Keep Psychometric Assessment Scientific


As a high-end workplace psychometric assessment provider, and a professional psychology practice, we like to keep a firm general eye on the way psychometrics are perceived, and on the quality of both the products being offered in the marketplace and the providers who supply them.

Accordingly, my attention was drawn recently to a discussion about psychometric tests that had taken place a couple of years ago on the highly regarded Stubborn Mule (“stubbornly objective”) blog by financial analyst, mathematician and generally broad thinker, Sean Carmody. This discussion is still extremely relevant, and perhaps more so now, as psychometric assessment becomes more and more customary in the workplace.

The discussion began with Sean’s post I Hate Personality Tests which was followed by psychologist Maria Skarveli’s, I have a love/hate relationship with psychometric testing and was completed by Last Word on Personality Tests.

The discussion is excellent and I highly recommend it: it’s intelligent, thought-provoking, hilarious, concerning and cathartic (for the record, may I say that I Hate Stupid, Overly-simplistic, Kindergarten-style Charts and Graphics, Especially Circles and Sea References?!), and it raises many questions, and answers, about the way psychometrics are seen and used in the workplace.

The discussion identifies the problem of balancing our desire as human beings for simple (and time-saving) answers, with the necessity for credible, qualified people to supply, support and operate valid psychometric assessment.

Proper, quality psychometric testing is a science, as Maria points out in I have a love/hate relationship with psychometric testing, based on sophisticated statistical analysis and application. There is no place in science (or in the workplace I would have thought) for tests which read like magazine quizzes or present like kindergarten pictures, or which draw on an almost magical thinking part of ourselves like astrology does. (I Hate Personality Tests).

Quality psychometric assessment is not mind reading, nor is it somehow magical. It’s a statistical analysis of data provided by the person being assessed.

There are two main sorts of psychometric assessments used in the workplace: tests for Ability, and tests for Personality. The former should indicate if a person can do a job, and the latter how a person is likely to do it.

We believe that personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs TM for instance, which is based on the elements of personality originally identified by psychologist Carl Jung, should never normally be used as part of a recruitment process (and in fact the Myers-Briggs website says this), and that their usefulness in a work context is that they might begin a discussion about personality styles and how they combine in a team environment.

It seems to me that there are two main dangers with the sort of mass and undiscerning use of personality tests in the workplace which the Stubborn Mule posts address, especially the over-simplified & brightly coloured kind, or the more credible ones in the hands of less skilful or trained practitioners. Firstly, their simplistic use or design could stereotype or define people in a way that can be meaningless, unhelpful or down right stupid and dangerous as discussed in Last Word on Personality Tests. Secondly, they can be erroneously used as part of a recruitment process.

No matter what psychometric tests are used, even at the highest and most reliable end, psych tests should always be seen as part of the process and not a “stand alone” or simplistic answer. (See our website page Psychometric Assessment) As part of a proper, thoughtful and thorough recruitment or developmental process they can provide another, objective, measure to predict job performance, which helps in your decision making.

While psych tests should be smooth and easy to use when you know what you are doing, they are based on science, not magic.

I’d steer clear of over-simplification and kindergarten graphs and pictures, if I were you!

Lynette Jensen

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* This is a personal view and does not necessarily represent the opinion, belief or policy of the company. More posts below.

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4 Responses to “Keep Psychometric Assessment Scientific”

  1. Sean Carmody says:

    Lynette, I’m glad you enjoyed the posts! Even when I am having a bit of a rant, I do try to be a little bit thought-provoking. I should, however, point out that of the three contributors to the three posts (myself, Maria and my psychologist friend who provided the material for the third post), I am the least qualified to comment on things psychological. Of course, that could never stop me.

  2. Thanks Sean. Stubborn Mule gives us all a lot to live up to! I think the essential point about the “testing” you originally wrote about was that your intelligence was insulted, and you don’t have to be an expert to feel that.

  3. […] written in a previous post Keep Psychometric Assessment Scientific about how much I hate the over-simplification, and the misunderstanding this can lead to, in many […]

  4. […] think this is really sad. Psychometric tests, or any other form of employee selection should never be used to get in the way of anyone […]

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