DO PSYCHOMETRIC TESTS WEIGH DOWN A CANDIDATE’S TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE?
Questions like the following one are a regular sight when a candidate sits for a company’s interview:
I approach life in an easy-going manner.
1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neutral 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
Few years ago, technical knowledge was enough for a person to land a job, but this is not the case anymore. Companies are now completely assessing the skills, knowledge and personality traits of the candidates along with the technical knowledge. Used widely as a screening method, psychometric tests are now integrated by a number of companies to analyse a candidate in order to avoid future problems. Meaning ‘measuring the mind’, the psychometric tests are a series of questions specifically designed to measure a candidate’s suitability for a role and for a company’s culture.
Said to be unbiased, these tests reflect an individual’s mental capabilities, cognitive abilities and behavioural style and allow HR Managers to make the right decision. The success rate of these psychometrics can be judged by the fact that companies like Ford Motor, KPMG, Hewlett Packard, Procter & Gamble, JP Morgan, Microsoft, McDonald’s, Barclays, Ernst and Young, Deloitte and many more use these tests to select a candidate for a particular role.
There are different types of psychometric tests available that are being used by companies. Some of the popular tests are:
These tests identify whether the candidates possess the relevant traits required for a job such as leadership, working in teams, self-motivation, coping with stress, sociable nature, social astuteness, determination, and goal-orientation. The questionnaire format includes statements with an option to agree or disagree, as well as statements with an option to choose what most or least describe the subject.
Companies nowadays use these personality tests as a first step of the recruitment process.
The following example shows how a candidate’s response is evaluated:
I enjoy meeting new people. 1) Strongly disagree 2) Disagree 3) Neutral 4) Agree 5) Strongly agree
If the person is applying for a sales job and has encircled Option 1, he might not be a suitable candidate while the candidate encircling option 4 or 5 will be considered perfect.
The verbal reasoning tests are used to identify a person’s fluency in a particular (mostly it is English) language, his comprehension skills, logical ability and vocabulary.
There are different levels of verbal reasoning tests. The easier level concentrates on vocabulary and sentence completion. The complex levels are meant for graduates and managers and consist of a short text passage followed by statements on which the candidate needs to answer as true, false or cannot say.
The high-level tests gauge a person’s ability to think constructively, draw logical conclusions, understand the given information and convey information to others in a clear and simple manner.
An example of a verbal reasoning test is as follows:
Many organisations find it beneficial to employ students over the summer. Permanent staff often wish to take their own holidays over this period. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for companies to experience peak workload in the summer and so have requirement for extra staff. Summer employment also attracts students who may return as well-qualified recruits to an organisation when they have completed their education. Ensuring that the students learn as much as
possible about the organisation encourages interest in working on a permanent basis. Organisations pay students on a fixed rate without the usual entitlement to paid holidays or bonus schemes.”
Statement: It is possible that permanent staff who are on holidays can have their work carried out by students.
True False Cannot Say
Such a statement simply leads a recruiter to assess whether a student will be able to understand any business information and convey it to others in a right manner.
The numerical reasoning tests help to decide a person’s ability to calculate and analyse numerical data, graphical data and logically draw conclusions from numerical data given. Businesses use figures and statistics to depict their financials, turnover, progress, business goals performance and analysis. Therefore, it becomes extremely important to select a candidate who can identify critical information in data figures or graphs.
The questions in these tests comprise of different tables, graphs or statistics describing a particular situation, which are then followed by a number of questions. These multiplechoice tests are time-bound in order to judge how quickly and accurately a person can solve a problem and draw reasons.
Example of a numerical reasoning question: Four people, all working at the same rate, can mow a lawn in 2.4 hours. How many more people, working at the same rate as the first four, must be added in order to mow three lawns in 3.6 hours?
A) 4 B) 5 C) 6 D) 7 E) 8
The abstract reasoning tests are designed to measure the conceptual reasoning skills of the candidate, also known as lateral thinking or fluid intelligence. These tests help to know how quickly a person can learn new information, identify patterns and integrate complex information to address a situation.
The time-bound questions are based on a series of shapes or numbers that follow a logical rule or a pattern. The respondent has to identify the next numeric or the shape or the missing one in a given time from (see Figure 1) the options given.
Other specific tests such as Stanford-Binet 5, Big Five Profile, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Emotional Intelligence Test, 16-PF (16 Personality Factor Model), Situational Judgement Test (SJT) are designed to measure a single trait of the candidate.
Stanford-Binet 5: Commonly known as IQ test, it measures five factors of cognitive ability, namely, fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing and working memory. Questions comprise of logical and verbal ability. Each of the five factors is given a weight and the average IQ score is 100.
Big Five Profile: These tests measure five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. A series of statements are given which have to be rated by the candidate from 1-4 based upon his agreement/ disagreement with the statement.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: It is one of the most widely used and accurate test to know about a person’s personality traits. It measures four traits: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/ Feeling, and Judging/ Perceiving. The test includes statements on which a person has to agree or disagree.
