Psychometric assessment in selection and development

The use of psychometric assessment in personnel selection and development is becoming more and more prevalent within Australian industry.

The increasing use of psychometric assessment in industry is just part of a broader trend towards the application of more structured, systematic and competency-based selection and development processes. Factors underlying this trend are:

  • Companies worldwide have been forced to focus more and more on the selection, development and retention of high quality personnel who can enable success in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace.
  • Recognition of the costs of incorrect hiring decisions.
  • EEO requirements.
  • The need for highly specialised skills.
  • The need for adaptability and transference of skills and knowledge in a changing work context.

What is psychometric assessment?

Psychometric assessment is a standardised method of evaluating individual capabilities and styles. That is, job candidates are compared against others from a particular norm group (e.g., managers, graduates, IT professionals) on tests or scales that have been validated statistically.

The types of psychometric assessment tests and questionnaires used by Allworth Juniper, Organisational Psychologists for selection and development are:

  • Cognitive ability (aptitude) tests – assessing learning, problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.
  • Personality questionnaires – assessing personal preferences and styles e.g. leadership style, interpersonal effectiveness, achievement drive etc.
  • Motivation and values questionnaires – assessing cultural fit and sources of job satisfaction and commitment e.g. need for a challenge, fit within a commercial environment, motivation for status, progression, money etc.

Psychometric assessment is not our only approach to assessment and development. We also use behavioural assessment techniques (e.g. role plays, simulations used in assessment and development centres) and help clients develop and use behavioural interviewing techniques.

Why use psychometric assessment in selection?

  • Psychological research has consistently shown that tests of cognitive ability (aptitudes) are the best single predictor of performance across occupations and industries – particularly performance in more senior roles where the learning, problem-solving, analytical and decision-making requirements are more demanding.
  • Psychometric assessment provides a standardised method of comparing candidates against a wider pool of people across industries and occupations e.g. other applicants to management, other graduate applicants, specific professional groups etc.
  • Psychometric assessment provides insights into an individual that cannot be assessed accurately through other parts of the selection process e.g. decision-making and analytical abilities, emotional intelligence, etc.
  • Psychometric assessment provides an economical way of screening large numbers of candidates. For example, most graduate recruitment programs, call centres, the military and public service include psychometric assessment as an early screening device.
  • Psychometric assessment provides an efficient way of assessing personal needs and values that underlie cultural fit and commitment to the organisation.
  • The assessment report provides those involved in selection with specific questions for reference checking or use in subsequent interviews with the candidate.
  • The report of the assessment provides information that enables the prospective manager to structure the induction and development program for the successful candidate.

Limitations of psychometric assessment in selection

  • No matter how many selection methods are used (interview, resume screening, reference checking, psychometric assessment, assessment centres etc.), it is not possible to fully predict future job performance. That is, while different methods can help to improve the accuracy of selection decisions, no combination of methods is absolutely perfect.
  • Psychometric assessment results must be interpreted in the light of the competencies required for the role. That is, if the attributes assessed in the candidate are the same as those required in the job, the chances of making an accurate selection decision are improved. For example, if the job requires a person who has strong influencing skills, a high level of analytical ability and the capacity to cope with competing demands on his/her time, these are the capabilities that need to be assessed in the person.
  • We urge that psychometric assessment results are not taken at face value, but are confirmed or disconfirmed through reference checking or subsequent interviews with the candidate.

How should psychometric assessment be used?

    The following perspective on how psychometric assessment should be used is our own at Allworth Juniper Organisational Psychologists. It may or may not be shared by others who offer psychological assessment and career development services. Our perspective is based on the following factors:

    • Our training as psychologists provides us with a firm theoretical background to psychometric assessment, cognition, personality, motivation and job performance.
    • Our ongoing research examining the predictive validity of psychometric assessment.
    • Our professional code of ethics that guides how we prepare and utilise reports, and provide feedback to candidates.
    • Our commitment to the rights and interests of candidates as well as our clients.The way in which tests are used, however, will vary according to the circumstances, e.g., individual or short-listed candidates versus large scale selection; selection versus development.

