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What are Psychometric Assessments?

August 20, 2021
5 minutes to read

Psychometric Assessments are rigorous, scientific measures of human psychological attributes, often used when hiring candidates or developing employees. They give insights into less “visible” qualities of a person including personality, mental aptitude, emotional intelligence, risk-orientation or motivation.

The quiz that informs you of which Harry Potter character you are is not a psychometric. Psychometric properties are what a test has if it meets a strict and complex set of standards set by a governing body such as the British Psychological Society (BPS). Psychometric assessments take years to develop and are designed by skilled researchers doing complicated analyses.

In their essence, psychometrics aim to prove they can do three things; measure what they are trying to measure, measure it reliably and consistently over time, predict something useful with that measurement.

This is a lofty ambition when you think about it; interviews, the most commonly used method of employee selection, come nowhere near being able to boast the same credentials. But in order for psychometric tests to earn their stripes, they need to prove scientifically that they work, and any trained users of psychometrics should know the difference.

It’s not surprising then, that psychometric assessments have long since been recognised by employment researchers and psychologists as one of the most effective ways to predict which candidates are likely to perform if hired.

So why aren’t they part of every hiring manager’s toolkit?

In our experience, psychometrics are used by savvy employers once three key questions are addressed:

  • Do they pose a risk to diversity or inclusion?
  • Do they really work?
  • How can we guarantee they are used appropriately?

1. Do they pose a risk to diversity or inclusion?

In our blog Interviews, Psychometric Tests and Diversity and Inclusion we compare the objectivity and inclusivity potential of psychometric assessments in hiring to interviews.

Test construction is a painstakingly laborious process; set procedures are in place at every step to ensure that important questions that could pose a risk to objectivity have been addressed. These are questions like: Have we explicitly and precisely defined what we’re measuring? Is there a sound theoretical foundation to support this? Can we prove that our test questions comprehensively and appropriately tap into it? Have we tested this with diverse groups? Do individual results hold true over time? Does this test predict something logical and meaningful?

In other words, these tests make every effort to be objective and fair. It’s what makes this process a science. And as a professional discipline, test publishers are bound to the standards of oversight bodies. The only objective of a psychometric instrument is the effective analysis of the degree to which a person possesses an attribute deemed to be required for a job role. They have no interest in ethnicity, background, gender or any other potentially discriminating factor.

Psychometric tests then, when used appropriately, boast more defensibility and inclusivity than most other selection methodologies used by hiring managers.*

2. Do they really work?

In a word. Yes.

This is an easy one because the jury isn’t out. Research has shown again and again that “General Mental Ability (GMA) tests”, or for want of a better description, “Intelligence” tests, are the strongest single predictor of employee performance. What’s more, when combined with assessments of personality, these tools have more power of prediction than anything else in the entire world of psychology.

However, the degree to which they add value can depend on the type of job. The more complex the job in question – highly skilled professional, technical and managerial roles, for example – the better GMA tests are at predicting who the high performers will be.

Cognitively complex roles provide more scope for intelligence to express itself, and so the difference between star performers and average workers becomes more pronounced in these fields. Research suggests that in a typical company, the top 5% of employees can produce 26% of the output.

What this means is that companies that want to excel should prioritise the assessment of general mental ability for complex roles, and supplement this information with personality and motivational data. They should use objective, scientific selection methodologies to stack their teams with high potential individuals – those with GMA levels above industry norms – and using valid psychometric instruments to identify them.

3. How can we guarantee they are used appropriately?

In our blog, Psychometric testing: DIY or Full Service?, we explore this question in more detail.

A fair, objective, professional, legal, meaningful assessment process does not begin and end with test construction. The processes of test selection, administration, participant service, test interpretation and feedback of results require that all test users be trained and skilled.

Untrained test users could select inappropriate tests or those that do not meet the required standards of validity or reliability. They could unwittingly introduce bias into administration procedures or discriminate against protected classes of people without even being aware they are doing so. They could insecurely store materials or breach confidentiality or misinterpret findings or fail to feed results back appropriately, leading to a poor user experience.

The European Federation of Psychologists Associations (EFPA) and the BPS are two internationally recognised bodies that set standards for testing. They approve training courses that meet these standards and the BPS certifies individuals who train to the appropriate level.

All psychologists at KinchLyons are trained to this level or higher and we also train others wishing to become certified themselves. These may be HR professionals, business owners, coaches or those working in L&D.

Our blog Psych testing: DIY or Full Service provides further details of where and how to access psychometric assessments and the steps to ensuring they deliver on their promises.

*The question of fairness with respect to psychometric testing, disabilities and norm groups is beyond the scope of this article, but please reach out if you’d like to discuss this, or indeed any other question raised by the blog.

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