Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

What is a Psychometric Test? 8 Employer FAQs Answered.

By Charles Trivett | Oct 5, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

a psychometric test with options 'I feel wonderful' 'I feel fantastic' and 'I feel like a winner' and 'All of the above'Should you be using a psychometric test during your recruitment process?

According to Psychometric Success, over 75% of the Times Top 100 companies in the UK do – which is probably not just a coincidence – and kind of implies that we should all follow suit. Right?

Before you make a decision, it’s important to get all of your facts straight.

Luckily, this week we’ve compiled a list of everything you really (really) need to know about psychometric testing… enjoy!

1. What is a psychometric test?

Psychometric tests can take a variety of different forms, but they’ll generally fall into three categories:

The Aptitude Test.

There are a wide variety of aptitude tests available that assess specific capabilities, but the most common types are numerical, verbal and abstract reasoning.

What’s involved?

  • During numerical reasoning tests, candidates will often be shown graphs and tables and asked to interpret data.
  • During verbal reasoning tests, candidates will often be required to read through a passage and then answer comprehension questions about that passage.
  • During abstract reasoning tests, candidates will often be shown a a sequence of diagrams and asked to pick the odd one out or to pick the next diagram in the series.

These tests will be entirely based on scores, which you can then use to benchmark all candidates.

For example, you may want to only interview the top 30% of scorers.

The Personality Test.

As you would imagine, these ‘tests’ (more like questionnaires) will help employers to predict how a candidate will react in a situation, based on comparing the typical behaviours of a reference group.

Example Questions…

  • “I enjoy taking risks.” Is this statement true or false?
  • “I am organised.” Do you strongly disagree, disagree, agree or strongly agree?
  • “I’m easily disappointed.” Do you strongly disagree, disagree, agree or strongly agree?

An alternative to personality testing would be to use behavioural (competency) interview questions like “tell me about a time when you worked as a member of a team” which help you to predict a candidate’s future actions, based on their past.

The Interest Test.

These tests will help you to work out each candidate’s motivation, by assessing their personal interests, values and opinions and comparing them to a reference group.

Of course, you could just ask candidates outright with different personality interview questions.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

All reputable tests will have been designed by experts like occupational psychologists and should come with a detailed manual explaining how to correctly assess results.

Be wary, there are tons of unaccredited online sites, claiming to offer legitimate tests.

If it’s free… it’s probably not legit.

NB: Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just the huge companies that are using psychometric testing.

“70% of UK companies with over 50 employees use psychometric tests” according to Personnel Today.

If you’re not, you could be missing out.

2. When would I use a psychometric test?

There is obviously a huge difference between an aptitude test and a personality or interest one so they tend to work better at different points during the recruitment process…

Aptitude tests:


Larger companies who receive a lot of applications will sometimes ask candidates to complete online aptitude tests to whittle them down, before even calling them.

During assessment days.

This allows employers to test all candidates at once, under strict exam conditions. (This stops them from Googling all of the answers or asking others to help.)

Personality and interest tests:

Later in the process.

These tests are not cheap and professional examination of the results is often required, so many companies will utilise them later in the process to assess the best candidates.

When recruiting for senior posts.

The final decision is much more important and therefore considering all angles is crucial.

Post job offer.

Sometimes these tests will be conducted after a job has been offered, to assess appropriate managerial techniques, motivations and how well a candidate will fit into the team.

3. How long does a test take?

Girl studying with books shows panic expression

Psychometric tests will usually have a strict time limit, depending on structure, style and the skills being measured.

On average, each test should last about 20 minutes.

You don’t really want them to last for more than one hour, especially on an assessment day as they’re pretty intense and are likely to tire people out.

Remember, if you want to see their real personality, you should be aiming to keep your candidates at ease, not putting them through an excruciatingly pressurising ordeal!

(Unless of course, performance under pressure is a necessary attribute for the job role.)

4. What are the advantages?

You can remove any personal biases

Interviewer bias is one of the most common problems to crop up during the recruitment process (find out the other 4 here.) Basing decisions on clear, solid scores is much fairer.

You’ll have a structured framework for assessment

It’s very easy to accidentally change the way you’re interviewing (or screening CVs) because of silly things like the time of day, your mood or even the weather. Psychometric tests can remove those inconsistencies from the process.

It could prove cheaper in the long run

You could argue that psychometric testing works out cheaper, especially for larger companies who receive an abundance of applications. It gives recruiters a chance to cull candidates early in the process and increases their chance of hiring a great employee  (and not wasting thousands of pounds).

