Psychometric testing has a key part to play in any structured recruitment process.
Psychometric testing is a technique that give you an insight into key elements of a candidate's abilities and work style. Unlocking that information helps to form a crucial element in forming an objective selection decision during the recruitment process. It also has a part to play after the selection decision has been made, helping to optimise a candidate's performance in their role and integration into your organisation.
What is psychometric testing?
Properly, psychometrics is a field that concerns itself with the effective measurement of any psychological trait, capacity or ability. In terms of recruitment and selection, it relates more specifically to the objective assessment of personal characteristic that are necessary to a role. Precisely which characteristics are measured will depend on the needs of the role in question, but they can be broken down into three main areas: personality, aptitudes, and skills.
We'll discuss shortly how this psychometric information can be acquired, and more importantly how it can be applied, but first we'll take a look at the first principles of psychometric testing within Human Resources.
Psychometrics can cover a vast range of topics, but in business terms psychometric testing is normally confined to three key areas. These are personality, aptitudes and skills. Here we look at each of these three areas of assessment in a little more detail.
Personality testing is one of the most useful applications of psychometrics. A personality test is designed to measure a set of discrete and complementary values that together provide a broad description of an individual's particular personality style, or the general behavioural style that emerges from that underlying personality.
There are several different approaches to personality testing, each with its own distinct advantages. Within our own profiling products, we concentrate on a technique known as DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance), which provides complex and relevant results based on a convenient and practical questionnaire.
Aptitudes conceptually lie somewhere between personality factors and skills. They represent deep-seated or inherent abilities with distinct practical applications (essentially what might be called 'talents'). Examples might be aptitudes for certain technical skills, ability with languages, mathematical abilitiy and so on. Tests for aptitudes typically take an abstract form, attempting to quantify the aptitude itself, rather than learned skills that might be related to it.
Skills are learned abilities or bodies of knowledge about a specific subject. Examples might be as broad as typing speed, computer programming, fluency in a particular language, and so on.
In cases like these, psychometrics are normally used as a form of objective verification of a skill claimed by a candidate. In most cases, there is little to be gained by testing a candidate for a skill they do not claim to possess; this distinguishes skills from aptitudes, which might be possessed by anybody regardless of education or training.
Psychometric testing practices
In practical terms, if we are to quantify the characteristics of an individual, we need to apply one or more tests. Traditionally, this meant providing a candidate with pencil-and-paper questionnaires, usually as part of the interview process. Modern technology has provided a range of alternative approaches, each of which brings its own set advantages and disadvantages.
One of the significant advantages of psychometric testing is that it can be deployed as part of pre-interview selection to help develop a shortlist of suitable candidates. A particularly useful approach is that of online testing: a candidate can be invited to complete tests online, so you can quickly gain an overview of their personality and abilities.
Using the Internet to conduct pre-interview testing like this can be highly convenient and cost-effective, but of course it brings with it its own disadvantages, in particular the fact that the tests are unsupervised. Especially if you're working with skills or aptitude tests, it is common practice to treat such results as provisional, and to ensure a supervised confirmatory test is performed when the opportunity arises.
More formally, supervised testing will of course require the candidate to be physically present. This typically takes place as part of the interview process, or perhaps through a dedicated assessment centre. Organising a supervised session is more resource-intensive than an unsupervised pre-interview test, and so will usually take place after an initial shortlisting phase; it is rarely possible to provide supervised tests for all candidates.
The most effective strategy is generally to combine the pre-interview approach (a broad preliminary assessment covering all or most candidates) with a secondary supervised series of tests applied to those candidates already identified as better suited to the role in question.
A question that needs to be addressed about any given psychometric test is its accuracy; that is, how well does it measure what it is designed to measure? This is a complex issue, and a detailed examination is beyond the scope of this brief article, but three concepts are useful to bear in mind:
- Validity: this is the concept that most people would naturally associate with 'accuracy'. It is typically assessed by comparing test results against other comparable measures.
- Reliability: that is, how consistent are the test's results? Do its results remain comparable if the test is applied several times to the same person?
- Distribution: a single individual score, on its own, tells us little; we need to know how that score compares against other scores in a population.
Psychometrics in practice: Putting the results to work
Once you have conducted one or more psychometrics and received the results for a candidate, how can those results be put to use most effectively? In this section, we'll look at the ways those results can be applied as part of a selection process, and also at some additional applications to help you refine that process.
Though we're focussing here on the psychometric element of recruitment and selection, it's important to emphasise that psychometrics can't be applied in isolation, and necessarily makes up only a part of that process. We'll discuss some of the ways profiling can overlap with other elements of selection, especially interviewing, in the sections that follow.
The selection process
The psychometric element of the selection process has two fundamental elements: defining the role itself, and finding the most suitable candidate or candidates to fulfil that role. Because psychometrics provides a quantified assessment of a candidate's capabilities, it provides for a much more structured and consistent approach to both these tasks than is generally possible with less formal features of the process, such as the face-to-face interview.
