This site is intended for health professionals only

The science of recruitment

4 December 2014

Share this article

Recruitment is a tricky business. How can you be sure someone who performs well in an interview will perform well in a job? How can you be sure they have all the right skills and abilities? How can you be sure they’ll fit into the culture of your practice and work well with the rest of your team? 

The truth is, you can’t be sure. Not completely. But by using one or more of the numerous psychometric tests on the market, you can make a more informed decision.


What are psychometrics?

A psychometric is a questionnaire or test that measures a specific aptitude or personality trait. The results are given as numerical data so that you can compare candidates directly along with more detailed description which might reveal areas that need development for instance.

Psychometrics are useful not just when recruiting but also for individual development, team performance, cultural fit, leadership development, 360 degree reviews and so on.


Why use psychometric tests?

Psychometric tests are useful because they give you an objective measure of a person’s innate qualities. Without them it’s difficult to judge these important aspects of personality, aspects that are likely to be critical to successful job performance. It’s about bringing a scientific approach to recruitment rather than relying on guesswork or instinct.

Whether you need a good team player or a strategic thinker or a strong leader, all of these qualities can be measured through psychometric testing.


Which psychometric test should you choose?

There are hundreds of tests on the market, measuring a wealth of different abilities and personality traits. They can be grouped into two broad categories – ability and personality. Here’s a guide to the sorts of things you can measure using psychometrics:


Ability tests

Numerical tests measure whether someone is good with numbers and figures. Useful for any role where you need good mathematical skills, such as budget control or purchasing.

Verbal tests measure whether someone is good with words, from basic literacy to dealing with detailed and complex information. Useful for any role where you need to deal with lots of information, such as contracts or policies.

Spatial/inductive reasoning tests measure whether someone is good at spotting patterns and visualising spatial relations in information. Useful for roles where it is important have the knack for quickly seeing connections between different things.

Critical thinking tests measure thinking skills needed for problem-solving and decision-making, such as evaluating an argument correctly, spotting assumptions and drawing the right conclusions from information. Useful for managerial roles where you would need to be able to see through complexity and make the right decisions.

Situational judgement tests measure whether someone will respond to a particular situation in the right way, and how someone uses their experience to determine what to do. Useful for any level and type of role, this test is a good indicator of behaviour including the ability to delegate and manage a team.

Personality questionnaires

Cultural fit questionnaires measure the type of environment someone likes working in, such as busy or fast-paced. Useful for making sure someone will function well in your environment.

Personality questionnaires measure where someone falls on a scale of personality type for example conscientiousness. Useful for indicating how someone will perform in a role.

Strengths questionnaires measure what people are energised by and what they enjoy doing. Useful for indicating performance levels and engagement.

To choose the right one you first have a clear sense of what you’re looking for in your candidate, and therefore what you need the psychometric to measure, before you start the recruitment process. 

For instance, you might be looking for someone to take on a strategic role. They’ll need mental horsepower, the ability to deal with complex information, the ability to make decisions and to communicate those decisions effectively. You don’t want someone who will get bogged down in detail or want to collaborate endlessly. You might then choose verbal reasoning and critical thinking tests to assess candidates’ abilities as well as a personality trait questionnaire to evaluate how they score on strategic thinking and decision-making.

Other factors to consider when selecting a psychometric test:

They vary hugely in quality and cost so it can be difficult to know if you’re getting good value for money. However if a test is any good it will be accredited or undergoing accreditation by the British Psychological Society (BPS) Psychological Testing Centre.

To deliver most tests you need to have some level of knowledge about the tools and proven skill in using them. If a test is accredited it can only be administered by someone who is registered with the BPS as a test user.

That means that you either have to become accredited yourself or hire someone who is. There is, therefore, an upfront cost to using psychometric tests – not just the cost of the test itself but also the Registered Test User’s fee.


How to use psychometrics in recruitment

There are two key ways to use psychometrics when recruiting. 

The first is as an initial sift, as 

a way to narrow the field particularly if you have large number of applications for a vacancy. Using an ability test like critical thinking or numerical reasoning will enable you to 

filter out candidates that don’t meet the grade before the interview stage. 

The second is as a way of providing evidence about a candidate to sit alongside their CV and interview performance. Typically the candidate will complete the test(s) before you meet them so that you can discuss the results face-to-face. This is useful not least because sometimes a test will reveal issues about their abilities or personality traits that you need to investigate. Some tests will provide information explicitly linked with a competency framework so that you can make a direct correlation between the evidence gathered at interview and the results of the test.


How much should you factor test results into your final hiring decision?

Some candidates have impressive CVs, perform really well in an interview but then not score well in a psychometric test. How do you weigh up the evidence before you? 

It can be a real challenge getting the balance right. It will depend on the significance of the aptitude or personality trait you were measuring to the job in question. It will depend on whether you’ve explored all aspects with them in interview. But beware of ignoring the results of a test. Bear in mind that they are an objective measure while a CV and interview answers are subjective. They are also more difficult to fake. 

Also bear in mind that these tests are more predictive of behaviour than interviews. A traditional unstructured interview has only a one in three chance of predicting performance accurately, whereas an intelligence test such as verbal reasoning has a one in two chance.

Using psychometrics then is about improving your odds and helping to inform your recruitment decisions so you can have more confidence that your chosen candidate is the right person for the job.