Testing, testing… (Why do employers use psychometric tests and what do I need to know?)

jimrealiAssessment Centres, Final Year, Graduates, Postgraduate, Second Year

The background

So, last week I took part in a four-day online training session to become an expert in psychometric tests…

Okay, perhaps ‘expert’ might be a strong word to use. It might be better to say that I’ve gained a significantly better understanding of the range of tests used and the way in which they’re helpful to employers. To be a true expert, I still have some distance to travel…

However, I thought it might be really helpful to share some insights with you, so that you have a better understanding of what psychometric tests are, why employers use them and how you can improve your chances of success with them in the recruitment process. Hopefully you’ll find some of the points useful!

Tests or assessments?

This might seem like a minor point. However, it’s really important. Let me explain. There are two types of assessment:

  • Ability
  • Personality

Assessments of ability are often undertaken using what you might think of as ‘tests’ – such as numerical reasoning, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, situational judgement, technical ability, even gamification. These are used in the recruitment process to measure your ability to do something. For example, in the case of non-verbal reasoning, it might be to see how well you are able to spot connections and patterns between similar objects.

Personality assessments may be used both in the recruitment process and also subsequently, to support staff development in the workplace. Personality assessments are used to determine what your skills and strengths are and how you prefer to apply these. There aren’t any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. Rather, the assessments are intended to determine how closely your personality may align with that of the ideal candidate, as defined in the job advert or person specification.

Norms and statistics

When an employer uses psychometric tests or assessments, your results will often be compared to many thousands of others, which comprise a ‘norm’ group, demonstrating what the typical or average outcome may be. This enables the assessors to determine whether you are close to the average or significantly above or below.

Assessment format

In the old days, people used to be invited to undertake psychometric tests and assessments in-person. I’ve done it myself. Often, these might be incorporated into an assessment centre, where you will be undertaking other tasks as well. In-person tests still take place. However, far more are now conducted online, at an early stage of the recruitment process.

If you undertake a psychometric test in-person, you will be likely to experience exam conditions: you will be provided with precise instructions at the beginning, you will have a set period of time in which to complete the assessment and you won’t be allowed to take away any material afterwards.

If you undertake a test online, the situation is likely to be very similar: you will be given instructions and will need to acknowledge that you understand these. You will then complete the assessment within a set period of time and won’t receive any materials once you have completed it.

Do remember that, if you have any personal circumstances which may affect your ability to undertake the assessment, you should notify the organisation in advance, so that they may take these into consideration and make the necessary arrangements. This applies whether you’re undertaking the assessment in-person or online.

What happens next?

If you’re undertaking a test or assessment as part of the recruitment process, you should be notified subsequently to advise you whether or not your responses meet the requirements of the employer and whether or not you will progress to the next stage of the process. It is unlikely that you will receive a breakdown of the answers you provided, or a report on your performance. However, sometimes organisations will be happy to share some key information with you, if you ask. (They may tell you where you performed well and where there may be scope for improvement.) However, this is entirely at their discretion and there is no compulsion for them to do so.

How can I prepare?

Whilst you can’t predict what questions may arise in a test or assessment, you can ensure that you feel confident to give your best response:

  • Numerical reasoning tests – normally, these will require you to be able to apply GCSE standard mathematics. So, if maths isn’t your strong point, don’t panic! Remember that there are many resources available online to refresh your skills.

    You might be asked to undertake some basic calculations, to work out percentages and possibly given some algebraic equations to consider. Remember to have a calculator ready (if you’re permitted to use one) and you might want to have some rough paper on which to work out any answers.

  • Timing is important – often, candidates may be unable to complete all questions, so don’t worry if you don’t get to the end. However, it is important to complete as many questions as you can, as accurately as possible. So, if there are questions you can answer easily, focus on those. Most questions provide multiple choice answers. In some instances, you may find that there are some answers you can discount easily, which will leave you with a couple to choose between. Try not to guess at these though – for example, if you have a vague idea how to calculate the answer, that might be enough for you to determine which option is probably correct.

    When you take a test online, you will often find that, once the test has started, you will be presented with indicators to show both the amount of time you have remaining and also the amount of the test you have completed. Often, these will be shown as moving bars, one above the other. Try to keep the bars aligned, so that you know that the amount of time remaining is appropriate for the number of questions you have left.
  • Values – situational judgement tests in particular tend to focus on the values of an organisation. Often, possible answers may seem similar and there won’t be any obvious correct one. You need to use your understanding of the organisation to identify which action you think might align most with their preferred approach.

Practice!

All good things come to those who wait! If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, then here’s your reward: Aston University works with an external partner – Graduates First – to provide a psychometric test practice portal for students and graduates to use. You can find this in the Psychometric Testing and Assessment Centres section of our CVs, Applications & Interviews webpage. This interface provides a wealth of practice tests, covering all the major types. If you’re a graduate and your Aston email address has expired, please contact the Careers+Placements team and we will arrange for you to have access with your personal email address.

If you’d like to practice a psychometric assessment, you can do so via another of our partners, Profiling For Success. Their assessments include a Type Dynamics assessment (to determine your preferred style of working), as well as Learning Styles, Career Interests and a resilience assessment questionnaire.

You can find out about all of these in our Psychometric Testing Tips handout, available through the C+P website.

Good luck with your next psychometric tests and remember that, if you’d like to get further help, you can also log on to Aston Futures and book an appointment with a Careers Consultant.