To test or not to test, that is the question

To test or not to test, that is the question

Sometimes, as part of the interview process, you may find yourself asked to take a psychometric test. In this blog we look at whether they are a useful tool for employers, allowing them to compare candidates in an objective way, or a fad devised to make money for the people who develop them.

Designed to gain a more thorough insight into areas such as personality traits, the way you like to work, and your motivations and values, advocates of such testing point to the benefits of a ‘level playing field’. Indeed, 70% of FTSE top 100 organisations use psychometric testing as an element of their recruitment process.

Sceptics highlight that over-reliance on testing can dehumanise the recruitment process and result in a hire that is great on paper but not necessarily right for the culture or existing teams.

As with most things in life, there are benefits and downsides to such testing. But before we look at these, let’s understand the different types of test you may come across – and what each is trying to measure.

What types of test are there?

There are many types of tests, but below are some examples of the more common ones you may encounter, designed to examine personality and aptitude or ability.

Brain Teaser – This is where you are asked an abstract question and use your logic and analytical skills to come up with a justifiable answer. These tests examine your thought processes in solving complex problems and measure methodology and creativity. There are often no right and wrong answers to these questions; the important thing is to be able to validate your conclusion.

Critical Thinking – This is a form of reflective reasoning where the candidate is asked to evaluate situations and conclude logical and articulate judgements, within a given context. These tests look at how a person can think outside of presented arguments and conclusions, by thorough analysis and questioning of the evidence presented. They help to show whether someone can separate opinion and fact.

Cognitive Ability – A very common form of testing, cognitive ability covers a range of different tests including numerical, verbal, abstract, spatial and mechanical reasoning. They are used to measure general intelligence and usually employed to measure a potential employee’s suitability for a role and their competence in the skills required.

So why do recruiters use these tests?

  1. They remove reliance on interviews, which are always subjective. Testing helps to identify people who could be a good match for your position but who just don’t interview well. Some people suffer greatly from interview nerves or may have been out of the workplace for a while, or just aren’t feeling great on their interview day. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a great recruit. And conversely, that slick, well-rehearsed interviewee may reveal a very different side once they have completed their tests.
  2. They provide a benchmark. Particularly useful if you have a large number of potential applicants, psychometric testing can provide a benchmark for comparison of each candidate. You can also test your successful current employees and see how applicants compare to those people who are flourishing in their roles.
  3. They save time and money. Recruitment is a costly and time-consuming business. Making the wrong hire, even more so. If used at the start of the process, testing can help to narrow down a shortlist of likely candidates. Exponents of testing say that it reduces staff turnover and increases staff satisfaction, both huge benefits to organisational productivity.

And the potential downsides?

  1. Mis-interpretation of results. An inexperienced employer may draw inaccurate conclusions based on a lack of knowledge about the test and what it is measuring. It’s a particular danger for smaller organisations who may not have dedicated HR departments. Most test providers will provide support in interpreting results (for a cost) and it makes sense to take advantage of this if you don’t have in-house experts.
  2. Over-reliance on testing. Lack of time – or laziness – can result in employers judging solely on test rests. They should never be the ONLY criteria used for a recruitment decision. They are designed to augment other tactics and show the employers a fuller picture.
  3. Many tests need to be delivered by professionals who are highly experienced in running and interpreting the results. For companies that can’t afford that cost, automated online assessments are readily available. Some critics say, particularly for smaller companies, an informal style of interview, where the applicant is relaxed, can result in a better result than an online test.

Finally, if you know you will be asked to complete psychometric tests during your interview, here are a few tips to help you perform well:

  • Take some exercise; the endorphins will make you feel good
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before to maximise your alertness
  • Go easy on the coffee; caffeine can affect your concentration
  • Relax and don’t rush the test – remember your school days advice too – read the whole question before you start to answer
  • Answer naturally and instinctively, don’t try to think what answers the employer wants to see


As ever, we are here to help. Speak to one of our experienced consultants on 0800 87 86 868 or email