Psychometric testing - alarmingly accurate

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Taken out of context, it's hard to see what these questions are getting at.

But as part of a psychometric test - in this case the 430 questions

of the CPI test - they apparently reveal, for example, how sociable you are, how dominant, and whether you prefer structured or unstructured settings. (See below how eFinancialCareers got on when we tried out the test).

Although widely used and researched, psychometric testing still arouses strong feelings.

Some employers swear by it as a useful tool for hiring or career development, while detractors believe it is little more than hocus pocus.

John Hackston, principal consultant at Oxford Psychologists

Press (OPP), publishers of the CPI questionnaire, says research has shown that tests are

the best single way of making hiring decisions. They are more reliable than

interviewing alone, especially unstrucutured interviewing, in which the

interwiewer does not have a clear and systematic idea of what they are

trying to find out.

&quotTests won't tell you how well someone will actually perform. But they can say whether they have the characteristics that would tend to make them, for example, a good manager or leader,&quot says Hackston.

At most investment banks, psychometric tests are a standard

part of graduate recruitment. They are increasingly used to assess more senior

executives as well.

Broadly speaking, psychometric tests fall into two categories - ability tests

and personality tests. The former measure single skills like numeracy or

verbal reasoning, while the latter measure personality traits or

work styles.

Hackston says that to be useful, a psychometric test must be both

valid in itself, i.e. it must measure what it says it measures, backed up by

statistical evidence and analysis, and it must be properly administered.

Most tests are multiple choice to ensure reliable marking and

comparisons. Especially in the case of personality tests, there should be a feedback session with a qualified person to discuss

the results. In addition, says Hackston, 'as far as possible they should be

discriminating, but not discriminatory.'

From a candidate's point of view, the intriguing thing about the CPI test is

that you can't second guess it. Although there are some reasonably

transparent questions, there are plenty more where you really can't be sure

what they are getting at: 'Do you fear car accidents?' or 'Should people be

legally obliged to vote?'

As a result, it's impossible to know what answer would present you in the

'best' light, so you just answer honestly - which is presumably one of the

hallmarks of a good test.

Before starting the test, I was told that there was no time limit, I could leave out

any questions I felt I couldn't answer and, generally speaking, that it was best not to agonise,

but just to go with my first response.

I was aware that some psychometric tests (though not, in fact, CPI) have

embedded measures of honesty - a combination of similar questions scattered throughout the test which are

analysed for consistency and 'trick questions' like, 'I sometimes stole

things when I was a child.' If you answered 'No', the chances are you would be lying.

So what did the test reveal? In my case, an alarmingly accurate picture.

Alarming in the sense that I was flabbergasted at how a bunch of seemingly

innocuous questions could reveal so much.

Part of the trick, I was told, is that many questions are based simply on statistical

observations. So, for example, if research shows that a high proportion of people who are very

open-mided also enjoyed their school days, asking about attitudes to school

could suggest how tolerant a person is likely to be.

Twenty characteristics were measured and plotted on a graph that indicated

my score relative to others on the database who have taken the test.

Two scores stuck out particularly - a very high score for empathy, and very

high on 'stereotypically masculine characteristics: more tough-minded than

sensitive able to live with emotional consequences of own decisions may be

obstinate and stong-willed.'

Did these two sets of characteristics ring true, I was asked? (Yes). And

were people generally aware of both aspects of my character, since they are,

apparently, an uncommon combination?

The two measures I most disagreed with were 'dominance' and 'capacity for

status', which I felt showed up rather more strongly than are the case. But

it was a question of degree rather than feeling that the description was

totally off beam.

Was it a useful excercise? I found it reassuring to have certain things I

believed about myself confirmed, and illuminating to have other

characteristics that I was less conscious of articulated or highlighted.

And I enjoyed the experience of focusing on myself and having a professional

consultant do the same - but perhaps that's because I have relatively high

'social presence' and 'enjoy being centre-stage, playing to an audience and

seeking social attention and recognition.'

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