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What is Psychometrics? How Assessments Help Make Hiring Decisions

Profile of a human head split into four multi-colored sections and icons and the text Psychometric Psychology.

Psychometrics – coined from the Greek words for mental and measurement – refers to the field in psychology devoted to testing, measurement, assessment and related activities. The psychometrics field looks at the theory and technique of psychological measurement, which quantifies knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Research scientists – also called psychometricians – create scientifically valid and reliable instruments (such as questionnaires and tests) to collect data and provide a quantitative measure. Today, many employers use tests based on psychometric principles to serve as both pre-hire screening tools and to align existing employees to job roles most suitable for their personality type. Up to 70% of prospective employees complete personality tests for major companies, such as McDonald's and Lowe's, according to an article published by the APA.

What Can Be Measured in a Psychometric Test?

Jim Naro and the text Jim Naro.There are several different types of psychometric tests that can be used to assess your academic achievement, job-related skills, attitudes toward people, and the degree to which you can tackle the demands of a job, according to James Naro '85MBA, a sales leadership and talent optimization consultant for The Naro Group and adjunct business instructor at Southern New Hampshire University, who recently spoke about psychometrics at a Business Indicator Series alumni event on the SNHU campus.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) describes the different tests employers might use to screen or place employees.

  • Cognitive tests – While the most common type of cognitive test is an IQ test, others evaluate a person's verbal and mathematical abilities and reasoning capabilities. These tests help hiring managers measure your ability to do a specific job. They measure your proficiency in a specific knowledge or skill area relative to a given population, measuring what you have achieved or learned through prior formal education, training or instruction.
  • Personality tests – These tests attempt to measure aspects of a prospective employee's personality, such as attitude, emotional adjustment and motivations.
  • Aptitude tests – Will you be able to do the job if hired? Aptitude tests provide information about your ability to cope with future job requirements. It measures your ability to both acquire and apply a skill. Employers might use these types of psychometric assessments to measure your ability to learn a new language, manage people or master computer code, for example. One popular type of aptitude test is known as a personality test. Personality tests look at your management style, how you react to colleagues, your ability to cope with stress, and your decision-making ability, for example.

What Methods Can Be Used?

Most assessment methods fall into one of three categories: observational methods, projective techniques or personality inventories.

  • Observation (watching what people do) is one method of carrying out research in psychology. However, there are different types of observational methods, which include controlled observations, naturalistic observations, and participant observations, according to Simply Psychology.
  • In controlled observations, the researcher decides where the observation will take place, at what time, with which participants, in what circumstances and uses a standardized procedure.
  • Naturalistic observation involves observing the spontaneous behavior of participants in their natural surroundings. The researcher simply records what they see in whatever way they can.
  • Participant observation is a variant of natural observation, but in this type of observation the researcher joins in and becomes part of the group they are studying to get a deeper insight into their lives.
  • Projective techniques include personality assessments in which you offer responses to ambiguous scenes, words or images. One of the most common projective assessments is the Rorschach inkblot test. Developed in 1921 by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, this psychological test involves interpretation of inkblots to analyze a person’s personality and emotional functioning. It was originally developed as a tool to help diagnose schizophrenia. The Rorschach is a problem-solving task that provides a picture of the psychology of the person taking it, and some level of understanding the person’s past and future behavior, according to PsychCentral
  • Personality inventories are self-assessment tools that career counselors and hiring managers can use to help reveal participants’ personality types. These tests can provide information about your social traits, motivations, strengths and weaknesses and attitudes. Many career experts believe these factors play an important role in job and career success and satisfaction, according to The Balance Careers. You can also use a personality inventory to gain a better understanding of your own strengths and suitability to perform certain job roles.

Personality Tests You Might Encounter in the Hiring Process

There are a variety of personality inventories on the market designed to provide employers with different information. While some are geared towards self-discovery, others serve as assessments that help employers match the right people to specific job roles. Because it costs companies time and money when they make a “bad” hire, personality tests can be used to help determine whether you match well with a company or can carry out the duties in a given job, said Naro.

“Personality tests can help predict in advance how well a position matches someone’s personal drive or how it can help them make changes,” he said.

Below are a few popular personality tests that you might encounter in the hiring process.

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): Are you an introvert or an extrovert? One of the most well-known personality inventories, the MBTI was developed by Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers based on Carl Jung's theory of personality type. It looks at the 16 personality types that indicate how you prefer to energize, perceive information, make decisions and live your life. According to the Myers Briggs Foundation, the MBTI instrument is not intended as a tool to use for hiring or for deciding job assignments. However, about 80% of new hires at Fortune 500 companies have been given the MBTI in the past decade, and countless other companies use it as part of the actual employee selection process, reported Forbes.
  • The Caliper Profile measures how an individual's personality traits correlate to his or her job performance, according to Top Resume. The test is made up of a few different types of questions. The most common type presents you with a series of statements, and your task is to decide which statement best aligns with your viewpoint. There are also questions that require you to identify the statements that least reflect your point of view. The Caliper Profile differs from other personality tests in that it examines both positive and negative qualities, giving hiring managers a full picture of a candidate.
  • The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, also referred to as the 16PF, was developed in 1949 by psychologist Raymond Cattell, who identified 16 traits that we all have in varying degrees, like warmth and tension, according to Forbes. The 170 questions on the test differ from other personality assessments in that they ask how you might react to a certain situation you might encounter on the job. Employers might use this assessment to gauge how likely you are to finish tasks through completion or how well you handle high-stress situations.
  • The Predictive Index (PI) asks you to select from a series of adjectives to uncover your personality based upon how you would describe yourself and how others might see you. PI looks at factors such as dominance, extraversion, patience, formality and objectivity to give employers an idea of how well an employee might match a specific job, said Naro. Businesses can use PI not only as part of the interview process, but to align their business strategy to their hiring strategy.

    “Research has shown that behavior requirements are tightly tied to how well someone performs in a job,” Naro said. “Assessments can determine if you are able to do a job, will you do the job, will you do it for a long time and will you do it well.”

Using psychometrics, employers can gain a greater understanding of how candidates’ personalities might present the best fit for their workforce. At the same time, candidates can use personality assessments to uncover their strengths and discover what jobs they are best suited to perform.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11G is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn

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