5 psychometric myths exposed
30 Aug. 2017

There seems to be a lot of confusion both in our industry, organisations and society regarding the use of psychometric assessments including their purpose, how they are used and whether or not they actually work. Like any tool, their effectiveness is defined by the ability of the user to interpret a problem, design a solution, and then select the right tool to complete the task. The quality of the tool then allows the task to be completed in a more efficient and effective manner. A builder doesn’t use a saw to hammer a nail.

Myth 1

“There is at best a tenuous link between psychometric assessments and job performance”

Reality

So do psychometric tests really work? We know that clear links exist between individual differences, such as general mental ability (GMA) and personality, and performance in a wide range of jobs and industries. Psychologists Frank Schmidt and John Hunter have demonstrated through robust meta-analyses over several decades that GMA, e.g. as measured typically through tests of verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning, is the best single predictor of job performance in virtually all occupations with a .65 correlation with job performance. Why is this? Essentially these assessments predict learning ability – an ability which translates into both quicker uptake of new information, and job performance. Indeed, the predictive validity of GMA increases with the complexity of the job. For practical purposes, the most powerful assessment combinations for predicting job performance are assessments of GMA in conjunction with work sample tests (.33), personality factors (up to .46), and structured interviews (.58). In this way, the better question is perhaps not “Does psychometric testing work?” but “Are we using psychometric testing to our best advantage?”.

Myth 2

“Candidate’s don’t have access to their test results”

Reality

Whilst some people may not receive feedback on their test results, a competent consulting firm will always offer feedback to candidates on their assessment results, regardless of the outcome of the selection process, and deliver this in an accessible way so that the candidate can understand the results and obtain some value from the experience. For the psychologist using psychometric assessments in the organisational setting, there is a binding ethical obligation to provide feedback to any candidate on the results of their assessments, and in a form and language that the candidate can understand. Often the raw scores of psychometric tests are not given to candidates because they are open to significant misinterpretation. A candidate who has invested the time to complete a series of psychometric assessments is certainly warranted feedback on those results by a qualified person, either verbally or in written form. Keep in mind however, that as a candidate, it is your responsibility to request feedback on your results.

Myth 3

“All psychometric tests are all the same”

Reality

Psychometric tests are tools, and it is critical to use the right tool for the job. Just as you wouldn’t use a saw to hammer a nail, you wouldn’t use a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment for recruitment and selection; it wasn’t designed for this purpose and should never be used in this context. Instead, you would use tests that have strong predictive validity (what do the results tell us about future behaviour or performance?), include validity indexes such as social desirability (has the candidate ‘faked it’?), and are linked to competencies, not preferences (measuring preferences with tools like the MBTI or Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument are great in team and individual development contexts, but they don’t link directly to job performance).

Similarly, specific test types have evolved significantly over time. For example, the older “personality” questionnaires such as the 16PF, Hogan Personality Inventory and Occupational Personality Questionnaire, all have reasonable correlations with job competencies of around .3 to .35, whereas the more recent “behaviour style profiles” such as the Saville Wave have been developed in more sophisticated ways using newer technology, and can achieve correlations with job competencies of up to .58, and compare extremely favourably with the ever faithful stalwart of recruitment and selection, the structured behavioural interview.

Myth 4

“Psychometric assessment can kill your ability to create a diverse workforce and a healthy culture”

Reality

Using the wrong tool for the job can certainly lead to undesirable outcomes: you’ll be no closer to getting that nail into the wall, and you might cut your finger in the process. In the case of using the MBTI in a recruitment and selection process, this is flawed practice, and potentially unethical. With respect to creating a diverse workforce and a healthy culture, psychological assessments need to be used in integrated ways with other sources of data, such as interviews and reference checks. Rather than looking for a “generic standard”, a well-structured selection process looks for a range of qualities including technical skills, cognitive ability, behavioural style, culture fit, team fit (to create more diversity across the team) and career motivations. When this type of data is collected and used in an integrated manner, you will enhance diversity rather than reduce it.

Myth 5

“Psychometric assessments should be a final deciding factor in a selection process”

Reality

We know that when it comes to making hiring decisions, there is no single assessment method that is 100% accurate, and no crystal-ball that will guarantee that our decision is the right one in any absolute sense. The aim of any good assessment and selection process is to increase our chance of “getting it right”, and using psychological tests allows us to do this more effectively. The final deciding factor in a selection process therefore, is the integration of all the data gathered throughout the process. We are assessing human beings, and as such we can never be certain of how someone will behave or perform in the future – this is impossible. The aim is to increase your chances of selecting the best person based on the information at hand. With the use of highly predictive tools and methods, and with psychologists who use an integrated and commercial approach to the use of the tools, you will achieve this.