Monday, 11 February 2013

Psychometric Testing: Myths & Realities

Prof. Rituraj Kumar,
Professor of OB and HR,
NIILM CMS writes...

Contact Prof. Rituraj:

The term “Psychometric Testing” evokes different reactions in different people. Some people think of it as an enigmatic thing, some others treat it as a recent fad and still others tend to think of it as something fearsome. By and large, several myths abound and a negative perception has been woven around psychometric tests.

In one of the multinational organizations where the author of this article was asked to administer psychometric tests at the time of selection, the reaction of the candidates was to be seen to be believed. Most of the junior level candidates were mortally afraid and a few were extremely apprehensive. At the senior level, the reaction was out rightly negative and the resistance was all the higher. People thought of it as some kind of a rejections devise, an invasion into their privacy and as something mysterious.

Even for the most enlightened ones, psychometric testing appears to be a concept and practice that is shrouded in mystery, some kind of mumbo-jumbo, and a kind of pseudo-science. Some people even equate it to palmistry, astrology and graphology.

In reality, it’s none of the things mentioned above. Psychometric testing is simply a standardized, objective measure of a sample of behaviour. It is standardized because the procedure of administering the test, the environment in which the test is taken, and method of calculating the individual score are uniformly applied. It is called objective because a good test measures the individual differences in an unbiased, scientific manner without the interference of extraneous factors.

A psychometric test typically is designed to produce a quantitative assessment of one or more psychological attributes. It includes ability tests that measure achievement, aptitude, intelligence etc. and personality tests that measure different dimensions of an individual’s personality.

There are psychometric tests to measure verbal reasoning ability, numerical aptitude, mechanical aptitude, spatial reasoning ability and general intellectual ability. Similarly, personality tests can be used to explore critical facets of an individual’s personality such as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness to change, self-confidence, interpersonal orientation, independence, frustration tolerance and team working ability.

Psychometric Tests are carefully designed so that each person who completes a particular test has the same experience, that is, they are presented with the same set of questions and have the same amount of time in which to answer them.
The raw score is then converted to a standard score by comparison with a representative sample of people who have completed the test in the past. Comparison with the norms make it possible to say whether a person has scored above or below the average, and how much above or below.

In some recent years, the popularity of psychometric testing has increased as the corporate world has recognized the importance of these tools and is using the psychometric tests on a large scale for various purposes such as recruitment & selection, training & development, career planning, succession planning, potential appraisal, counseling and personal growth & development.

Psychometric tests are used a great deal for HR function, especially through Assessment Centres and Development Centres. They also help in competency mapping and thus provide valuable inputs to the organization with respect to its human resources.

The focus today is not merely on hiring people with relevant skills but also on behavioural skills which become so essential for organizational success. Factors like ability to work in teams, tolerate ambiguity, devise innovative solutions, and resist stress are things which an employer would like to know beforehand.

And it is to reveal the factors like those mentioned above and many more which are not easily observable that psychometric testing can be applied. All of us do have a fair idea about our own selves. But in many cases, it is found that the conceptions that we hold of ourselves turn out to be misconceptions. Therefore, a psychometric test can help to detect our true selves and thus help us to become a better person.

Research points out that in a traditional interview, managers typically decide on a candidate in the first two minutes and spend the rest of the interview convincing themselves that this snap judgment is correct.

Kelvin Murphy, the former head of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, estimates that such interviews are only 65 percent accurate in judging an applicant’s potential strengths and leadership style. Adding psychometric testing or other psychological tools can raise the accuracy to 85 percent.

Organizations like Modi Xerox, Apple Computers, AT & T, IBM, Intel, Citicorp, GE, 3M Co., and Exxon etc. have been using the psychometric tests for a long time. Of late, even Indian companies like TCS, L&T, LG, UB, PCS, ESS, ICICI, Telco, Max New York Life Insurance, HCL Infosystems, Bharti Telecom, TVA Infotech, and Ecosoft Technologies etc. have started using the psychometric tests for various purposes.

The PSU giants like BHEL, SAIL, ONGC, Indian Airlines, Hindustan Steel Limited, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, ITI, etc., have also taken welcome measures to incorporate the uses of psychometric tests for various purposes in their organizations. And of course, the Indian Defense Services have always been using the psychometric tests for the purpose of selection of the cadets for quite a long time.

Some of the popular psychometric tests being used today by Corporates the world over are 16 PF, MBTI, OPQ32, Thomas Personal Profiling System, Gordon’s Personal Profile Inventory, Rorschach Ink-Blot Test, FIRO-B, Picture Frustration Test and TAT.

From the industry perspective, however, it is to be borne in mind that psychometric tests can only aid and inform a decision, they cannot provide a definitive answer. There cannot be a substitute for experience. Therefore, the psychometric tests should ideally be used in conjunction with a thorough interview by experienced and trained individuals.

And it’s not only in industries, but in educational institutions also where psychometric tests could be used for different purposes such as career counseling, SWOT analysis and IQ/EQ assessment.

The author has successfully used psychometric tests for preparing the personality profile of a large number of MBA students, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, and subsequently counseling and providing developmental inputs for minimizing the weaknesses and maximizing the strengths.

The key to taking psychometric tests is being relaxed, genuine and sincere. It’s futile to attempt faking answers by trying to guess what the employer wants and giving socially desirable responses, as there are in-built mechanisms in most of the psychometric tests today which measure the honesty and consistency of your responses and can catch you if you are trying impression management.

Also, there is little point in being someone you are not. Even if you do manage to get by through faking your responses, it would be all the more troublesome for you when you actually perform a job for which you are not ideally suited in the first place.

So, the next time you are required to undergo a psychometric test, do not be afraid at all. Rather, look forward to it as it could help the organization/employer to know you better and also help you to understand yourself better.

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