Psychometric Testing – Reliable Tool or an Easy Fix?

As many of us know all too well, when applying for a graduate job these days it’s not quite so simple as sending over a CV and hoping for an interview. More and more companies are using psychometric tests in order to try and gage a candidate’s behavioural style and whether or not they have the desired characteristics for the job. But is it fair to discount somebody based on their computer assessed personality traits?

Many companies who use these psychometric tools on a large-scale claim that they help objectify the hiring process. They argue that by letting a computer decide an individual’s fit for a job based on a set of pre-defined responses, any bias based on gender, race, ethnicity or otherwise, is eliminated. However, if all candidates are given a candidate number for a name and personal details aren’t made aware to employers, then reading CVs, cover letters and written applications isn’t biased either. 

So perhaps the most obvious reason for the increasing popularity of psychometric testing is simply because it’s fast and cheap. Nobody can deny that the tests act as an effective means of filtering out candidates who aren’t bothered enough to spend the time taking the tests and as such aren’t suitable for the job. The problems start to arise however, when there becomes an over-reliance on these tests and companies use too much filtering, so that many ‘ideal’ candidates may fall through the gaps. In the words of Richard MacKinnon, an occupational psychologist at the Future Work Centre, “they should never be used to make a decision, only to inform decision-making. But in less skilled hands, that’s what happens.”

Some companies, in an attempt to speed up and lower the costs of recruitment even further, have started using games to judge a candidates aptitude for a job. One former Leeds University student tells me how in an online assessment for a graduate scheme at Unilever, she was asked to continuously press spacebar as many times as possible in a minute. If companies are ruling candidates out by their ability to perform such meaningless tasks then it seems to me like there’s a problem.

But even if the testing software is based on situational and decision-making questions, rather than irrelevant games, there is a strong argument that a large part of the results are not genuine. This is because many candidates try to answer such ‘personality tests’ by emphasising certain characteristics which they think the computer programme is looking for, rather than showing their true responses. 

So it’s clear psychometric testing has drawbacks, but is it still the best way of filtering thousands of applications? I’d argue that although it is a useful tool, it shouldn’t be used as a first line of defence against unsuitable applicants and I’d rather see it be used to inform, but not dictate, hiring decisions later on in the process. Online video interviews with pre-recorded questions seem like an equally cheap and quick way of screening candidates, so perhaps these are a better alternative for the future of recruitment.