How to Use Psychological Tests in HR

We’re taking things back to basics today and asking the important questions:

  • What are psychological tests?
  • How can psychological tests help in selection and recruitment?
  • How can psychological tests help in people development?

We work with psychological tests, psychology and HR every single day. Which means we’re fully aware of how effective psychological testing can be in the workplace and how wide the range of applications is.

But if you’re an HR professional who hasn’t yet dipped their toe into the (sometimes daunting) world of psychological testing, we’re here to help. Keep reading to learn why you need to add psychological testing to your HR toolkit, stat!

What is psychological testing?

Psychological testing, aka psychometrics, is the systematic use of tests to quantify psychophysical behaviour, abilities, problems and to make predictions about psychological performance…

… or so says the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In layman’s terms, psychological testing or psychometrics is a type of testing that gives us scientifically rigorous and reliable insights into someone’s abilities, personality and psychological functioning.

In the business world, psychometrics are used to give employers an indication of the psychological inner workings of their employees – not in a creepy stalker way, but in a way that helps them to identify talent, create more effective working environments for their staff, and build high-performing teams that communicate effectively with each other.

At KinchLyons, our psychological testing focuses largely on aptitude, personality and emotional intelligence – all of which we use with clients to either help identify the right person for the right role or to inform coaching practices that help individuals to develop self-awareness and other workplace skills.

… but are psychological tests reliable?

Now, we can’t talk about psychological testing and psychometrics without mentioning the elephant in the room: the glaring fact that some people don’t believe in their accuracy or utility…

We don’t want to get into a full-blown academic debate here, but we do want to reassure you that every psychometric test we use here at KinchLyons is rigorously tested for reliability and validity. 

While there are certainly some psychological tests out there that rest on rocky foundations and might not stand up to real scrutiny, there are plenty that will. The key is to identify psychological tests that have been subjected to peer review – and succeeded.

In the UK, the British Psychological Society (BPS) is the top governing body when it comes to reliable, valid and rigorously tested psychological tests. BPS-verified tests are submitted to a barrage of testing and are peer-reviewed by a board of experienced psychologists, meaning that any test that has officially been verified by the BPS is reliable, valid and can be trusted in its intended area of practice.

There are similar bodies across the world that verify the huge number of psychological tests that are created and used every year – and every psychometric that we use at KinchLyons has been verified by at least one of these professional bodies.

By using psychological tests that are verified and reliable and valid, and by completing the relevant certification for administering and interpreting test results, you can rest assured that the psychometrics you’re using are fit for purpose.

Using psychological testing for selection & recruitment

One of the main roles fulfilled by an HR department is finding the right person for the role. Whether it’s an internal hire or an external recruitment campaign, finding a candidate who meets the experiential requirements of a role and fits in well with the team and has the potential to be a positive asset to the business can be tough – and that’s where psychological testing can help.

The benefits of using psychological testing for recruitment

The cost of a bad hire for a business is in the region of €60k (£50k). That’s a huge amount of money, even for a big corporate giant.

So how does using psychological testing help to mitigate the risk of making that costly mistake?

First up, we all know how easy it is to bend the truth on CVs and to present an inaccurate impression of ourselves in an interview situation. It’s human nature to put our best foot forward and keep those slightly less favourable qualities under wraps.

But, as a recruiter, it’s your responsibility to know how a candidate will actually perform in the role you’re hiring for – not just how the candidate thinks they’ll perform. And that’s where psychometric testing comes in handy.

By introducing psychological testing into the recruitment process, you’re achieving two things that will help you to prevent making that €60k mistake:

  1. You’re placing less reliance on interviews and CVs. Not only does that mean you’ve got more data to base your hiring decision on, but it also means that you’re reducing the risk of bias getting in the way of making an objective decision. Interviews (particularly if they’re ‘casual’ unstructured interviews) are notoriously difficult to make objective, because they’re two or more personalities connecting in a relatively short period of time. First impressions really do count, and personal opinions and ‘connection’ play a big role in how a candidate is perceived in an interview situation, regardless of their ability to do the role in question.
  2. If you’re using personality-based psychometrics, you’re getting an insight into who the candidate is and how they’re likely to fit into the team, not just what they can do. Skill and competence is only one part of the equation, particularly in team or high pressure environments – personality and the ability to manage emotions, assess risk and communicate effectively with teammates is arguably more important (and less teachable) than the skill itself. By using psychological testing, you’re able to gain a deeper insight into the real person behind the CV.

Given the choice between hiring the wrong person and costing the business €60k or using psychometric testing and making a hire based on more than just a 20-minute interview, we know which one we’d choose!

The DOs and DON’Ts of using psychological testing for recruitment

Using psychometrics for recruitment and selection processes isn’t foolproof. It doesn’t guarantee finding the perfect candidate for the role every single time, but it does reduce the risk of making the wrong decision – if psychological testing is used properly.

There’s a lot that goes into proper use of psychometrics, including test-specific qualifications, but here are some basic DOs and DON’Ts if you’re a complete beginner in the field of psychological testing.

