Mention the words 'psychometric testing' in a business environment and you'll get a whole range of responses, from the abusive (a suitable case for treatment, perhaps?) to the indifferent. Whatever your take on or experience of psychometric testing might be it's a subject guaranteed to stimulate debate.
If we want to test someone's verbal, numerical or abstract reasoning ability then these could quite rightly be described as 'tests' as there are usually clear right and wrong answers. If one of these tests has been used it is often safe to make a statement like "compared to a similar group of people this person would be below average, average or above average", although one should note that this is the result of a single test.
However, many clients also ask for a 'psychometric test' when what they really mean is a personality profile. There are a number of different profiles available, but they are nearly all completed by an individual. There are no right or wrong answers, and these give a measure of how individuals see themselves. Despite this, there is a body of research that supports the notion that personality profiles can predict future behaviour.
It has been estimated that more than 85 per cent of FTSE100 companies are using psychometrics for assessment alone. In their 2013 book Talent Intelligence: What You Need to Know to Identify and Measure Talent, the co-authors Nik Kinley and Shlomo Ben-Hur claimed vendors of such tests estimate annual sales to be worth between $2-4 billion. Clearly organisations are spending substantial sums measuring personality types, learning styles and personal preferences.
So what is best practice when using tests or personality profiles? Firstly, they are best used as part of the evidence gathered either when selecting someone for a specific role or for use in personal development. In assessment this might consist of interviews, references and evidence from assessment centres and/or a personality profile. In development, the addition of 360° feedback can be a useful way of finding out how people are seen by their colleagues. As many have found out, it can be dangerous and expensive to make a decision based on narrow or limited evidence.
Secondly, the appropriateness of the relevant profiles or tests should be considered. There are plenty of these on the market, but not all profiles are valid or recommended by relevant professional bodies. Not only that, but there is little point demanding a high score in numerical reasoning if the role does not require this skill.
Thirdly, the process should be fair, open and transparent and should not prejudice any sector of society. The results should ideally be discussed with qualified individuals, and/or a copy of their profile given to them, although whether this is a requirement under data protection legislation will vary from country to country.
Illustration: Peter Lubach
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