The Psychometric Job Interview

Psychometric testing is increasingly becoming part of the interview process in both the public and private sectors, with a reported 95% of FTSE companies and 75% of medium and large organisations using them.

These structured tests, designed by psychologists, provide employers with valid and reliable results on a candidate’s abilities or personality traits and provide a fairer, more standard selection process.

There are two types of psychometric tests – Ability tests and Personality tests.

Ability tests can cover technical skills, numeric reasoning and/ or word skills. These tests are strictly timed. Personality tests however, are not timed and have no “right” or “wrong” answers but different personality traits are suitable for different roles (for example,  a sales person would ideally score highly on the extraversion scale).

One of the most commonly used personality tests is the OCEAN personality test which measures characteristics on the followingscales:

  • Openness – (inventive / curious vs. cautious / conservative.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient / organized vs. easy-going /careless).
  • Extroversion – (outgoing / energetic vs. shy / withdrawn).
  • Agreeableness – (friendly / compassionate vs. competitive / outspoken
  • Neuroticism – (sensitive / nervous vs. secure /confident).

There are numerous tests on the internet that you can google to have a practice if you suspect that you may be required to sit one of these tests in an interview. Personality tests can’t really be practiced but many people become unstuck on the ability tests simply due to the timed element of such tests.

Click here for examples of timed ability tests.

Microphone in hand, we asked a senior HR Manager in the private sector how these were applied in a large organisation:

Would you use psychometric tests as part of an interview procedure? If so, for which type of vacancies?

Ability Testing – We tend to use verbal and numerical reasoning for Senior Management positions.  The ones we use are the hardest ones as they are measured against  other senior managers. We do expect a high score and most of our managers would be scoring in the top 10% and if they weren’t, we’d look more closely at them in terms of their level of intellect.  We also use Ability tests for technical vacancies – mechanical/spatial ability etc.
Personality Testing – We also use personality profiling for senior management recruitment and may also use them for internal promotions.  Personality profiling is far more subjective and is used to start further discussions relating to the candidate’s personality traits that would not necessarily come up through the usual interview process.

Do  you use psychometric testing as an ongoing career development tool?

Not really although this is probably a better use of them.  We can and have used profiling tests that show career aspirations and ideal job fits, as well as ones that can help ascertain learning preferences (i.e. how is it best for you to absorb information).  We have also administered some limited 360 appraisals, which calls for a manager’s direct reports to complete questionnaires (confidentially).  This should show management style, weaknesses and strengths, and ensure that the manager’s view is similar to that of his direct reports.

How reliable and valid do you consider psychometric tests? Can you spot the “socially desirable answers” that someone may give?

Ability tests are fully valid as they are completely objective, providing that what you are trying to measure is relevant – i.e. does someone need to score in the top 10% in numerical reasoning for a marketing role?

Personality profiling is far more subjective and is only about 70% accurate.  This is why anyone interpreting these tests must be qualified and on the register with the British Psychological Society.  There should always be two way feedback on all personality profiling so that the comments shown can be validated with real examples to show they are accurate or not.  I would never share a document with others in the interview process, but would verbally summarise what the profile and my in-depth feedback meeting had discovered.   Any psychometric testing should only be used to validate or expand on areas already established during the interview process and are not the ‘be all and end all’.  There are indicators in all personality profiling that show if someone has answered in a way to show themselves in a better light, faked “good” answers, or have a disproportionate number of ‘middle’ answers.  This is another reason for an in depth discussion.  This is another area of conflict during the interview process as the whole point as a candidate is to show yourself in a good light!

So, there is not much you can do to prepare for psychometric personality testing except be aware of the traits that would be desirable for the role that you are being interviewed for, and be prepared to back those up with real life examples in the interview.  Once you have landed the job however, you may still be expected to complete psychometric tests throughout your career. So,be sure to take the time every now and then to practice timed ability tests!


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