Employers often use psychometric testing to vet potential staff so they can understand a little more about their personality and their ability to fit into the role on offer, and such testing is becoming increasing popular.
Some tests are paper-based, others are computer-administered. Firms might prepare the job and person specifications and then use personality and ability tests on shortlisted candidates; or, they might use the test to help create shortlists in the first place.
Why not just interview?
Recruiting the wrong person can be a very expensive mistake. Conversely, recruiting the right person can transform an organisation for the better.
Some personal characteristics, such as teamworking skills, reasoning ability and personal empathy, are difficult to assess at interview and testing can be a more reliable indicator.
Importantly, psychometric tests can also minimise recruitment bias on the basis of gender, race and disability, and can also allow the interview to be tailored for the individual. In short, these tests can make the recruitment process fairer for the employer and the applicant.
Types of test
1. Ability/aptitude tests
These are designed to assess the skills or knowledge you possess that are important for the job, and they come in many forms. With technical jobs like quantity surveying, they might involve specialist questioning or practical testing. You would probably be told beforehand if this kind of test were to be conducted, so you can prepare by:
- finding out what you will be tested on
- revising for it
- requesting sample questions to look at
- doing practice tests.
Some aptitude tests may assess your potential to learn rather than specific skills. These are usually multiple choice questionnaires, with definite right and wrong answers, and your work is generally timed. The most common types of aptitude tests include:
- numerical tests: these assess your mental agility and how quickly you understand numbers; it may be worth reminding yourself of times tables, percentages, fractions and long division, because you might be asked to complete a sequence of numbers, state the largest fraction or interpret data tables
- verbal tests: these assess how you respond to written text; for example, you may be presented with a paragraph of text and asked to interpret the information
- logical reasoning: such tests assess your ability to reason and spot patterns; you can practise by reading complicated texts about subjects you do not understand, extracting the main points from passages of information and summarising their meaning.
2. Personality and motivation questionnaires
These measure your attitude and work style. They are designed to assess your typical behaviour, preferred way of doing things and how you are likely to respond in various situations. Employers use them to help them find people with characteristics that may be especially suitable for a particular position.
While preparing for these kinds of tests isn’t as straightforward as it is to prepare for the aptitude tests, there are some things you can do to succeed:
- be yourself – you don’t know exactly what qualities the interviewers are seeking, and they may want a variety of different personalities rather than just one profile; personality questionnaires usually test whether or not you are being consistent, so answer as honestly as you can
- put down the answers that immediately spring to mind, rather than spending time pondering their meaning
- do not worry about your answers; your interview and CV also provide important information about you and the test results are just part of the whole, not the be-all and end-all
- as there are no right or wrong answers in personality tests, you can’t revise for them; but to ensure you don’t suffer from last-minute nerves, you can do some practice questionnaires ahead of your interview, which you can find on various websites.
General advice for taking psychometric tests
Regardless of which of the two varieties you’re facing, here are some tips to get the best results:
- if you have a disability and require special provisions, you should contact the employer in advance
- inform the administrator if you are on medication that makes you drowsy
- get a good night's sleep the evening before the test, and plan to arrive in good time, with a positive frame of mind
- read the questions carefully
- the test may have some practice questions at the start, so make sure you understand these thoroughly before the test itself begins; if you do not, ask the administrator to explain them
- if you get stuck on a question, move on to the next one; however, don’t abandon a question prematurely, if a few extra seconds could mean you solve it
- if you change your answer, make sure your final choice is clear
- if you are not sure of an answer, put down your best guess and move on; however, avoid wild guessing, especially if marks are taken off for wrong answers
- ask for feedback on your test results; even if you are not hired, it can be useful to learn a bit more about yourself and how you come across to others, and asking demonstrates that you consider their tests to be important and useful.