Using psychometric tests in recruitment

Psychometric testing can help you find the right staff says John Burnell

Q: A colleague has suggested we should look into using psychometric tests to help us assess potential employees. Are they any use and what would we learn from them?

A: The point of the recruitment process is to predict which candidate will be best for the job. Anything that helps you do that has got to be a good thing.

There is a harrowing statistic that not enough recruiters know about. If you base your estimate of future job performance on interviews alone, the chances of getting it right, expressed as a correlation coefficient - a measure of uncertainty where 1 is no uncertainty and 0 is complete uncertainty - are about 0.2.

There's a place for interviews, but your colleague is quite right: good psychometric tests, used properly, can improve your chances of getting it right - maybe up to 0.6, which in the world of correlation coefficients is far more than three times better.

Broadly, there are three kinds of psychometric instrument (the experts prefer that name, because usually there are no right or wrong answers, which the word test implies). There are simple measures of ability - how good is the candidate at dealing with numbers? Can they handle data well?

Then there are those exercises where judgement is evaluated - does the candidate produce appropriate responses to management problems? How creative are they?

Finally, and most powerfully, there are measures of personality. The best of these are based on self-assessment, and they will highlight issues such as preferred management styles, how candidates fit into teams and how much drive they've got.

The key to recruitment, of course, is the person specification. Many of its elements are open to measurement by psychometric instruments, so get an expert to help you make a selection and then administer them properly. They can be administered in person, through an assessment centre or online, provided you can be sure that it really is your candidate at the other end.

But be careful - there are some rogue tests around with very little predictive power. Be sure your expert is a member of the British Psychological Society and that your test is properly validated by a reputable company.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions.

- Send your HR questions to

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