Know how to get value from psychometric tests

Psychometric testing is an increasingly popular tool in many situations, from recruitment to redundancy – and everything in between.

Different instruments exist that can be used in different ways. The choice can be confusing for a newcomer. And even for experienced users of psychometrics, getting the most out of these very powerful tools can prove difficult. So how can HR professionals make sure they’re using psychometrics to best effect?

Start at the beginning

As the psychometrics industry has evolved, certain questionnaires have become big brands in their own right. As the most widely used globally, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is perhaps the best known, but most HR professionals will have encountered a handful of these assessments at some stage in their career. But as Betsy Kendall, head of learning and consultancy at workplace psychologists OPP, points out, it’s not a matter of ‘one size fits all’. While the MBTI is used in development contexts, different personality assessments are used for recruitment and selection.

Kendall says: “The first question we ask is ‘What are you using it for, and what outcomes do you need?’. You need to start by asking yourself what you want to achieve and how a psychological perspective will help you.”

Once you’re clear on this, you can take a more critical look at the tools available. Many purport to do the same thing, but there are huge differences in validity and accuracy, so there are key things to check when choosing an instrument.

Find out how the instrument has been proven to measure what it says it does. Research it on the internet or ask the provider directly. Has it been validated recently in the country and language in which you’re looking to use it? Is it ‘reliable’, showing consistent results over time?

Stick to the recognised names. Tools from larger companies will be the most trustworthy and robust, simply because it takes investment to maintain psychometrics properly. Steer clear from any psychometric tool offered for free. Suppliers who insist on qualification are also offering a ‘quality hallmark’ – uneducated use of such tools can be highly damaging.

Find the right advice

Using psychometrics is more than simply giving people a questionnaire and looking at scores. Workplace psychologists can advise on how best to interpret results and translate them into action. If you plan to use them on a regular basis, it pays to put an internal person through training so you have the in-house capability to administer tests and draw relevant conclusions from the results to support decision making.

One of the areas in which organisations can fall down is making the best use of the results. Kendall says: “The real value and benefit of any psychometric tool comes after the results. It’s vital the knowledge is put to use. It’s no good dismissing inconvenient findings. Trust the scores, as disastrous mistakes can result down the line when ‘gut instinct’ is allowed to prevail”.

“The added confidence psychometrics give around people decisions is akin to the kind of background check you’d do on a supplier or a customer before you offer them credit. Why commit to paying someone a salary, or investing in their development, without some reliable data?”

If you only do five things

  1. Decide upfront what you want to achieve
  2. Get input from peers – what tests do they use?
  3. Pick a test that suits your needs
  4. Communicate the reasons for the tests to staff
  5. Make good use of the results

For more information

Expert’s view: Betsy Kendall, head of learning and consultancy, OPP

What are the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge can be selling the idea within your organisation of introducing ‘psychology’ into a selection or development process. Some managers are cynical or nervous, so can be resistant at first. There’s a balance to be struck between choosing one that is both valid and reliable, and easy to administer, quick to complete and that complements your employer brand. Sell your managers the benefit – psychometric tests lead to hiring people who perform better and stay longer, and they give self-awareness, which leads to more lasting development.

What should you avoid doing?

Avoid using psychometrics lightly. There’s a big difference between a personality quiz in a magazine and the kind of in-depth, scientifically-based workplace psychometrics used in business. There’s a temptation to buy a test off the shelf, put a few teams through the questions and draw some very broad brush conclusions to justify decisions you may have already made – and leave people none the wiser about themselves.

Avoid conducting the process in a secretive way. Let your people know why you’re using the tools. Work through the results with them, and the potential implications.

What are your top tips?

  • Be clear about your goals, and use this to inform what tools you use
  • Communicate exactly why you’re asking staff to complete the assessment
  • Make sure you offer feedback – and use the results.
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