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Everything You Want to Know About Psychometrics (But Were Afraid To Ask!)


It was 444 BC when Empodocles noticed that people seemed to act in 4 distinctly different ways.  Ever since, we’ve been trying to figure out – and predict– how people behave.

For 26 years I’ve used psychometrics to predict performance.  So whether you’re a candidate taking one or an HR professional administering one, here’s everything you need to know about psychometrics.

  • Everybody calls it “psych testing” but the better term is psychometrics, ie, the objective measurement of skills, abilities, attitudes, and personality.
  • Personality doesn’t change much over time. That’s why it’s easily measured.  Personality is pretty stable after age 5 and any parent will tell you that differences in children emerge before then.  So personality manifests early and hangs around for the rest of your life.  It’s robust, durable, measurable and thus predictable.
  • Psychometrics are accurate. A good test does exactly what it’s supposed to do:  measure unchanging psychological traits and tendencies.

There are 231+ studies in the USA and Europe, over 100 years, showing that psychometrics consistently predict job performance extremely well.

So the jury is in, the judge’s opinion is final, no further correspondence need be entered into.  The verdict is official:  psychometrics work well and are 4 times more accurate than interviews in predicting a person’s success at work.  Court is adjourned.

Some trendy employers like Facebook now insist that potential employees have 11-15 interviews.  Candidates at Apple have to endure up to 20 interviews.

It’s supposed to prove how selective– and utterly desirable– they are as employers.

Utter rubbish!

An excessive number of interviews displays publicly an inflated notion of worth, a rudderless hiring process, and deep ignorance as to what they’re seeking.

Without screens and filters, they must rely on attrition and a ‘last-person-standing’ approach when hiring because they lack useful criteria by which to judge accurately who best fits their company (other than very, very patient people).

So rather than illustrate selectivity, it demonstrates incompetence.

Who wants to work for a company that clueless?

  • Prediction, not predestination: Psychometrics don’t pre-determine or predestine anything.    They simply reveal your innate biases (like being right/left-handed).   It’s pretty easy to spot an extraverted person (they’re probably talking to you right now); you don’t need psychometrics for that.

Ahhhh, but the traits that affect your career are much subtler:  how you deploy your attention, how you decide, how you process information, how coachable and critical are you?  These are make or break questions for anybody’s career.  That’s why it pays to measure it.

  • Results do not change according to your mood, time of day, week, month, year, weather, or planetary alignment. Believe me, I’ve re-tested enough people (including myself) over many years and the results are eerily similar.

Just as you don’t stop being right/left-handed, you don’t stop being you when taking a psych test.   Sure, you can try to fake it.  But that’s easily spotted and it just makes for a robust conversation during your feedback session.

  • Not ‘best’ but ‘most appropriate’ test. Some tests are better than others.  All have their uses and purposes; all measure the same thing— personality— but from different angles and with different emphases.  Imagine taking pictures of yourself from different positions and you’ll understand.

There is no best test, only the most appropriate one.  It just depends on what’s being measured and why.

No, no, not Myers-Briggs!  I’ve said for years that while It’s fun and interesting, Myers-Briggs is not commercially useful. Now the world has caught up to me: Why Myers-Briggs Is Totally Useless But Wildly Popular.

  • Never in isolation…blah blah… one piece of the puzzle…blah blah blah.   Uninformed people like to babble about how psychometrics should never be used in isolation.  Well, ‘d’uh!’ says anybody with a lick of common sense.

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That’s the whole bleedin’ point:  you use psychometrics and interviews and reference checks and any other information you can get your hands on (police checks, credit checks, visa status, academic records, etc.) in order to form a complete picture.  That’s how you predict performance.

I’ve never heard, seen or used psychometrics in isolation and no pro practitioner is dopey enough to do so.

You’d have to be a highly
unenlightened employer to use psychometric test results in isolation (yeah, I know, it happens sometimes).

But — dig this— it’s equally foolish to use interviews alone (especially since you’re 4 times more likely to get it wrong) and this occurs commonly, around the world, in most companies daily.

  • It’s really just a highly condensed interview. Given enough time and face-to-face meetings you can capture all the information gained from a psych test.

But who has that kind of time?

Besides, it’s unnecessary.  It’s economically efficient (and just plain smart) to let psychometrics do the heavy lifting for you and elicit the info easily.

Bottom lineThe cost of a mis-hire is 3 x Total Remuneration Package, minimum.

And that, my friends, is what psychometrics is all about:  reducing risk when hiring people by predicting a person’s behaviour before the person is employed.

Good for the candidate; good for the company.psychometric-test-for-recruitment


Dr. Duff Watkins is Director of ExecSearch International and a former psychotherapist.

Other articles by Duff Watkins

Why Top Performers Get Axed

4 Ways To Avoid the Axe

5 Fictions About Recruiters

Predict Performance: how to win your bets on people

How The Job Market Really Works


About Dr. Duff Watkins [www.execsearch.com.au]

international executive search consultant / author-- dispensing career advice about how the job market really works


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