Testing, testing – what should today’s executive make of psychometric tests?

Written by: James Dunne
Published on: 14 Feb 2016

    Many years ago I experienced my first psychometric test.  It was, to put it mildly, not impressive. Then, at the risk of being immodest, my second was carried out by the person who’d done the testing for the first Britain to go into space (Helen Sharman, not Tim Peake).  Not only was he a fully paid-up occupational psychologist, he also took me through my answers and explained how it all worked. Crucially, he told me that although it’s all clever stuff and would be able to work out if I’d told any porkies or was likely to steal the spoons, it’s not the be all and end all. Lots of other factors, principally the main interview, would count for far more and the test was just to make sure I was ‘a good fit’.  I got the job.

    There are almost as many opinions on psychometric tests as there are types of test. You may be familiar with the likes of Myers Briggs which claim to reveal personality types (what colour are you?) or the popular SHL tests or PeopleClues, but what do these tests actually do for you – the executive who wants to get on and develop his or her career?

    Most people think of psychometric tests as something they experience when they go for a job interview.  They are frequently used at senior level for this purpose and there’s not much you can do if you turn up and find you’re in line for one, other than smile and submit yourself – and hope that you are within the parameters required.  Of course, if you don’t think they have any value then you may be relaxed about the whole thing, but remember that the hiring company has probably paid a lot of money to administer these tests and they are unlikely to be doing so if they think they are useless.

    At a very senior level, you may well go through a full-blown assessment centre, with in-tray exercises and a host of emergencies foisted upon you to see your reactions. All in all, these can be stressful (I know – I’ve been there!), but again, companies won’t be going to the expense of arranging these if they don’t value them.

    Everything about these tests has been designed to make it difficult for anyone to try to game the system.  However, I’d suggest that there is something that any ambitious executive who wants to go to the top can do which may help.  Rather than accepting that psychometric tests are something that you only come up against in interview situations, you can go to one of the many career/leadership development companies (there are many of them in the exec-appointments.com Twitter following*) and most will include some form of psychometric testing as part of their coaching and career guidance. 

    A good leadership coach will help you look beyond your CV and give deeper insights than you’d get from any performance review. You’ll come away with a better idea of your emotional intelligence (which is very much flavour of the month with many HR/recruiters), as well as a better understanding of how others perceive your personality, cognitive abilities, attitude and engagement styles. Armed with this, you can not only improve your performance and standing in your current workplace, but you’ll also be able to cite it on your CV and use this to help get you a better job in the future.

    James Dunne, the peripatetic exec.

    * this is not an endorsement of any specific firm, of course!