Publishers and management consultants pushed, peddled and praised the tests so they have become popular over the past few decades. Despite nearly 100 years of research into psychometric testing there are still missed opportunities, poorly administered tests, and many tests with little or no real evidence to support their use.

The popularity of testing ebbs and flows, and there are still many. There remained cynics, skeptics and traditionalists who never trusted them and rejoiced in their publicized failures.

But this periodic coverage is useful for reinvigorating interest in testing.  Here are seven, often asked, questions with answers.

1. Why do people use psychometric tests in recruitment?

Tests can provide reliable data for better decision making.  People are complicated, ambiguous, capricious and difficult to read. Some people conceal, others exaggerate and over-share. Recruiters, managers and HR departments are trying to gauge many different things: creativity, handling pressure, integrity, punctuality, team-working.  They need reliable data to find, hire, promote and develop the right people.

2. Are tests cost-effective?

Cost-effectiveness depends on the accuracy of the test, and the ability knowledge and ability of the test administrator, along with how well the results are applied. When considering the cost effectiveness, consider the cost of getting it wrong. Ever tried to get rid of a well-dug-in, incompetent staff member who was a bad selection decision right from the start?.  Ever seen someone you turned down years before running now a successful competitor company? Weigh the benefits of making a good decision, with the cost of making an error.

3. Should tests be used to select in or select out?

Most recruitment (should) start with a job analysis followed by an accurate and measurable list of attributes required to succeed in the work. Use tests and the available evidence to look for competencies and capabilities. But don't forget it is equally important to look for the negative traits as well as the positive. Charm can be a useful attribute, but may be problematic if it comes with flattery, deception and manipulation.

4. Is lying or faking good on these tests frequent, easy and really a problem?

Everyone presents themselves differently in interviews. They commit sins of omission and commission. Psychologists describe self-presentation and impression-management, while most people would say they are just doing what they need to get the job. Interviews, tests and even performance can be faked to a certain degree.  But if everyone gave the “obvious” and desirable answer there would be two consequences.  First they would all give the same answer (which they patently do not).  Second there would be no evidence of test validity, which there is.  There are many ways to catch dissimulation (which is a polite way to say a lie). The degree of dishonesty often depends on how the test is presented. 

5. How do clients choose between tests?

There are well over 10,000 tests available yet the average recruiter or HR manager has one or two favourites and knowledge of only a few. Some of the most popular tests have a strong marketing machine but little real validity. Test peddlers of both valid and invalid tests know that clients do not know what questions to ask.The main thing is to understand (at least a little about) psychometric qualities such reliability validity and process and how to assess the tests.

6. How important is personality at work anyway?

There are a number of factors that determine performance and potential at work but five are clear: their ability, their motivation, their personality, their colleagues and the organisation’s processes and procedure.  You need to be bright enough for the job and motivated to do it (well).  You need to have a functional ship-shape, well managed organisations.  No “ideal” personality profile can compensate if the other features are missing.  So it’s as dangerous to believe personality is all important as to believe it is not at all important.

7. Personality changes over time?

Personality can change, but rarely does.  Go to a school reunion for evidence. Most personality and ability characteristics are hard wired.  Behaviours, values and motivation can change, but personality rarely does. There is always more evidence of continuity than change, of stability than variability, of consistency than inconsistency.  Trauma, training, brain injury and therapy can change people.  But typically by the mid-twenties what you see is what you get. Teenage introverts are introverts at 90, though they may learn to fake extroversion when its' required.

Of course personality is important at work.  Of course there are more or less desirable profiles for particular jobs.  The question remains: how you choose to find out about an applicant’s personality?