The DOs of using psychometrics for recruitment

  • Use psychometric tests as a part of the recruitment process.
  • Be clear and upfront with candidates about the purpose of the psychological testing and what the results will be used for, paying particular attention to following data protection and privacy regulations in your country or industry.
  • Use structured, unbiased interviews alongside psychological testing to get a 360-degree view of a candidate’s potential for a role.
  • Before administering a psychological test, make sure that you understand what the results signify for the role in question. Map the scales or areas measured by the test to the competencies and requirements of the role, so that you know exactly how performance in that particular test is relevant to that particular role. If possible, consulting an external body at this stage will help to make the use of the assessment as objective as possible.
  • Make sure that the tool you choose to use is designed and approved for use in selection purposes. Not every psychological test is recommended for selection use, so make sure you aren’t basing recruitment decisions on tests that aren’t designed to be used for recruitment.

The DON’Ts of using psychometrics for recruitment

  • Don’t base a recruitment decision solely on the results of a psychological test. Testing must be used as part of a well-rounded selection process that’s as free from bias as possible.
  • Don’t use psychometric testing without the proper training or qualifications, otherwise you risk misinterpretation and unfair bias.
  • Don’t use psychological tests that aren’t valid, reliable or robust. Instead, identify tools that are well-validated and have proven real-life applications. If in doubt, check the guidelines of the governing body in your country and look through the publisher’s Technical Manual for evidence of reliability and validity.
  • Don’t forget that past performance is still a really good indicator of future performance. It’s important to still take into account on-the-job experience, not just psychological test results.

Using psychological testing for development and coaching

Another fundamental role of HR professionals is the professional development and training of existing team members. Whether that’s skill-specific training to improve performance in a particular role or more general coaching to improve overall work performance, it’s important for HR professionals to identify the right sort of programme for each individual.

And that’s where psychological testing can help again!

The benefits of using psychological testing for development

The benefits of using psychological testing in a development context fall into two core areas: identifying the most beneficial areas to focus on for individual development and informing coaching practices during development programmes.

Particularly when considering continual professional development for high-potential team members, psychological testing can help to identify people who might otherwise be overlooked. We all know that businesses can be structurally biased against women and those from minority backgrounds – but psychological testing helps us to look past the who and identify the core personality and psychological traits that offer potential for high performance in roles.

By identifying existing team members for development programmes that will make the most of their unique strengths, psychological testing can help to reduce the cost of hiring externally for management roles, and can help to reduce staff turnover (another costly thing!) by engaging team members in development programmes that help them with personal and professional development.

Using psychological testing in coaching helps to make the coaching process more effective. Whether the goal is to improve team dynamics or to improve the performance of an individual team member, knowing the personality traits of the people you’re coaching means that you can tailor practices to that individual – as well as focusing on areas of weakness or blind spots that might be hindering their professional development.

The DOs and DON’Ts of using psychological testing in development and coaching

Just like when using psychological tests for recruitment or selection, psychometrics aren’t foolproof in a development context either. While the risks of making ‘bad’ decisions in development are lower than in a recruitment context, there are still right and wrong ways of using psychological testing in coaching and development practice.

 The DOs of using psychometrics for development

  • Do take into account job performance as well as psychological test results. Actual performance remains a better predictor of future performance than any single psychological test is.
  • Do use psychological testing to inform decisions and development programmes, but using a wide range of coaching techniques and practices is still most effective.
  • Do use psychometrics to identify blindspots in your team and use that information to inform future organisational changes as well as individual and team coaching.

The DON’Ts of using psychometrics for development

  • Don’t base internal decisions (like access to training programmes or promotions) solely on the results of psychological tests.
  • Don’t use tests that aren’t reliable or valid, or tests that are designed to be used in a recruitment context only.
  • Don’t introduce psychological testing to a team without any explanation. Testing can often be met with scepticism and reluctance, so introducing testing with a strategy in place to explain the purpose of the tests and how the results will be used is important, particularly if psychological testing has never been used before.

How to get started with psychological testing in HR

If you’re now convinced that psychometrics can enrich your HR work (which they definitely can!), what should you do now?

The first thing to do is to find the right training and qualifications for you. A great place to start is with Test User Ability and Test User Personality (TUA and TUP) qualification. The Test User programmes are designed to give you a foundation in administering and using psychological testing in the workplace, covering both aptitude testing and personality testing. Some specific psychometric tools require a user to be TUA or TUP (or both) trained before using the tool, but even if your chosen tool doesn’t mandate TUA or TUP training it’s still advisable to gain certification, as many tool-specific qualifications will assume a basic knowledge of psychological testing that the TUA/TUP programmes will give you.

The internationally-recognised Test User training covers many of the basics that will leave you feeling confident in introducing psychological testing to your HR practice:

  • The fundamentals of ability, aptitude and personality
  • How to administer assessments in an unbiased way that meets all relevant regulations
  • Identifying the right psychological tests to use at different stages of the employee lifecycle

Once you’ve attained your TUA and TUP qualifications, you’ll be able to access a range of psychometric tools – but there are many tools that also require specific qualification in order to begin using them.

Test User qualification will give you a solid understanding of psychological testing and that will allow you to make a more informed decision about which psychometric tests are most relevant for your HR needs. 

Depending on whether you’ll be using psychological testing for recruitment or development purposes, you’ll be able to choose from a huge range of psychometric tests (taking care to choose ones that are reliable and well-validated!) and undertake training specifically for that tool. The psychometric test training will help you to understand the foundational principles of the tool and what it measures, as well as giving you guidance on how to interpret the results of that specific test.

You can find out more about Test User training here and explore all the other tools we provide training in over here – and, as always, if you have any questions, we’re here to help!