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Does the science behind psychometric tests stack up?

Psychometric testing in recruitment is nothing new and is highly prominent in executive search but is also widely used when selecting candidates for promotions, graduate positions and where there are a high volume of applicants.
For those that use them there is a clear believe that they bring a certain level of objectivity when selecting and judging candidates that interviewing alone cannot offer.
When psychometric tests get it right it is easy to see why more than 75% of The Times Best Companies to Work For and 80% of Fortune 500 firms use them. They can offer a means of supporting managers by increasing their self-awareness, reducing unconscious biases and
filtering large numbers of candidates and amounts of information in a short period of time.
However, when psychometric tests get it wrong the consequences can be widely felt as in the case of the former Chairman of the Co-operative Bank, Reverend Paul Flowers. After a large scandal MPs heard through evidence given to the Treasury Select Committee, being held regarding the matter, that although Flowers, a former Methodist minister, had little experience in banking when he was appointed in 2010 he was indeed appointed to the senior banking role after “He did very well in the psychometric tests.”
So, could psychometrics really be to blame for one of the country’s most high profile and misjudged appointments? Many believe the answer to be a resounding yes as they should have highlighted that Flowers had a tendency towards extreme risk taking and was therefore clearly unsuitable for his role.

So, have businesses become too reliant on psychometric testing for recruitment and ultimately, does the science support their case or undermine it?
The latest evidence highlights that 81% of those using psychometric tools expected to make more reliable and less risky decisions and 57% believed psychometrics could help predict future performance.
These results highlight that many are using them and believing the unscientific claims made to make decisions rather than only to inform decision making, which is their goal.
Ultimately, anyone can misinterpret data from a single tool to fit their own narrative if they want and many believe that you can do this with tests such as Myers Briggs and this can lead to candidates ‘playing’ to the results and exaggerating a particular side of themselves.
Also, many believe that the psychometric test must only be used as part of a suite of tools and HR practices and no single tool should be used in isolation and the data should only be utilised to ask better questions of the candidate and to probe deeper.

One of the most controversial and widely used tests is the century-old Myers-Briggs (MBTI) who some say has as much scientific validity as your astrological sign.
It is hard to understand how a psychometric test devised by two housewives with no formal training in psychology and who based the test on the totally untested theories of Swiss
psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung who himself warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed rather than strict classifications, has become one of the world’s most utilised psychometric tests.
Despite this and the fact that as many as 50 per cent of people get different results when they take the test for a second time after a five week gap, still around two million people take the MBTI test every year and is used by organisations as an essential tool in
determining whether a job candidate is a good fit for a company, earning the company that produces the test about $20 million each year.
Top names such as General Motors and Procter & Gamble have admitted to using the test on employees, however according to many top psychologists it shouldn’t be used in recruitment at all.

Why?
Well, the test is certainly based on outdated science and lacks both reliability and validity.
The study of personality has come a long way and has superseded that of Jung and the test offers vague descriptions that have huge amounts of overlap, so many people could fit into several of them.
This is called the Forer Effect and is a technique long used by purveyors of astrology, fortune telling and other sorts of pseudoscience to persuade people they have accurate information about them.
However, the main reason you should not use the use the Myers Briggs test for making hiring decision is that it isn’t predictive of job performance. Studies have consistently demonstrated that the test fails to predict job performance in any meaningful way and the MBTI’s publisher itself explicitly discourages its use as a pre-employment test. The guidelines put out by the Myers & Briggs Foundation very clearly state that “it is not ethical to use the MBTI instrument for hiring or for deciding job assignments.” This is because the test is not predictive of job performance and lacks the validity of many other professionally developed and validated employment personality tests.
Ultimately, the key thing we can learn is that we can use psychometric testing to help with parts of the recruitment process, such as filtering out unsuitable candidates or as a help to identifying the best candidates, however they should only ever be used as a wider recruitment strategy and never used to solely pick the candidate.

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