Want the Job? First you’ll have to pass this test.

psychometricsHow would you describe the hiring process? Intuitive? Personal? Subjective?

What about technical or scientific?

The next time you switch roles or companies, you might be surprised. You might be asked to take a personality or aptitude test. More and more, the recruitment industry is looking to ‘big data’ to help legitimize the hiring process – and to get it right – through talent measurement tools called ‘psychometrics’.  And critics are pushing back: can science really claim to hold a crystal ball on how you’ll actually do the job?

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘psychometrics’ (literally, mind-mapping), try these on: Meyer Briggs, Birkman Method, Disc, EQi, StrengthsFinder, Kolbe, Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Sounding familiar? A reportedly $2-to-4billion dollar industry says if you haven’t heard of psychometrics, you soon will.

Here’s the crash course: psychometrics are tests used by recruiters to help filter through mountains of resumes and identify ‘best fit’ individuals throughout the hiring process. There are two main types of psychometrics:

1)   Personality tests: these measure your own way of doing things, like the way you interact with your surroundings and deal with people.

2)   Aptitude tests: these measure more specific areas of ability: problem solving, communication skills, calculations.

In practice, psychometric tests are designed to help HR professionals measure the kind of skills you won’t find on a resume – like leadership or your ability to handle stress – against their insider-knowledge of what’s deemed “ideal” for the team, the company and the job.

Such tests (and the use of them to screen applicants) are also highly controversial. For one there is the question of accuracy: can someone’s personality truly be measured and predicted? And then there is a question of honesty: is it possible to cheat? Could an applicant ‘game’ their results by picking best-perceived answers?

A recent Economist article dubbed Emotional Breakdown reports that the world’s largest executive search firm, Korn/Ferry, thinks its “blue-chip clients are convinced of [their] test’s efficacy.” The tests used by Korn/Ferry assess candidates for four “leadership styles”: task-focused, social, intellectual and participative. Results are then compared against “the best talent already working in the position for which they are applying.”

But the article also says that “touchy-feely traits such as personality, leadership potential and ‘emotional intelligence’…are hard to measure.” Nik Kinley, co-author of a forthcoming book on the subject, Talent Intelligence, thinks, “Tests that purport to do so are as likely to mislead as to inform.”

Blogger Sukh Pabial at Thinking on Learning wants to calm fears about psychometrics. He suggests they’ve got a “bum rap” due to poor user-experiences – the process or goal wasn’t explained properly or there was no feedback given. And, in terms of potential cheats, Pabial argues that psychometric tests have “all gone through quite rigorous testing and development which allows the facilitator a degree of confidence that they’re going to help.”

At the end of the process, Pabial says a recruiter will understand something about a person better. “In and of themselves, psychometrics are designed to provide insights on quite specific things. They’re not meant as a one size fits all.”

In this sense, personality testing is just one tool amongst many in the recruiter’s toolbox. Your “score” is rarely the only factor influencing a decision on whether or not you’ll move forward or get the job.  In my experience, the hiring field is looking for ways to answer the  growing trend for candidate authenticity – not trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, so to speak. Sure, you’ve got the on-paper skills for the job, but will the role be a second skin or will it just end up causing you angst?

So what do you think? In your last job search, did you write a test? How did you feel about it? Did you believe in the process and its ability to assess your fit for the role? Or, were you offended?

In our next post, we’ll share our top 3 reasons you shouldn’t dismiss psychometric testing and share our guide on what tests you might encounter, how they work and what they’re looking to measure.