The Beginner's Guide to Psychometric Testing

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But you can bet that one of 12 other possible abbreviations corresponds to you. Moreover, a knowledge of your cryptic mnemonic has its benefits. It can enable both you and your employer to gain valuable insight into what makes you tick, and into how you can be encouraged to tick harmoniously with those around you.

The codes are the stock-in-trade of the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator, one of several psychometric instruments being used increasingly in the financial industry to shed light on otherwise elusive variables such as the character and untested abilities of employees.

The Myers-Briggs test itself is not used to make recruitment decisions. Therefore, if you've encountered the test and are in possession of your code, it is probable that you have been tested by an existing employer with a view to surveying your career development.

Using distinctions based on Jungian psychology, between introversion and extroversion, sensing and intuition, thinking and feeling, and judging and perceiving, Myers-Briggs is described by its UK vendors, Oxford Psychologists Press, as the &quotworld's leading indicator of personal styles&quot. Most City firms use psychometric testing in graduate recruitment. Oxford Psychologists Press claims to have around 70% of the FTSE 100 as its clients. Although Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs eschew tests, Chase Manhattan, Lehman Brothers and Kleinwort Benson, for example, all acknowledge a debt to psychometric testing in the selection of employees. As providers of objective information about a candidate, psychometric tests commonly focus on aptitude in recruitment situations. This is particularly the case for graduates, who increasingly encounter tests probing their linguistic, numerical, and abstract reasoning.

The number of test types is proliferating, and with this proliferation a growing number of non-graduate positions are being filled with the help of psychometrics.

At Chase Manhattan, Christian Hobsen, a seemingly ordinary member of the human resources department, is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Psychologists.

At Chase, as elsewhere, senior recruits are spared the aptitude test. This is done in part for fear of offending desirable candidates confident of their capabilities and in part because such tests are unwarranted when a CV adequately sets out a candidate's abilities.

But as the importance of so called &quotsoft skills&quot grows, the personal qualities of senior recruits are instead being subjected to scrutiny.

According to Roy Davis of Saville and Holdsworth, one of the UK's leading providers of psychometric instruments, there are four aspects to a job:

- Knowledge and experience - what can be done

- Aptitude - verbal and numerical reasoning

- Behavioural style - how the candidate interacts with people and

- Motivation - why they do it.

Davis says that firms are increasingly coming to believe that the differentiating factor between success and failure is personality. For this reason, the management of relationships and underlying behavioural style are now seen as important indicators, both of an individual's future performance, and of compatibility with a firm's culture - another area which is gaining importance in recruitment decisions.

As an alternative to the developmentally focused Myers-Briggs test, both Saville and Holdsworth and Oxford Psychologists Press provide personality tests for use in recruitment.

Saville and Holdsworth's eponymous Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) is, for example, frequently used in the City to map the nebulous area of a candidate's occupational personality.

In this instance, a candidate will be required to rate answers to statements such as &quotI sometimes make mistakes&quot on a scale of 1 to 5.

This questionnaire divides occupational personalities into 31 categories. It can be tailored to accommodate employers' specific personality needs, such as data rationality, which refer to the extent to which a candidate is able to act upon statistical information.

However, it is often less directly pertinent characteristics which tip the balance for or against a candidate.

Francis StJohn, managing director of Lifeswork, a firm specialising in psychometric testing, says that she is often given lists of people with very similar track records, for whom positioning in creative as well as analytical areas helps employers make a selection.

All providers and users of psychometric instruments stress that they are not designed to be the bottom line in recruitment decisions. According to Hobsen at Chase: &quotTests are significant, but are not the main part of the selection process.&quot

Tests are correctly used when candidates are given an opportunity to comment on their responses. An interview invariably provides candidates with such an opportunity, but testing is also used in outplacement to help illuminate an individual's appropriate reaction to a forced or desired change of career.

What is the best way for a candidate to prepare for a psychometric test? This depends entirely upon the type of test.

Personality tests such as OPQ and Myers-Briggs have no right or wrong answers and are merely used to reflect a respondent's position in terms of benchmarks provided by a large number of previous respondents. In this situation, the golden rule is to be yourself. Attempts to skew the test and present yourself in an overly favourable light are detected by in-built mechanisms.

In the OPQ test, for example, Davis of Saville and Holdsworth says that questions are included which enable assessment of a respondent's dominance of others by virtue of the fact that dominant personalities always respond positively to them.

On the other hand, respondents to the more commonly encountered ability tests can increase their score by up to 20% where they are familiar with question types.

The Saville and Holdsworth website (www.shlgroup.com) contains sample questions, as will the imminently available Oxford Psychology Press site (www.opp.co.uk)

The Oxford Psychology Press is also developing a new kind of test which has a strain aimed directly at financial professionals.

The Able brand of tests enable recruiters to evaluate a candidate's ability to learn the skills necessary for success in a position. Respondents are asked to make decisions based on scenarios such as employment in a venture capital firm seeking to distribute funds.

As tests become more widely used, the mystique that once surrounded them is diminishing. Hobsen at Chase says: &quotNowadays, people are more accepting of psychometrics. They are a valuable recruitment tool, but are all blunt instruments and must be used with a degree of caution.&quot

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