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Demystifying Psychometric Testing

Think back through your career – have you ever been asked to complete a test or questionnaire? Perhaps you encountered such exercises in a recruitment process, or maybe even in an existing role for development purposes? In the current climate, few people will manage to avoid ‘psych testing’ in their careers, but many are left wondering what these tests are, why they are used, and where they come from.

In our experience at ICP, we have noticed that psychometric assessment, be it in a career selection or development process, can initially be quite daunting or confusing to some candidates, especially when their dream job is on the line. To help combat this and dispel some of the common myths surrounding ‘psych’ testing, we have pulled together some key facts around the process, working to answer a few questions that we frequently encounter.

What is Psychometric Assessment?

A psychological test allows us to measure certain characteristics and abilities in an individual, such as aptitude, intelligence, motivation, and personality. Psychological tests have a number of important qualities that distinguish them from other tests or questionnaires. Unlike some other tests, psychometric tests are:

  • Grounded in psychological theories that take account for and explain individual differences.

  • Standardised, such that they are administered and scored in a consistent manner.

  • Able to facilitate the comparison of an individual’s performance with that of a general population through the development of norms (e.g., across age group or level of employment).

  • Psychometrically tested for validity and reliability, meaning the tests actually measure what they claim to (i.e., are validated) and do so accurately across different times and with different people (i.e., are reliable).

Due to the psychological basis and intricacies of psychometric tests, they can’t be used by just anybody and implementing such tests requires training. Psychologists are specifically trained and registered to use specific tools, and human experience and psychological insights allow them to accurately interpret the data, in line with the specific job requirements. Reports are written with the lens of broader information received about the individual, such as their career history, patterns of employment, the interview process and other qualitative data.

Prior to beginning any assessment process, we are careful to reiterate to all clients and candidates that psychometric assessment is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. It should not make or break the selection or development process, but rather provide valuable data that complements and adds context to the rest of the recruitment or development process. It is the role of the psychologist to paint a broader picture of the candidate, rather than focusing on scores on a page or measures against a norm.

Why use Psychometric Testing?

These test and questionnaires are used to find out about a person’s capacities, work style, or values. Employers need this sort of information when they want to recruit a new employee or understand the potential and development needs of an existing one. Individuals need to consider their own abilities and personal style when making career choices, so careers advisers are also frequent users of tests.

Research suggests that objective measures, such as validated tests and questionnaires, provide more accurate assessments of individuals than subjective approaches, such as interviews or CV evaluations. While subjective approaches can provide useful information, particularly in skilled hands, the reliability and precision of objective measures is difficult to match. Psychological assessment, combined with skilled interviews and evaluations, provides the most powerful and insightful solution.

In current times, where an employer can receive thousands of applications for a single position, testing allows us to evaluate large numbers of people and helps to identify the best prospects to interview and further assess. Without such tools, a recruiter would be faced with spending days going through a pile of CVs. In a more competitive scenario, at final stage of interviewing with a handful of candidates vying for the same position, psychological insights can provide valuable data around personality style, cultural/team fit, ways of working, de-railers or motivators, and provide some tangible measures around problem solving skills.

There are a range of reasons for undergoing psychological testing. For example, it may be that you are experiencing some difficulties and psychological testing will assist in understanding what is happening and in determining how to work to overcome these difficulties. Psychological testing may also occur when people are high-achievers and educators may want to know how best to focus on the individual’s learning to ensure they reach their full potential. Employers frequently request psychological testing so that they can determine whether someone’s abilities will be appropriate for a particular job.

Types of Psychological Testing

There are several different ways of conducting psychological tests and obtaining the information that is used in psychological assessments. These include what we refer to as ‘paper and pencil tests’, where the individual may provide answers in a test booklet using a pen or pencil, or the psychologist may note down the individual’s answers in the test booklet. However, many tests are now computer-based, where the individual enters answers directly into the computer using the keyboard, mouse or possibly a joystick. These tests can be administered using online testing, where the test is stored remotely from the computer and accessed through the internet. In addition to these different types, psychological testing may involve group testing for which tests are designed to be administered to a group of individuals at the same time or may involve individual testing with the psychologist working directly with one individual, sometimes for extended periods to undertake a full assessment.

In addition to this, the test may be aptitude or personality-based. In the case of aptitude, the tests may measure anything from ‘general mental ability’ to something more specific and role-orientated like ‘mechanical reasoning’ or ‘verbal reasoning’.

In the realm of personality, there is also significant variability. For instance, an employer who is seeking to assess many candidates and needs a brief, broad picture of each, may look to the NEO-PI, which measures 5 key personality factors (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness). Alternatively, a client may be seeking a detailed, precise report on only a few candidates, wanting to know their motives, values, and specific traits, as well as how these all interact in a working environment – this client may look to the Hogan’s HPI, HDS, and MVPI tests, which assess one’s personality, areas for development, motives, values, and preferences, often doing so through a leadership lens.

Nevertheless, there are a whole host of tests out there, all with different levels of detail and different focuses, designed to suit an employer’s needs – it is the psychologist’s job to help the employer in their selection of these tests.

The Role of the Psychologist

The administration, scoring, and interpretation of a psychological test are undertaken by a psychologist who is fully familiar with the test instrument or by a person trained in the administration, scoring, and interpretation of the test and its results.

Psychologists will select and use psychological tests that are based soundly on theory, have adequate psychometric properties, are appropriate to the testing situation, and take account of client characteristics or needs (e.g., language ability, age, background, mental state etc.) to ensure that the testing will yield meaningful information about the individual/s being tested.

Psychologists who undertake psychological testing or who read and interpret psychological reports will take all necessary steps, maintaining ongoing professional development to ensure that they maintain an up-to-date knowledge and skill base, as well as remaining current in the administration, scoring and interpretation of new tests or new editions that are of relevance to their area of practice. Psychologists undertaking psychological testing abide by the APS Code of Ethics and the Guidelines for Psychological Assessment and the Use of Tests and recognise the importance of practising only within their areas of competence. Access to psychological test data is restricted to psychologists or individuals who are trained in test administration working under the direct supervision of psychologists.

If you have any more questions or testing requirements, contact Matt Dale or Ella Metherell today for sample reports, testing rate cards, or just to talk through the process. Psychometric testing, well done, is a piece of the puzzle that should provide comfort and clarity in the selection process.

For more contact or call 07 3852 2441

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