Companies are relying more and more on psychometric tests
Here is a test. Assign a score of 1 to 5, where 1 is “strongly agree” and 5 is “strongly disagree”, to the following statement: “I really care about my work.” If you have answered that kind of question before, you have probably applied for a job at a large company. Psychometric tests, as they are called, have become increasingly popular.
Eager job-seekers may think the answers to these questions are glaringly obvious. For any statement, give a response that creates a portrait of a diligent, collaborative worker. Of course, applicants care about their work, love collaborating with other people and pay careful attention to detail. But the people who set the tests know that candidates will respond this way. So questions are rephrased in many different ways to check that applicants are consistent and make it difficult for them to remember what they have already said.
Aptitude tests are not a new idea. Intelligence tests have been around for a century and were popular with government departments. Charles Johnson, who has been involved in psychometric testing for 40 years and was responsible for constructing the tests used to recruit British civil servants, says the second world war had a big impact. The British were impressed with the efficiency of German army officers and learned they had been selected with the help of intelligence tests. This led the British to create the War Office Selection Board. Alongside verbal and non-verbal reasoning, it challenged candidates with word-association exercises and being made to lead group discussions.
For high-skilled jobs, these tests are useful. However, Mr Johnson says there is a risk with using such tests to recruit workers for low-skilled jobs. If you select people who pass sophisticated cognitive tests, they will learn the job quickly but will then get bored and leave.
Psychometric tests became more popular from the 1970s onwards and are now seen as a useful way of sorting through the many candidates who apply for the jobs offered by big companies. “It is a laborious task to sort through thousands of written applications,” says Julia Knight, another occupational psychologist. “As well as being time consuming, it is not very effective and subject to bias.”