Your guide to interviews: secrets of psychometric testing

Written by
Changeboard Team

02 Apr 2015

02 Apr 2015 • by Changeboard Team

What do psychometric tests measure?

Psychometric testing is a well-established tool in the recruitment and selection process and no doubt you have utilised it as a hiring manager. You do tend to find it more frequently employed by larger companies as opposed to smaller SMEs to aid them in not only ensuring a smooth recruitment process but to increase the likelihood that they are making the correct decision on that candidate. In a time of increased focus on budgeting and decreasing costs, the cost implications of making the wrong the hire are all too apparent.

The standard tests of cognitive ability that are most commonly employed to examine HR professionals provide two separate measures:

  • maximum performance (aptitude)
  • typical performance (personality)


This style of testing is generally divided into two; assessing broad underlying capabilities with numerical and verbal reasoning, and specific factors that are role- related such as clerical ability.

The HR recruitment process tends to only examine the numerical and verbal reasoning aspects to establish that the candidate has the appropriate cognitive ability to perform to the desired level. This part of the testing should without doubt, be viewed in a positive light; whilst you will naturally worry, you have successfully developed your HR career to this stage, which required a minimum level of ability. The employer is not looking for Einstein reincarnated, and as such will benchmark the scores against population norms. The employer will have already established what their minimum requirements for the role are, so if you score 22 out of 30 for example, you will be assessed as being in the top 30% of the UK working adult population.

Preparing for aptitude tests

We frequently get asked what a candidate can do in preparation for an aptitude test, and the preparation is really quite straight forward. Unlike the personality tests, there is a right and a wrong answer to these questions. Brushing up on numerical skills such as percentages and long multiplication will certainly be of assistance, and there are plenty of practice tests available to take online that will get you used to the format of the test and requirements for the verbal reasoning.


Personality tests are somewhat different to the aptitude as there are no right or wrong answers. Rather the questions are designed to draw out and examine the predispositions that someone has to behave and react in specific ways.

They are based on the premise that there are five basic personality traits that have been established as a result of extensive research that ranged from 4,000 identifiable traits to 3!

The generally accepted number has been settled at five, and are defined as:

Extraversion – including excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness

Agreeableness – including trust, altruism, kindness, and other prosocial behaviours

Conscientiousness – including goal directed behaviours, impulse control and methodical thinking

Neuroticism – emotional instability, anxiety, irritability and moodiness

Openness – including insight and imagination

One important point to keep in mind is that each of the categories represent a “continuum between two extremes.” Most people lie somewhere between the two.

The five factor approach has significant research to support it, and reams of statistical information that back up the actual test itself such as reliability and variability.

Preparing for personality tests

These tests on the whole provide an accurate picture on which an employer can make an informed decision. While it isn’t possible to influence the aptitude tests, it is possible to do so on the personality questionnaires; to lean the answers towards a certain direction. However, a strong word of warning in doing so; this will not benefit you long term. An employer should have carefully analysed the role to establish what they require from the individual. If you do not answer the questions honestly and instinctively thereby skewing the results, it’s unlikely you will possess the qualities they are looking for and will not be able to maintain this approach, resulting in poor long-term prospects for you both.
You can prepare for the test however so that you aren’t taken by surprise on the day. Lots of online testing is available and the Psychological Testing Centre run by the British Psychological Society is an excellent and reliable place to start.