Psychometric Testing: What Is It, and What Does It Measure?

Finding the right fit for an open position is no easy task - while interviews and references can give you a good idea of who a candidate is, they aren't surefire ways to predict how they'll perform on the job. In The Black estimates that costs for bad recruitment can total 150 to 300 per cent of an employee's annual salary, climbing well over $1 million for executive roles. As a result, more organisations are adding psychometric testing, a means of measuring cognitive abilities and personality traits, to the recruitment process. International news site The Conversation reported in 2012 that  92 per cent of employers surveyed in the UK saw psychometric testing as an important tool for recruitment, and 69 per cent Australian human resource managers believed it was a valuable tool that could lead to improved performance. Last year, a different survey showed that 40 per cent of Australian professionals saw an increase in psychometric testing as part of the hiring process. It appears psychometric testing is here to stay, so here's what you need to know:

Psychometric tests measure individuals' personality and cognitive abilities and evaluate the extent to which the candidates' results match with the required traits and abilities for a particular role. The Institute of Psychometric Coaching defines the prime objectives of PT as distinguishing whether a candidate: (1) can do the job; (2) will do the job; and (3) will fit in with the workplace culture. The University of New South Wales has helpfully broken down psychometric assessments into 6 broad categories: Personality, Ability, Aptitude, Motivation/Values, Interest/Beliefs, and Integrity. The Personality, Ability/Aptitude, and Motivation/Values tests are most commonly employed when trying to predict future performance or "fit" within a company.

Personality Inventories

These tests provide insight to how candidates might behave in certain situations, and are used by psychologists to develop a profile that can be compared to that of your organisation's ideal candidate. Personality tests will measure things like how a candidate works in teams, their individual work style, and emotional intelligence. The questions are usually vague, prompting candidates to respond with their first instinct or "gut reaction." Personality tests tend to be un-timed, as there are no "right" answers. A sample question may look like the following (taken from the UNSW website):

I prefer things...

(a) confirmed   (b) pencilled in   (c) flexible

Ability/Aptitude Assessments

Ability/aptitude assessments come in three main types: verbal reasoning, abstract reasoning, and numerical reasoning. While one would expect a finance professional to encounter numerical reasoning tests as part of a hiring process, verbal and abstract reasoning tests may actually be more useful, as they show a candidates' ability to analyse written and visual information - something that can be difficult to do during an interview. The questions are typically short, in multiple choice or short answer form, where there is one clear correct answer. A verbal reasoning test may present a short passage and ask the candidate to provide definitions or answer True/False statements, whereas numerical and abstract reasoning tests will present charts, graphs, or data and ask for some analysis.

Motivation/Values Assessments

The motivation/values assessment is used to determine which aspects of work are most important for a candidate, to ensure they will be enthusiastic and motivated within a given role. These tests tend to be short, and will ask the candidate about their preferred work style, environment, professional development path, and management style if relevant. Candidates may be asked to rank the importance of things like financial reward, autonomy, and creativity, or they might be presented with a series of statements and asked to which extent they agree. A sample question may look like the following (taken from the UNSW website):

Rate each of the following in terms of their importance to you in performing your work using the following scale:

Not at all important -- 1 2 3 4 5 -- Extremely important

Financial reward

Friendly colleagues



Career advancement

Psychometric testing is a great way to add an objective component to a hiring process while increasing the chances that a chosen candidate will perform well within their new role. Stay tuned for our next blog post, where we'll explain how to maximise the benefits of PT for recruitment.