Despite the benefits available to employers, psychometric testing isn’t without its faults. These can be broadly split into two separate sections: candidate performance and experience, and resources required.
Candidate performance and experience
A psychometric test’s design can influence how candidates respond to it. Ideally, you want a test that will allow candidates to express themselves authentically, giving you a clear picture of how they’ll behave in the role. Sadly, for three reasons, this isn’t always the case…
Faking, and the management of faking
With traditional tests formatted as questionnaires, there’s a risk of candidate faking in high-stakes scenarios. When a job is potentially on the line, there’s no clear downside to faking in order to appear a more viable candidate for the role (except, of course, the toll this might take on one’s own conscience). While this can be a conscious process, however, in many cases this actually occurs subconsciously. Not all those who fake are attempting to deceive you. It’s simply a bias that prompts candidates to respond in a more socially-desirable way.
This is compounded by the growing amount of available information online about some of the most prevalent self-report tests. This can cover specific statements, as well as predictions on the constructs they’re measuring. With today’s candidates very comfortable online, and often conducting lengthy research before any assessment, they can in many cases prime their answers beforehand. This can lead to candidates either consciously ‘gaming’ many psychometric questionnaires, or subconsciously tailoring their responses to what they’ve read. Both of these can dilute the quality and impact of your data.
Traditional test developers have a common response to this, which creates its own problems: attempting to disguise what’s being assessed.
Take the following example (seen in the previous section):
“I am generally a creative person”
“I take a different route to work every day”
This is a common example. As you can see, disguised statements are generally more specific, which can complicate more than it clarifies. There are various reasons you might regularly shake up your route to work, many completely separate from any creative streak you might have. As such, the process of disguising these statements can actually dilute their effectiveness and create space for misunderstood data.
So, these traditional questionnaire formats can invite both conscious and unconscious faking. They can also create confusion in their efforts to combat said faking. This could actually impact the quality of your data and your ability to predict the best hire for your organisation.
Self-awareness and experience
It’s also worth considering that self-report formats rely on candidates to actually know themselves well. For those just entering the workplace, though, they’re likely to have little working experience (in fact, those joining the workforce now are the least likely of any age group to have been previously employed in a part-time capacity). As such, they’re unlikely to have a clear picture of how they’d actually respond to certain scenarios. This can lead down two paths:
Honest guesswork (i.e., how candidates would like to think they’d react)
Faking (i.e., what candidates believe the employer wants to hear).
Both of these can impact the relevance and value of any data arising from the psychometric assessment in question.
Even if a candidate is doing their best to answer authentically, the typical question/answer format can induce levels of anxiety that prevent them from giving a true account of themselves. This is because each question sprouts a whole network of associated thoughts. Which qualities is the question probing for? How does each answer reflect on me as a candidate? How will my answer contribute to my chances of getting this role? Anybody who’s completed this type of test will probably remember them as generally quite intense, or, at worst, stressful.
That’s because all of this mental chatter prevents what is called cognitive flow – the ability to immerse oneself in a task and respond intuitively and authentically. The effectiveness of self-report formats can suffer in a high-stakes environment precisely because there’s so much riding on each question for candidates. In this context, the concept of flow really doesn’t exist.
This can also have a knock-on effect when it comes to your employer brand. Anybody in talent acquisition knows how important this is, but, if processes are unduly stressful, this is unlikely to recommend you to the candidate. IBM has found that 60% of applicants talk to friends and family about their experience, meaning the impact of a stressful psychometrics can be wide-reaching. This is likely to be amplified if you incorporate psychometric tests into a wider assessment day, which are intense enough as it is!
Frustratingly, psychometrics aren’t a plug-in-and-go option. There are barriers to entry for many, which mean their benefits aren’t always accessible without considerable investment. Let’s look at two of these barriers:
Knowledge & training
Most products in the field require training, potentially from the British Psychological Society (BPS). While 30% of companies using psychometrics do so without encouraging any training, it can be a prerequisite for some test providers. Poor use of psychometrics won’t just fail to benefit you – it may actually damage the effectiveness of your hiring strategy (and cost you plenty in unsuitable hires).
So investing in psychometric tests can pose a dilemma: either risk undercutting your process on the one hand, or spend considerable time and money on training. Though courses can last for just a few days (along with some additional coursework), even this timespan can be hard to spare. You’ll also need to pay for the training, of course.
We’ll prefix this section by saying that the initial investment, if made wisely, will likely save you money. When you take the cost of bad hires into account (which, as discussed here, can be considerable), spending on valid, reliable psychometric tests should be considered in terms of its value. But, that said, good tests don’t always come cheap. At a time when HR budgets are likely being constrained, it’s important to consider whether the initial outlay is feasible for the outcomes expected. This also makes it vital to identify assessments that are truly valid and reliable.