    Psychometric assessment in selection

    • Psychometric assessment needs to be seen as just one of the steps in the selection process, providing information from a perspective that is different from all other parts of the selection process.
    • Selection decisions should not be based directly on the results of the assessment. The assessment should be used to highlight issues that need to be confirmed or disconfirmed through reference checking or subsequent interviews. We strongly recommend that people are not labelled on the basis of their test results but that the results be used as the basis for the development of questions to be put to referees and/or candidates in subsequent interviews. Allworth Juniper develops these questions and provides them in our reports and feedback to relevant personnel.
    • Candidates are informed of this subsequent checking process. As such, candidates do not pass or fail the psychometric assessment. The only instance in which candidates may pass or fail the psychometric assessment is when cognitive tests are used as a screening measure in large scale recruitment programs.
    • We offer feedback to all candidates in accordance with our professional code of ethics. However, if the assessment is for selection purposes only, we ask candidates to initiate the request for feedback and that they may do so regardless of the outcome of the selection process. We acknowledge that some candidates do not wish to know their results – particularly if they have been unsuccessful.
    • As the psychometric assessment reports are prepared against the competencies for a particular role, they should not be used for selection to another role where the competencies may differ.
    • Psychometric assessment results have a shelf life, particularly those relating to personality style and preferences. We recommend that assessment results are obsolete after 12 months.
    • Assessment reports should be stored by the client organisation in a secure file and should be disposed of appropriately after 12 months. Allworth Juniper retain candidate files for a minimum of 7 years for legal purposes.
    • Candidates have the right to undertake an assessment again if applying for a different role. If an assessment has been conducted in the past few months and the assessment methods used are relevant to the client’s needs and the role requirements, Allworth Juniper recommends that candidates be given the opportunity to either draw upon their past results or to undertake the assessment again.

    Psychometric assessment for career development or management

    Psychometric assessment can provide a valuable source of information to assist career development and management. In this instance, psychometric assessment can add value in:

    • Career transition by clarifying an individual’s strengths, areas for development, and personal goals.
    • Performance management by diagnosing the underlying causes of under-performance.
    • Career planning by raising awareness of career interests, aspirations and potential.
    • Succession planning by evaluating fit with a target position.
    • Talent retention by identifying those with potential for progression within the organisation.

    Psychometric assessment for career development

    • The tests and questionnaires used for development purposes are similar to those used in selection but may also include assessment of career interests.
    • The tests and questionnaires used for development purposes are similar to those used in selection but may also include assessment of career interests.
    • The objective of assessment for career development purposes is not selection decision-making but career planning through improved self awareness.
    • Given the development objective, feedback for those who undertake psychometric assessment for career development purposes is provided in the form of a coaching session.
    • Depending on the initial brief, career development reports are forwarded to both the individual undertaking the assessment and possibly to their line or HR manager.
    • Information from the psychometric assessment and career development counselling process can help a manager to identify appropriate best-fit roles for an individual, to facilitate training, development and/or to provide an environment that promotes the optimum performance and commitment of the individual.

    Common questions about psychometric assessment.

    Why do candidates whose track record testifies to their success need to undertake testing?

    Psychometric assessment is not intended to be a substitute for past experience that is clearly critical in determining the suitability of a candidate. In fact, the track record of most candidates at more senior levels has already been assessed and considered to be favourable. Psychometric assessment will still be relevant for:

    • Assessing potential for promotion. The applicant may have been very successful in their career to date, however, do they have the potential (capability and personality factors) required for taking the next step.
    • Identifying training and development needs.
    • Identifying issues that should be clarified with referees or in subsequent interviews.
    • Some people do not represent themselves well in interviews. People vary in the interview performance – some are particularly effective while others do not portray themselves well at all. Psychometric assessment provides a way of gaining insights into the individual that may differ from those obtained during interview.

    Why use cognitive (aptitude) tests with people who have higher degrees?

    In most cases, people who have higher degrees have at least upper average ability when compared with the general population. However, within this group, there is still considerable variability in ability levels, as we have seen from the spread of results obtained in graduate recruitment programs.

    Are prior testing results relevant?

    Individuals who have undertaken a psychometric assessment previously may want these results to be considered. In some cases, depending on what tests were completed and when, this may be appropriate. However, it is not easy to estimate equivalence across tests. Unless the person has done the same assessment as other candidates for the position in a relatively recent time period (certainly no longer than a year), the person should undertake the tests again to be fair to other candidates and to enable the company to make accurate comparisons across candidates.

    Can the tests be faked?

    Cognitive tests cannot be faked but personality and motivational questionnaires, like interviews, can. To protect against this, some personality questionnaires provide scales that identify a tendency to portray oneself in an overly favourable light. Research shows, however, that the problem of faking is not as troublesome as some may think. In addition, in some roles, a desire to create a positive impression can, in itself, predict strong job performance e.g. in sales or customer service roles.

    For further information, please call Allworth Juniper Organisational Psychologists on 61-2-9223 2774 or by email at