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Shining a spotlight on psychometric tests
LIKE it or not, most people would have experienced some form of psychometric testing at work.
Call it a glorified personality quiz or pseudo-science if you like, but scepticism over its accuracy and effectiveness through the years has not put a dent on its popularity.
Companies that dismiss it outright might be missing out on a tool that could enhance HR processes and improve workplace relations, say experts.
BT examines some ways companies are using psychometric testing at work, while bearing in mind its limitations.
Gaming the system
The vast array of tests can be mind-boggling, with the most recognised ones focusing on candidates' abilities (such as critical reasoning, verbal and numerical competency), aptitude and personality.
"Increasingly, we are seeing a greater demand for tests that relate to values, resilience, leadership and situational judgment," observes Leow Hsueh Huah, managing director of Kosh Consulting Group.
There are also tests that are function-specific, such as for sales or marketing roles.
David Jones, senior managing director of Asia Pacific, Robert Half, explains that it is often used for jobs that require interaction for customers such as private wealth management, consulting or sales, as personality traits are considered an important part of a candidate's potential to succeed.
The cost for such tests is similarly varied and can range from zero to more than a grand, depending on the role and the extensiveness of testing required.
As such, HR companies observe that the use of psychometric testing is more frequent in larger corporations rather than smaller SMEs.
"Companies using these tests often apply them to senior positions that require a specialised skills set. For junior roles that involve a lower level of skills compared to senior positions, an interview is likely to be sufficient to assess a candidate," says Mr Jones.
One concern often raised is the possibility of candidates exaggerating or faking their results.
Lynne Roeder, managing director of Hays Singapore, says that while it is not a foolproof way of assessing one's capabilities, these tests are often designed to weed out untruths and provide a fairly accurate baseline.
Likewise, Mr Leow points out that all good instruments embed questions that detect the extent to which candidates give socially desirable responses.
In addition, different companies look for different qualities, so it might be tricky or pointless to try to "game the system".
For example, a company might want to hire a salesperson who is results-driven and yet a team player, rather than a results-driven person that is aggressive and dominant. In this case, second-guessing what the companies want can backfire.
Chevron case study
Psychometric tests may be most prevalent in recruitment, but they can also be used as part of a company's talent development and team building plans.
Energy company Chevron has taken it one step further by integrating psychometric testing into its daily business activities and organisational culture.
Just three years ago, Chevron started using E-Colors - a personality diversity indicator developed by Equilibria Services Limited - in the International Products business unit of eight of their key markets in Asia Pacific, South Africa and the Middle East.
Using the E-Colors process, employees can be identified by their primary and secondary colors, with a maximum of 12 E-Color combinations.
The traits of the four different E-Colors are: Red - doer and director, Green - thinker and analyser, Yellow - influencer and socialiser and Blue - relater and supporter.
Through this means of testing, Chevron says each employee is able to heighten self-awareness of their own communication style, behavioural tendencies, strengths and potential limiters.
They are then able to make conscious choices in their interactions and select the right approach for the right situation.
As an indication of how deeply it has been entrenched in the company's culture, employees even have their E-Colors in their e-mail signatures. This comes in handy when meeting new colleagues as they get a sense of their personality traits.
With psychometric tests there is always the danger of stereotypes, but Chevron says it tries to mitigate this by proper training and having a code of ethics in place.
Some no-nos include implying that one E-Color combination is better than another, and filling positions or granting promotions based on E-Colors. It is also no excuse to shirk work responsibilities, unfair work allocation or unacceptable behaviour.
Employees are not forced to take the E-Colors test or display their results if they do not want to.
Overall, Chevron says such awareness has led to improved relationships between supervisors and direct reports, and greater diversity of thought.
Based on the company's internal qualitative research from 2013-2015, 90 per cent of colleagues believe that having such a system drives business performance.
Jury's still out
Ultimately, while psychometric tests may predict personality tendencies, they do not take into account a host of other factors such as character, personal beliefs, values and moods.
Therefore, psychometric tests - no matter how valid or reliable - cannot be used in isolation for decision-making, especially when it comes to recruitment, talent-spotting and promotions.
They are, at best, a complementary tool to traditional techniques such as interviews, reference checks and evaluations of past performance, says Foo Chek Wee, HR director of Zalora.
He explains that the usefulness of such tests lies not in the tools themselves, but rather in how they are leveraged during and after the tests are completed.
"A psychometric test done in a one-off team-building exercise may lead to greater understanding of individuals. But if that understanding has no committed follow-up actions, the investment of time and money on the test stays and ends at the activity," points out Mr Foo.