come without its benefits. There are instances where cognitive tests find popular and legitimate use; the opposite holds true also.
When is it a good idea to use cognitive tests?
- Filtration: A larger candidate base often requires filter. Aptitude testing is always an easier, faster and more efficient process to narrow down the candidate pool.
- Nature of the job: When the job is more technical in nature than managerial, the measurement of a candidate’s aptitude will provide a much better understanding of his or her potential.
- Specificity of Technical Skills: When said job requires specific technical skills. For example, we expect content writers to weave some magic with their words, which is why they test for high verbal comprehension. A physically demanding job would require a physical fitness test. Therefore, if the skills are specific, measuring aptitude in that domain improves the validity of that result.
- High Job Complexity: For a highly complex job, cognitive ability is a better indicator of performance than other non-cognitive factors. Take spy work, for example. Being an asset to the CIA or other agency is by no means an easy task; an agent trained to be the eyes and ears of their country outside its borders requires superior intelligence. It is not all fancy Bond gadgets and cars. In fact, agents are screened through several intelligence tests – physical, language, logical, to name the few.
When is it NOT a good idea to use cognitive tests?
- One Piece of a Puzzle: Cognitive assessments are only one piece of the bigger picture. Making decisions about anything based solely on one, or even a series of aptitude tests, leave much to be desired for in a candidate. There are competencies. Intrapersonal skills. These assessments are not one bit a substitute for all forms of pre-employment testing.
- For Managerial Roles: Intelligence is a factor, but for a role heavily dependent on competencies such as leadership, influence, and networking, cognitive assessments will provide no more than half-baked results.
- When Experience Trumps Numbers: You must have heard about succession planning. How about hires made due to performance shown in specific situations? Meritocracy trumps hard numbers sometimes. Tim Cook rightfully succeeded Steve Jobs for that very reason. Hiring in certain cases should value experience over scores in an assessment.
In definition, a standardized test is administered and scored in a consistent, or “standard”, manner. They are, in fact, designed in a way that stabilizes questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations as consistent.
Standardized testing could be composed of true-false, multiple-choice, authentic assessments or essays. It’s possible to shape any form of assessment into standardized tests. When it comes to the creation of psychometric assessments, questions are measured in scales. And these too are often most valid with standardization post-creation.
Basically, we should look for these three factors when creating/standardizing psychometric tests:
- Nature of Reliability
- Understanding Validity
- Importance of Norming
Chapter two…….coming soon