Are psychometric tests a good way to recruit leaders?

Published on: 19 Mar 2015

Psychometric tests have long been used as part of the interview process but these type of assessments were put firmly under the full glare of the spotlight last year when it transpired that Paul Flowers, 'disgraced' former chairman at the Co-operative bank, excelled in such a test.

An article in the Financial Times, titled How to cheat a psychometric test, discussed the subject. 'Mr Flowers, a former Methodist minister, excelled in a psychometric test - which assesses personality, numeracy and verbal skills - when he applied for the position three years ago. But his subsequent failings raise questions. Did Mr Flowers distort the scores by faking the right answers? And are psychometric tests accurate indicators of performance?'

The short answer to that is yes, if used as part of the interview or selection process.

Psychometric tests measure a candidate's strengths and weaknesses and employment suitability, including the individual's fit with the company. They are designed to gauge an individual's attitude, personality, intelligence, motivation, emotions and reactions in a range of varying work place scenarios.

Psychometric testing may also help to provide an insight to how candidates respond under pressure - particularly in the instance of a timed test - how innovative they might be, their leadership judgement, their decision making, their penchant for taking risks, their creativity and vision.

There are two main types of psychometric tests.

Aptitude tests are designed to assess your logical thinking. These are often multiple choice questions, testing spelling and grammar, basic arithmetic and problem solving.

Personality questionnaires tap into your psyche by asking a series of questions and statements; your answers will reveal details of your personality. There aren't any right or wrong answers and trying to second guess the answers that the hiring company are looking for is counter-productive.

In answer to that question posed by the FT, yes, you can cheat a psychometric test. But that might be successful in the short term and less so in the longer term, for two reasons.

Firstly, in answer to a question asking whether you like taking risks, can you be sure which response the potential employer favours?

Secondly, selecting answers which are not reflective of your personality could cause problems in the future if you actually secured the position. The hiring company might have expected a risk-taking, bold strategist to lead their business, whereas the candidate might be more of a pragmatic thinker. Congratulations - you've got the job. The problem is, further down the line you - and your employers - realise you weren't a good fit.

Don't use psychometric tests in isolation but as part of the wider interview. If the tests are properly designed, with questions targeted to the specific requirements of the job, the results provide something more quantifiable and measurable than just going on instinct of the interviewer. There's no real substitute for meeting someone face to face and evaluating them in person, but psychometric testing, conducted side by side to the interview, can be a real asset.

At executive level, assume all candidates will have impressive CVs with broadly similar amounts of relevant experience. It's a reasonable guess that all candidates will interview pretty well too - after all, these are seasoned managers who are more than comfortable in this environment. Psychometric testing can give a crucial insight into the most suitable candidates.

When companies are looking for high-calibre candidates their margin of error can be very tight indeed. These are positions for the very best and the wrong decision might have serious consequences for the company, not least financially and in terms of the resource involved in then finding a replacement.

Making a bad hire literally costs and so any tool which reduces the chances of a poor decision is to be endorsed.