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Psychometric Testing. You're proud to tell others that yours is a people organisation.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The trouble is, your people are letting you down, quitting early or under-performing. So how can you find the ones who've got the right stuff? Could psychometric testing help?

How does it work? Psychometric means 'mental measurement'; typical tests include measurement of cognitive abilities, personality traits, interests and motivations. 'It's a predictive tool that tells you that someone who performs well in the test will do well in a particular role,' says Kevin Kerrigan of psychometrics specialist SHL Group.

Identify your target. Psychometrics helps in selecting or screening people, but tests can also be used in development, team-building and even redundancy programmes. Before you can test, you need to know what you're looking for. 'First, identify the people-related issues that are holding back your implementation of strategy,' says Kerrigan. 'Then use structured assessments to profile your good people and establish the competencies you are looking for.'

Pick a test. In most situations, a test developed for universal use will meet your needs; if you're dealing with a large number of people, looking for highly specific attributes, or people to fill very senior roles, you might have a test tailor-made. Says Kamal Birdi of Sheffield University's Institute of Work Psychology: 'General mental ability, including numerical and verbal reasoning, is the biggest indicator of work performance.

Cognitive ability tests score twice as highly as personality tests in this regard.'

Make it appropriate. Your test should have 'face validity', says Birdi, so that employees will recognise the test questions as being appropriate to the role in question.

Engage your people. Explain why you're using tests and what they can achieve, advises Richard Alberg of psychometrics test publisher PSL.

'Individuals should benefit because they learn their own strengths and weaknesses, and it's not in their interest to be in a role for which they are not suited.' You should always give feedback. To administer tests and interpret results, your HR people need to be trained. The British Psychological Society offers qualifications.

Beat the cheats. In personality tests, some candidates may try to second-guess the desired answers; they can usually be caught out through inconsistencies or 'lie scales'. Where tests are conducted online, warn that a candidate will have to sit a supervised test if selected, to be sure they don't call in a friend.

Don't use in isolation. To some, these tests are the best predictor of performance; to others, they are an insurance policy. But they're not a panacea. 'I'd never make a selection on the strength of a test alone,' says Alberg. Use them alongside other tools such as group assessment and interview. 'The results point to areas for further questioning.'

Do say: 'This short test will help us and you to identify your strengths and weaknesses.'

Don't say: 'Everyone who wants the cleaning job sits the test. The one with the highest IQ gets hired.'

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