Emotional Intelligence Test: Understanding emotions and developing and maintaining healthy relationships at work is an unsaid requirement. An EQ test allows to judge a candidate in areas such as intrapersonal intelligence, flexibility, relationship management and self-assertion.
16-PF (16 Personality Factor Model): The test comes with 185 questions having agree/disagree options or rating options. It brings out the following 16 traits of a person in order of dominance: warmth, reasoning, emotional stability, dominance, liveliness, rule-consciousness, social boldness, sensitivity, vigilance, abstractedness, privateness, apprehensiveness, openness to change, self-reliance, perfectionism, and tension.
Situational Judgement Test (SJT): To what extent a candidate is able to solve a work-related situation depends on his/her ability to solve problems and take decisions. SJT consists of a series of situations where he/she is asked to choose the most effective and levt effective options.
Indian companies are equally keen like their Western counterparts for using psychometric tests for recruitments and other areas. A survey by Willis Towers Watson study in 2016 showed that 56 per cent of the companies use psychometric tests. And only a small percentage (9 per cent) are not willing to
Understanding emotions and developing and maintaining healthy relationships at work is an unsaid requirement. An EQ test allows to judge a candidate in areas such as intrapersonal intelligence, flexibility, relationship management and self-assertion.
use these tools. Mostly, IT companies and management consulting companies use these assessments. Garment industry, too, is involved in using these tools to select the best candidate for their company. Epic Garments, Must Garments, Wazir Advisors, Triburg, B.L. International, Landmark Group, Trident etc. are some of the companies that use these tests during placements.
There is always a debate about the job roles for which psychometric tests should be conducted. Deepa Sachdev, Principal, Human Capital believes that psychometric tests should be done for all employees, and the size of the company or the level of the position does not matter. “However, there are some restrictions due to which the same test structure cannot be followed for all employees. Different tests will check for different things, thus there is always a need to customise tests according to employee groups.”
Wilson Y.R, Executive Director - Global HR, Epic Group simplifies the weightage of using psychometric tests based on his career level. He says, “When the person is just out of college /trainee, the weightage given to technical tests should be 70 ( Technical):30 (Psychometric). When a person reaches leadership position, it is presumed that he/she is technically competent. And that’s where behavioural competencies become more critical to job performance.”
On the other hand, Satish Naik, Apparel Industry Consultant feels that these tests should be used for higher levels of management at leadership levels. “Domain skills and experience cannot be replaced by the test, especially in our garment industry. It should be used as a guideline only.”
The industry stakeholders hold a mixed reaction on giving these psychometric tests a preference over technical knowledge. Many times, it happens that the candidate is low on psychometric but good at the subject. Being asked about his preference, Satish opined, “I would rather select such a candidate who is sound in his/her subject as, in my field of quality, subject knowledge and experience are more important.”
It is always advised to not treat the overall score as the benchmark. He/she should always be judged on the scores of personality traits that complement the job role. “Candidate’s subject matter understanding should be supported by some additional, positive personality traits, like stability or ability to work hard or team play to succeed in the job,” affirms Deepa.
It should always be considered as one of the input to decide upon a candidate. “If hiring is for mid-management level, assessment should be a combination of the interview assessment with a panel, reference checks, work performance of the candidate (in his previous roles), potential of the person to take on the new assignment, role match and fit, the results of the psychometric test et al.,” believes Wilson.
Echoing the same, J D Giri, Vice President, Shahi Exports says, “For midmanagement and above, behavioural traits play a major role as such positions deal with people management, customer management, conflict resolution, strategic thought process, etc. The value of technical knowledge can be broadly assessed by various organisations that the person has been associated with, key contributions and positions held in the past.”
It is important to note that irrespective of the established reliability and validity, the behavioural profile presented through these tests is only a probability, and one need not assign any certainty to that. It should be used as a preparatory tool prior to the interview, for identifying aspects that need to be probed for clarifications.
“From my experience, these instruments provide additional data for consideration of decisions rather than aiding in ‘objective’ decisions,” explains Ganesh Chidambarakrishnan, Associate Consultant, Flame TAO Knoware.
Supporting Ganesh’s opinion, Wilson presents a different situation where these test results can be superficial. One, the person might not be good at taking up tests. And secondly, the person might have taken up so many tests that he can out beat the test through contrived responses.
According to Ganesh, unless the results are really alarming, psychometric tests should be used as selection tests (with fairness) and not as a means of elimination. “People grow and learn through experience; we cannot dismiss a person because of his past failures. In that case, we would have no entrepreneurs/start-ups,” stated Wilson.
There is no ‘knock-out’ mode in life. We fall and we rise and the cycle goes on. That’s the process of learning and living. – Wilson Y.R, Executive Director – Global HR, Epic Group
Figure 1 : Example of abstract reasoning question