Using psychological testing to hire staff

The testing of a candidate’s psychological attributes has long been a topic for debate and study, with a mixed bag of results. But what exactly is psychological testing when used during the search for an employee?

To put it simply: employers use psychological testing either to automatically filter through a large cohort of applications or use it as a tool to make a more informed decision on those whose credentials they have already reviewed.

The types of psychological testing

There is a huge range of psychological testing employers can use to aid their recruitment. Simple personality tests (e.g. Myers Briggs) give an indication of how a person may fit in within the team, while aptitude tests will highlight how a candidate may approach various challenges in the workplace. Lastly, intelligence tests may be able to indicate a person’s general intelligence and capability to perform their role.

The risks of psychological testing

There has been little significant agreement on the benefits to using psychological testing during recruitment. There is more consensus that personality tests can be beneficial in some circumstances but cannot be said to always be a clear indication of a person’s suitability for a role.

For instance, an intelligence test may be able to ascertain an individual’s ability to apply their intellect towards the questions asked of them in the test, but this does not correlate with their ability for ‘realised intelligence’, which is intelligence that arises in a workplace situation where an employee has multiple demands made of them and is expected to creatively and laterally approach these challenges. If you test a person for their intelligence capacity, you may find they do not stack up when it comes to their ability for realised intelligence. In other words, they may not be able to deal with the demands of the role, despite showing significant intellect, because they will lack a creative approach to solving problems etc.

To offset this risk, you can try to test candidates for the ability to deal with multiple intellectual demands, such as performing one action (making a calculation) while memorising an image.

The biggest risks associated with psychological testing is the ability for them to be manipulated or ‘faked’ by those taking the test. This may not be applicable for aptitude or intelligence tests, but it is for personality tests. If an individual is aware that they prefer to work alone and in a quiet environment and have issues with taking criticism, they can easily identify the sorts of questions that work in their favour and answer them in a way that suggests they are perfect for the role. The ability for a candidate to fake a personality test renders it essentially useless, equivalent to them writing cliché sentences about their ability to be a ‘team player’ or being ‘goals-oriented’ in their CV.

The benefits of psychological testing

Psychological testing can sometimes seem obscure and irrelevant but criticisms of this practice can sometimes ignore how these tests work. An obscure question that may not relate specifically to a job is part of highlighting patterns in a candidate’s questions, rather than worrying about their answer to any one question. It is the patterns in their answers that reveal things about their personality and suitability for the role.

So, how can you best apply psychological testing to your recruitment process?

The best way to ensure the credibility of your testing is to eliminate the chances of it being manipulated. Because of this, avoid using psychological testing at the start of your recruitment funnel. If you have testing immediately shortlisting your CVs, there is a chance you are missing out on some great candidates, while possibly attracting those who are practiced in psychological testing but not suited to the job.

If you do want to use psychological testing, do it later in the recruitment stage, make it as least intrusive as you can, make sure it is legally compliant and do it within the office (especially if it is an aptitude/intelligence test).

For behavioural tests, cross reference candidates’ answers against their references and their CV to see whether they are practicing what is called ‘impression management’, where they are aware of what sort of answers are best for your role and as such don’t reflect their true personality.


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