You can assess personality, motivators and predicted behaviour

Candidates lie, all the time… it’s inevitable. But personality and interest tests (if used correctly) are pretty savvy at picking up discrepancies in answers and (good) consultants will be able to tell if someone is trying to ‘cheat the test’.

Shy candidates will have the chance to shine

Some people are shy; that doesn’t mean that they’re not ultra-clever and perfect for your business. These tests will give them a chance to show their true potential and wow you.

There would be less risk of dispute

Based on results, rather than opinion (and prejudice) candidates who don’t make the cut will have a hard time disputing their failure or accusing the process of being unfair.

5. What are the disadvantages?

It can be pretty pricey

Prices vary enormously, roughly ranging from £10 to £250 per candidate (and beyond!) In general, we advise using cheaper (but reliable) tests during the initial stages of interview, to cull weaker candidates, but more expensive tests if you’re at a later stage or have a very senior position to recruit.

It’s not all about IQ

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again; you may be tempted to hire someone, based solely on their IQ. Don’t. A good hiring manager will take aptitude into account as well as evaluating each person’s ability to fit in with the team, their work experience and personality traits. Don’t do an Enron.

They’re more difficult to administer effectively

First, you have to decide which company and test to use which can take forever, considering the thousands of resources out there. Then you have to decide whether the test will be online, at your office or at an assessment centre and organise each, respectively. It’s a hassle.

Generalising on the basis of a reference group

Job candidates will be assessed and pigeon holed on the basis of one reference group of people – but human beings are unique to one another, aren’t they?

The pressure will put some candidates off

Often, impossibly strict time limits force candidates to rush, get confused and skip questions that were probably fairly easy to begin with – which renders the entire process meaningless. Of course if you’re specifically using them to assess how well candidates work under pressure, then they’re great.

Candidates could scupper the test

The very same pressure could cause candidates to scupper their personality and interest tests, answering with what they think you want to hear, rather than the truth. Again, the process is rendered entirely meaningless.

6. Are psychometric tests right for my business?

Unfortunately, I can’t really answer that for you.

Before anything else, you really need to consider how necessary psychometric testing actually is for your particular vacancy.

You need to thoroughly weigh up the pros and cons and how they’ll affect your business in particular.

Ask yourself:

  • Will you gain important information you can’t get from an interview?
  • Does the level of the vacancy warrant psychometric evaluation?
  • Do you have enough resources to actually pull it off?
  • Do you have enough money in your recruitment budget?

You’ll find that in most cases, psychometric tests are utilised by recruiters looking for senior staff.

7. Where can I find a reliable psychometric test?

An accredited symbolIf you do decide that any form of psychometric evaluation is right for your business, then you must make sure that you only utilise tests created by accredited providers.

Trustworthy sources will be proud of their achievements, accreditations and research.

They’ll be more than willing to explain how their tests were developed, how they’ve been reviewed by other professionals and how to read and trust the results.

Reputable companies include: SHL, Cubiks, Talent Q, TalentLens, TeamFocus, The Psychological Consultancy, Saville Consulting, Thomas International.

8. Where can I find more advice?

You could, quite literally, write an entire book about the pros and cons of psychometric testing.

If you do think it might be something worth considering, then it’s important to do your research.

To discover more, check out these great resources:

There’s no point rushing into something that’s not right for you.


Psychometric tests are certainly a controversial subject – and it’s easy to see why.

It’s really important to remember that any attempt to standardise human behaviour against a set of generalised principles is bound to fail sometimes.

Do you remember Paul Flowers? Disgraced former head of Co-op bank? He did really well in pre-employment psychometric testing… so read into that what you will.

Recruiter Pro Tip

Before you do anything, make a structured plan and…

  • Ensure you know the skills or behaviours you’re hoping to assess.
  • Choose tests that assess those skills.
  • Only ever use established and accredited tests.
  • Don’t assess solely on the basis of psychometric tests (you could end up like Enron!)
  • Remember, the more selective you want to be, the more money you should pay.

Of course, you could just opt for an easier, cheaper solution like theses six types of interview.

If you’d like to find out more about assessing your candidates and increasing your chances of hiring success, click here to sign up to this blog.

We’ll pop over a short weekly update with the latest and greatest industry guidance.

Good luck interviewing.

- Charles Trivett
Charles - blog author

Charles Trivett

Charles heads up Coburg Banks’ IT Division, and has worked in recruitment for nearly 20 years.  His knowledge of how to optimise and get the most from a recruitment campaign is second to none, and he now works with a select handful of clients in maximising their recruitment ROI.

> More blog posts by Charles Trivett

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