Could you handle the Big Four's psychometric test?

Psychometric testing is on the rise

Employers want to know everything they can about potential recruits, and are going to new lengths to make sure that information is accurate.

Can a psychological test really pinpoint the best candidate for a job? A lot of employers would like to think so. Psychometric testing, which measures a person’s relevant strengths and weaknesses, has been used by employers since 1962, when Isabel Briggs Myers first published the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

 How effective has it been?

 Worldwide, millions of job candidates are asked to sit the MBTI each year, so a lot of recruiters seem to have confidence in it. And this is despite research that shows as many as three-quarters of people achieve a different personality type when tested again, as Annie Murphy Paul pointed out in her 2005 book, The Cult of Personality.

 According to Hudson’s The Hiring Report: The State of Hiring in Australia 2015, 54 per cent of senior executives value psychometric testing as part of the recruitment process. And 40 per cent say they’re seeing more psychometric testing being used now compared with two years ago.

 One reason for this may be that Big Data is taking aptitude and behavioural assessment to a whole new level.

Businesses across a range of industries are starting to use a battery of sophisticated talent analytics specifically tailored to their needs by assessment companies such as CEB’s SHL, Kenexa (now part of IBM), Saville Consulting, Talent Q and Cubiks.

 IBM, Oracle and Deloitte have even acquired their very own talent management firms.

A more comprehensive approach

Such psychological tests should be delivered by people trained in administering and interpreting them. However, hiring third-party professionals isn’t cheap, and may be beyond the means of some companies – certainly for lower-level positions.

 "I’ve used [standard] psych tests in all my HR roles, usually a combination of intelligence [verbal, numerical], aptitude, [conceptual reasoning] and personality profiling," says Rob (surname withheld), a director at a financial advisory firm in London.

 "They are helpful aids in supplementing what we already know about employees and candidates, but no panacea for fixing recruitment or career development issues.

 "The key test is how the tests themselves ‘fit’ with the culture of the organisation where they are applied."

 "I’ve seen too many top-notch applicants ruled out of a job because psychometrics are used as a default barometer, with all subsequent decisions based on it," she says.

What he means is that the personality and behavioural traits a client-facing organisation might look for in a salesperson – an extrovert, for example, with high verbal reasoning skills and high achievement motivation – will be quite different from what an analytical actuarial firm is looking for in an actuary. In the latter instance, personality will almost certainly be secondary to ability to crunch stats, as well as an understanding of economics, law, probability, finance and risk assessment.

 While some hirers would like to have one test that could meet all their recruiting needs, it’s just not realistic.

 Recruitment firm Robert Half advises that it’s best not to rely on one test or to put too much weight on a single result. Instead, hirers should combine test results with interviews, role-playing exercises and reference checks to select people for positions.

Johannesburg-based HR executive Anne Morrow goes further, arguing that the cons of psychometric testing outweigh its pros.

 "I’ve seen too many top-notch applicants ruled out of a job because psychometrics are used as a default barometer, with all subsequent decisions based on it," she says.

 "Granted, it might have its uses in specific situations, such as when a company wants to check that an applicant has the right skills in a certain area or the personality to meet the demands of the job or the culture of the organisation.

 While some hirers would like to have one test that could meet all their recruiting needs, it’s just not realistic.

"But there are just too many false negatives, where a person’s results don’t reflect their true potential."

 She says one of the biggest problems – and (with regards to discrimination) a potentially bigger legal one for employers – is that psychometric tests frequently contain biases that work against applicants from different cultural backgrounds, who face language barriers or even just simple anxiety about testing.

"They might sometimes be the best person for the job, but are automatically eliminated because of the process," Morrow claims.

 "If this happens, it doesn’t say much about a company’s diversity, non-discriminatory or ethical business practices."

 Besides, the standard psychometric tests are already well known and easily accessed. Applicants can practise taking them, and even be coached on them to get a "better" score. That’s not good news for recruiters after honest results.

Personality test or "talent analytics"?

One way forward may lie in "talent analytics", one of the current buzzwords in HR. This is where Big Data is used by organisations to identify the key traits of their best performing departments and employees. This proprietary data can then be used to construct bespoke psychometric tests or simply to select more appropriate ones, so hirers choose candidates on the skills that actually matter for that position.

 In contrast to generic psychometric tests, for which candidates can pre-prepare, a bespoke situational judgement test will require very careful consideration by applicants.

According to Rob, the director of a financial advisory firm: "The upshot [of bespoke tests] – in theory, at least – is longer-term cost efficiencies in the hiring process as less suitable candidates are weeded out, better morale, improved productivity and competitive advantage."

 Writing in Forbes magazine, management expert Josh Bersin observed:

 "Companies are loaded with employee, HR, and performance data. For the last 30 years we have captured demographic information, performance information, educational history, job location, and many other factors about our employees. Are we using this data scientifically to make people decisions? Not yet.

 "This, to me, is the single biggest Big Data opportunity in business. If we can apply science to improving the selection, management, and alignment of people, the returns can be tremendous."

Testing times: The Big Four

Depending on the roles in question, here are some (but not all) of the psychometric tests you might encounter at Deloitte, KPMG, EY (Ernst & Young) and PwC.


Pearson Advanced Numerical Reasoning Appraisal: 21 questions that examine how well you are able to use numerical information in the form of a table, chart, graph or more to draw a conclusion. You have up to 30 minutes, depending on the level of difficulty.

 Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal: Very challenging and looks at comprehension, analysis and evaluation skills. It will then score you on three areas: recognising assumptions, evaluating arguments, and decision-making.


Cubiks Verbal Reasoning test: You will be presented with a paragraph that contains numerous facts, but they’re not easy to understand. You then have 20 minutes to answer 40 questions in True/False/Cannot Say style. The key aim is to test analytical skills, but comprehension is also under the microscope.

 Cubiks Numerical Reasoning test: Consists of tables, graphs and percentages. For each data set, you need to answer four questions in 20 minutes – a total of 24.


Designed by CEB’s SHL, expect tests on one or all of the following:

• Numerical reasoning

• Verbal reasoning

• Logical reasoning

• Situational judgement


EY uses a range of tests supplied by Saville Consulting, as well as a proprietary situational judgement test known as the EY Strengths Assessment.

This article is from the May 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK

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