Introduction to Psychometric Testing in the Workplace
It is not uncommon for prospective employees at McDonald's to answer questions about their mood, “If something very bad happens, it takes some time before I feel happy.” In fact, up to 70 percent of prospective employees complete personality tests for major companies, such as McDonald's, RadioShack, and Lowe's.1 One report suggests that eight of the top 10 U.S.-based companies (e.g., Walmart, Target, UPS) use psychometric measures as a pre-hire screening process that weeds out up to 30 percent of unqualified applicants.
There is a similar trend in the international workplace. A recent survey conducted by Tata Strategic Management Group, the largest Indian-owned management consulting firm, found that 52 percent of companies use psychometric instruments, with a predicted 87 percent of companies to adopt such measures in the near future.2
The purpose of personality tests is to enable a company to test a candidate's personality and behavioral aptitude in order to best match them with a job. Popular psychometric tools include Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF; Cattell, Cattell, & Cattell; 1949), Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI; Hathaway & McKinley; 1951), Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32; Saville & Holdsworth Ltd.; 1999), and Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior (FIRO-B; Schutz; 1958). Examples of contemporary instruments include Hogan Personality Inventory (Hogan, 1986), Personality and Preference Inventory (PAPI; Cubiks, 1996), and Thomas Personal Profile Analysis (PPA).
Aside from standardized testing, there are a growing number of companies that use their own versions of psychometric testing to measure candidates' abilities (such as critical reasoning, verbal and numerical competency), aptitude and personality.
For example, energy company, Chevron in Singapore, uses colors as a personality indicator of their employees.3 The traits of the four different E-Colors are:
- Red — doer and director
- Green — thinker and analyzer
- Yellow — influencer and socializer
- Blue — relater and supporter
The Dover Test©, based in South Africa, is a computer-generated test of operator skills with indicators of trainability4, such as :
- Eye-hand coordination
- Concentration and attention
- Reaction time and behavior
- Insight and basic coordination
The Future of Psychometric Testing in the Workplace: Testing in a Digital Era
There is an international trend to gamify psychometric testing. Many companies have identified the following benefits to gamifying testing in the workplace:
- It reduces socially desirable responding, where candidates respond based on what they think the employer wants to hear.
- It minimizes the effect of lack of self-awareness in the prospective employee as he or she may be unaware of his or her own internal processes.
- It reduces test anxiety that some prospective employees may experience in a traditional testing environment.
But a larger benefit of gamifying testing is to make the process as meritocratic as possible. Some firms have also hidden details of candidates' university to eliminate “unconscious bias.” Such companies include Deloitte, the NHS, HSBC and the BBC. Universities will also use a similar system by 2017.5
The gamification of psychometric testing in the workplace can be classified into three types:
Mobile technology to administer psychometric tests
Recruiters in India are using an integrated mobile platform to administer a psychometric or aptitude test online and then conduct a live or automated video interview.
Gaming environments that simulate the work environment
This approach to psychometric testing in the workplace could well have been triggered by the gap between personality test scores and actual job performance. For example, Whole Foods found that even though some candidates cleared the personality screening, they lacked basic food preparation skills. Here is a snapshot of gamification of psychometric testing in the workplace around the world.
- United States
Deloitte customized a "game" which places potential employees in real life work situations at the firm. The 20-minute online game incorporates videos and tasks from real Deloitte employees based on scenarios that occur regularly in the workplace. The game serves as the first round of the selection process and follows the same principals as traditional psychometric testing commonly used by large consulting and professional firms and allows employers to assess candidates' performances. It's flashy to attract graduates who are applying for positions with multiple employers. According to Deloitte: “It's highly competitive, and we feel this is not innovating for the sake of innovating, but we do feel that it's reflective of our environment. Having a boring, lengthy process that has no real connectivity to what they'll be doing at the firm is not ideal. We absolutely wanted to address that.”6
- New Zealand
Companies are using gaming environments that simulate an employee's first day in the office.
Big Four accounting firm KPMG implemented gamified testing last year. As a result, they found a 79 percent reduction in applications that had to be individually reviewed and a 58 percent reduction in the numbers who got through to final interview sessions.
A company (PwC) created a game called "Multipoly” that where job seekers have to perform tasks using skills that the company is looking for — digital competency, business acumen and relational skills.
Gaming environments that mimic existing games and app
In the United Kingdom, some major companies are using a suite of games that mimic “Angry Birds” style of environments to incorporate psychometric testing. According to the game developers: “Our psychometric games have been designed to measure dimensions of the Big Five personality framework, specific cognitive functions and General Mental Ability (GMA).” Their games include:
- Firefly Freedom — measures innovation by asking players to catch fireflies to provide light for their family during the winter
- Cosmic Cadet — measures resilience and problem solving, as the player navigates a spaceship through space
- Yellow Hook Reef — measures general ability, such as verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning
Another type of gaming environment mimics dating-app Tinder, where candidates are matched with their ideal work environment. It is called Debut — for career placement.7 Candidates are typically comfortable sharing data and photos as they are accustomed to doing so on social media. One user commented that “It is a bit like Tinder — you swipe right and instead of getting a date, you get a job.”
In conclusion, personality testing has come a long way from traditional questions about mood, and companies and job candidates seem to be embracing this change.
Cattell, R. B., Cattell, A. K., & Cattell, H. P. (1949). 16PF Fifth Edition Questionnaire. Psyctests, doi:10.1037/t02933-000
Cubiks (1996) Personality and Preference Inventory. London: Cubiks.
Hathaway, S. R., & McKinley, J. C. (1951). MMPI manual. New York: Psychological Corporation.
Hogan, R. (1986). Manual for the Hogan personality inventory.
Saville & Holdsworth Ltd. (1999). Occupational Personality Questionnaires (OPQ 32) manual. Esher, Surrey: Saville & Holdsworth.
Schutz, W. (1958). Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation–Behavior Assessment. Psyctests, doi:10.1037/t02314-000