Defining the role
It's important to bear in mind that selection involves finding the optimum candidate or candidates for a particular role. This is an important consideration: candidates who are ideal for one role may be entirely unsuited to another, so defining the psychometric requirements of the role itself is a necessary first step. Some features will be essential, others will be useful but less important, and others still may be entirely irrelevant.
It is generally recommended to avoid applying tests that are not relevant to a particular recruitment cycle. Quite apart from the fact that this wastes time for both yourself and the candidate, and it can also be counterproductive as part of the recruitment process. Presenting a candidate with unnecessary tests outside their particular skillset can be a discouraging and demotivating experience, and is best avoided.
Finding optimum personality types is a process highly dependent on the role in question. Personality results tend to be presented in terms of a continuum of values (for example, in DISC, one scale gives us values from highly Independent to highly Co-operative). To make a meaningful selection, we first need to qualify where our role falls on each of these scales: some roles may need independent behaviour, others co-operatives, and still others may need a combination somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Building a picture of how these different scales fit together will effectively give us a personality profile of the role itself (a process sometimes called Job Profiling). Once we have a Job Profile like this in place, it is possible to compare it against individual candidate personalities to identify commonalities, and also highlight areas where the candidate diverges from the optimum personality type.
Aptitudes and skills
Aptitudes and skills tend to be simpler to assess than personality factors, in that we are generally concerned with only one end of the spectrum of results: we'll generally be interested in the highest scores on these scales. In terms of defining the needs of a role, then, the question is one of priority: how important are the various scores, relative to one another?
To take a practical example, a candidate who scores moderately well in a vital skill area will typically be more suitable to the role than another who scores exceptionally in a low-priority test. To create a fully objective and structured psychometric strategy, it will be necessary to define these priorities ahead of time, and take them into account when assessing candidate results.
Refining the process
It's natural that the most significant focus of psychometrics in recruitment is in finding optimum candidates for a role, but the same techniques can be expanded to inform other elements of the recruitment process. The same information that helps you select a candidate can even go beyond the bounds of recruitment per se and into post-recruitment practices, such as organisational integration, role development and integration.
One of the advantages of psychometrics in selection is that quantifies areas that are worthy of expansion and further investigation, and so can inform the process of shortlisting, interviews and other elements of the recruitment process. Psychometric results will help to highlight areas of particular strength in a candidate, or focus of potential skills shortfalls. That information provides a basis for further investigation, using complementary elements of the recruitment process to confirm the psychometric findings, and assess their likely impact on a candidate's suitability.
We can go further in some cases and formalise elements of an interview based on personality results. For example, the Discus personality profiler contains an expert system that can generate suggested behavioural interview questions, and even explain the rationale behind its selection of those particular questions for a given candidate.
Traditionally, candidates would not normally be given access to the results of their psychometric evaluations. A developing area of best practice, however,is to provide a candidate with feedback to summarise their performance, helping to highlight their particular strengths and provide guidance on possible areas of development. For example, a Discus personality profile includes an independent Feedback Report designed specifically for this purpose, providing a summary of the personality compiled in a format intended for consumption by the candidate themselves.
Integration and deployment
Though the selection process will naturally focus on finding a candidate for a particular role, in reality the parameters of a role within an organisation rarely remain fixed over time. Understanding the personality and particular abilities of an individual can provide some vital guidelines to help integrate them into their role, and also to help develop their role over time.
An example of this kind of process in action is a case in which a candidate displays a particularly strong aptitude that lies outside those originally defined as key for the role in question. The aptitude represents an untapped resource; it can be productive for the organisation, and motivating for the individual concerned, to find ways of expanding a role to take advantage of that otherwise unused capacity.
Axiom psychometric solutions
Axiom Software specialises in solutions to help you deploy psychometric testing as part of an effective overall recruitment strategy. Our flagship personality profiler Discus uses the DISC profiling technique to give you a complete personality testing, reporting and assessment suite. Meanwhile our Discovery package provides an equivalent online resource for managing aptitudes and skills tests.
DISC personality profiling
Discus is one of the most comprehensive and powerful DISC profiling solutions available. It includes everything you need to create DISC profiles, including full support for invited online testing. Discus incorporates an intelligent reporting system that creates personality reports of real quality and depth, each one relevant to an individual profile. Discus also includes comprehensive Job Matching and Job Profiling features, as well as a wide range of additional options such as relationship and team assessment.
Aptitudes and skills testing
Discovery is an online solution for managing aptitudes and skills. It includes an extensive array of built-in tests across a wide range of applications, as well as in-depth reporting features. Discovery is capable of presenting its tests either online or in supervised conditions, and its results include detailed score breakdowns and comparisons over time. It also provides built-in role management, allowing you to set up and prioritise tests for a role, and assess candidate scores according to criteria you specify.
More psychometric resources
You'll find numerous useful reference guides on this site for psychometrics in general, and especially material relating to DISC personality testing. In particular, you might find these resources useful:
DISC in recruitment
A portal site with links to key articles covering recruitment and the part psychometrics has to play.
DISC reference library
The main entry point for access to all our DISC reference material.
Applications: putting DISC to work
A reference section of the main library focussed on the practical applications of DISC profiling.