Who Watches the Watchmen? – Psychometric Testing of HR Professionals

November 17, 2014

Well-crafted psychometrics are proven effective across organisations and across roles. They can help you understand the strengths and limitations of anyone, from those new to the workplace right up to a potential Chief Executive Candidate for a major international organisation. But there is one possible blind spot that people may feel psychometric instruments may have – surely those who use and administer them on a regular basis would be able to beat them?

Although there is evidence that many HR professionals don’t always know everything about the hiring process, will HR professionals, or anyone with suitable experience understand exactly what they’re being asked? And if so, does that mean we cannot use psychometrics when recruiting for these roles?

who watches the watchmen psychometric testing of hr professionals

Testing people’s abilities

Let’s start with tests with right and wrong answers first. The argument against an ‘expert user’ being able to beat psychometrics is weakest against ability or reasoning tests, as well as tests of skills or knowledge. For tests of skills and knowledge, the aptitudes a person needs to complete the test will be the same aptitudes they need to perform in the role, so this is not a concern.

For ability tests, there are dozens of websites out there that help candidates prepare for online assessments. The candidates can take these tests over and over until they perfect them. And HR professionals? They would be ideally positioned to have hundreds of practice runs.

When it comes to reasoning tests, they are designed to provide a pure measure of somebody’s raw underlying ability. What this means is that they focus on ability that a person cannot learn or develop. As a result, even with lots of practice, it is impossible for someone without the raw intellectual horsepower to answer the questions quickly and accurately.

To expand on the above point, the purpose of practice websites is really to help nervous candidates understand the type of experience they are going to face and think about how to prepare for it, but they won’t let someone ‘beat’ a test that they just don’t have the ability to do. Practice and example questions beforehand can help some inexperienced candidates to more accurately demonstrate their ability meaning that their performance is as reflective of their actual ability as possible.

Personality measures: Beatable by an expert user?

Personality questionnaires are increasingly being used in the hiring process and could be viewed as more of a concern for being ‘beaten’ by an experienced test user. If you know what an organisation is looking for, can’t you just agree with the statements that fit in with this? Does this logic can also apply to other similar questionnaires, such as those looking at personal values or motivations? Let’s take a deeper look.

Quality of questionnaire

There are many personality tests on the market, but providing you have selected a well developed psychometric questionnaires they won’t be as transparent as to make ‘gaming’ them an easy job. Good tests are built around questions that show mathematical links to behaviour, not around questions that psychologists (or informed test takers) think will work.

Such a test won’t let you be perfect at everything.

Even though some questions may seem obvious, they may not measure what people think they measure. Good tests will have a number of questions, with many designed to identify the same factor. What each question is actually measuring is hard to spot, and over the course of the personality questionnaire even the savviest test user won’t be able to predict what most questions are after – or have a good enough memory to remember their faking patterns!

Forced choice questions

Psychologists have built in several countermeasures to prevent people painting the perfect portrait of themselves. One example of such a device is forced choice questions (the psychologists here at Talentsift call them ‘ipsative’ questions). For example, do you prefer working in a team or seeing a job through to the end? Are you more likely to plan ahead or to remain resilient in tough situations? These are crude examples, but illustrate the idea that such a test won’t let you be perfect at everything.

Social desirability scale

Another countermeasure that is found in quality questionnaires is a social desirability scale, sometimes known as impression management. These are carefully crafted questions that check someone is answering honestly and not creating an overly favourable impression. HR Professionals or otherwise experienced test takers can be aware of the presence of these questions but given their liberal and carefully crafted inclusion many will find it difficult to spot all of them, so they’ll want to be as honest as possible to avoid scoring high on this measure.

The cost of a bad choice

A final, key reason HR professionals are not likely to try faking the test is, that of all people, HR professionals are probably the most aware of the human impact of making a bad career choice. They appreciate the value of maximising their fit to a role, and although they migt have some insight into the competencies that a company is looking for, will know that a dishonest approach could well put them into a role they are ill-suited to and may not enjoy.

A company should know their own culture and values and determine what traits will be most successful in any given position. Psychometrics are a strong input into this process, particularly if they are corroborated with other sources of evidence and key areas are probed via other methods too.

This is no different for HR roles. Knowing the strong predictive power of psychometrics when used well, you may well have difficulty persuading a competent, data-driven HR Professional into your team without them! They show a commitment to creating a well-rounded recruitment process.

Talentsift offers psychometric selection tests and the best online assessment centre solution on the market. If you would like to know more about psychometric testing, read our introductory guide on psychometrics, or get in touch and our occupational psychologists will readily answer your questions.