11. Psychometric and aptitude tests

The term ‘psychometric testing’ encompasses anything from abstract reasoning, verbal reasoning to other sorts of IQ-type tests but, for most interviews, it is used to refer to personality tests such as Myers Briggs or Belbin Tests can be carried out under supervised exam conditions, though candidates are often allowed to take them online from home at a suitable time.

11.1 - Nature and purpose of psychometric tests

Tests consist of a series of multiple-choice questions (anything from 10 to over 100). Questions may refer to certain traits of your personality or behaviours. They are used to identify the candidate's personality in terms of anxiety, sociability, assertiveness, leadership skills or evidence of being extrovert or introverted. They assess the stable and enduring characteristics that distinguish them from other people and make them unique, but still permit a comparison between individuals.

Once the questionnaire has been completed, a report is issued to the organisation. In some cases, the results are analysed by an occupational psychologist or other competent assessor, and may be followed up by an interview with that assessor to validate the results of the test.

Psychometric testing can provide a strong insight into the strengths and weaknesses of particular candidates, and can sometimes be extremely accurate at extracting their true nature. They enable employers to determine whether a candidate is likely to fit both within the team and the job that is being advertised and to identify specific issues which may need to be investigated further. For example, an employer may be looking for an individual who has the ability to develop services, can show strong leadership and work both independently and with others. A candidate's test may reveal that he has those abilities but that he can sometimes appear too driven and slightly inflexible, sometimes at the expense of their relationship with others. Confronted with such results, the organisation may wish to probe further into how that candidate handles conflicts and supports others in his/her team.

Examples of psychometric questions

  1. What do you enjoy the most?
  • Thinking about what is in the unknown
  • Doing practical things that have a tangible result
  1. What irritates you most about other people?
  • When they are dogmatic about their strong, personal beliefs
  • When they keep imposing rules on other people
  1. What gives you most satisfaction?
  • Challenging the status quo, to shake things up a bit
  • Reviewing my own experiences and knowledge
  1. What is most comfortable for you?
  • Comforting other people who feel hurt or upset
  • Forming my own explanations of how things work
  1. Which of the following is most like you?
  • Strong and determined
  • Enthusiastic and friendly
  • Caring and sharing
  • Questioning and careful
  1. Which of the following is least like you?
  • Jolly and companionable
  • Reliable and warm
  • Objective and principled
  • Certain and dominant

11.2 - How psychometric tests are used

Some organisations do not use psychometric tests for recruitment purposes but simply use the report to determine how to best involve the new recruit in the team i.e. it is more a management tool than a recruitment tool. This may be the case in departments where there is flexibility with regard to job plan or the type of teams and colleagues that the candidate can interact with i.e. mainly in larger organisations.

Others use the report as an additional piece of feedback to help with the final selection process.

Others still use the report to direct the questioning at the interview. In such cases, candidates may be asked different questions depending on the nature of the test's results. For example, a candidate who is reported to be a good team player but not very driven may face more questions on leadership and initiative than other candidates. On the other hand, a candidate who is reported to be a good leader and strong achiever, but at the expense of personal relationships, may face more questions on how to support colleagues, deal with underperformance, conflict or pressure.

11.3 - Can you cheat the system?

Bluntly speaking, there is nothing you can do to prepare for psychometric tests and it is impossible to cheat the system. Indeed, there is no right or wrong answer to any questions asked for the simple reason that you do not know exactly what type of personality the company is looking for. Perhaps the team you are about to join is full of egos and conflicts and they are looking for someone who can build bridges. Perhaps the team is full of people who are plodding along and they are looking for an enthusiastic person who can develop new ideas. Often, they don’t actually know exactly what they are looking for and it boils down very much to “Let' see what we get and if we like it.”

As such, by trying to second-guess what you feel they want to hear, you run the risk of presenting an image that is totally different to the real you. If you second-guess incorrectly, you will not be given the job. If you second guess correctly, you may end up with a job that does not suit your personality. In addition, psychometric tests often contain validation questions which are designed to cross-reference your answers to detect if you are being consistent. By pretending to be someone else, you may well end up coming across as inconsistent, which is not an attractive trait of personality to anyone.

In conclusion, it is always best to answer the questions truthfully. If the job is the right fit for your personality you will most likely pass that hurdle easily. Telling the truth will also make it easier at the interview when your answers will be cross-referenced with the test results.