Measuring "Hidden" Traits
Measuring attributes like height, weight and strength is reasonably simple. These are all physical and observable traits that you can assess objectively. But what about factors that aren't so easy to measure?
Traits such as personality, intelligence, attitude, and beliefs are important characteristics to measure and assess. Whether you're hiring people, helping team members understand themselves and their relationships with others, or trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, it's useful to assess these types of "hidden" or less-obvious attributes.
One way to gather this information is to use psychometric tests. This article looks at what psychometric tests are, what they measure, and how they can help you to recruit and support staff, and to develop your own career.
What Are Psychometric Tests?
Psychometric tests include personality profiles, reasoning tests, motivation questionnaires, and ability assessments. These tests try to provide objective data for otherwise subjective measurements.
For example, if you want to determine someone's attitude, you can ask the person directly, observe the person in action, or even gather observations about the person from other people. However, all of these methods can be affected by personal bias and perspective. By using a psychometric test, you can make a more objective and impartial judgment.
Since objectivity is key to using these assessments, a good psychometric test provides fair and accurate results each time it's given. To ensure this, the test must meet three key criteria:
Standardization – The test must be based on results from a sample population that's truly representative of the people who'll be taking the test. You can't realistically test every working person in a country. But you can test a representative sample of that group, and then apply the results to the specific people you test. Also, a standardized test is administered the same way every time, to reduce any test bias. By using a standardized test, you can compare the results with anyone whose characteristics are similar to those of the sample group.
- Reliability – The test must produce consistent results, and not be significantly influenced by outside factors. For instance, if you're feeling stressed when you take the test, the test results shouldn't be overly different from times when you were excited or relaxed.
- Validity – This is perhaps the most important quality of a test. A valid test has to measure what it's designed to measure. If a test is supposed to measure a person's interests, then it must clearly demonstrate that it does actually measure interests, and not something else that's just related to interests.
Psychometrics is the study of educational and psychological measurements. The adjective "psychometric" is used to describe psychological tests (typically those used in educational and occupational settings) that are standardized as well as proven to be reliable measures of factors such as personality, ability, aptitude, and interest.
Beyond these criteria, effective psychometric tests must be relevant to the modern workplace. Before using one of these tests, make sure that it's been validated and updated recently.
What Do Psychometric Tests Measure?
Psychometric tests can measure interests, personality and aptitude.
- Interest tests measure how people differ in their motivation, values and opinions in relation to their interests.
- Personality tests measure how people differ in their style of doing things, and in the way they interact with their environment and other people.
In our article, Behavioral Assessments, Professor Adrian Furnham looks at the "Big Five" Model of Personality, and argues the case for personality assessments.
- Aptitude tests measure how people differ in their ability to perform or carry out different tasks.
Advantages of Psychometric Tests
Psychometric tests can help to make career-related assessments more objective.
These tests also save a great deal of time. They're typically very easy to administer, and they can be given to a group of people at once. (Some other types of assessments must be given individually.) Psychometric tests are also easily scored, so results come back quickly.
Many of these tests are completed electronically, further saving time and costs. People can take the tests from anywhere, and the results are accurately scored each time.
Using Psychometric Tests
Psychometric tests can be used for a variety of purposes, including:
- Selection of personnel. Tests can help recruiters and hiring managers to spot the candidates who best fit a position. Personality, aptitude and knowledge tests are particularly useful here. For more details about them, including how to use them for hiring, see our article on Using Recruitment Tests.
- Individual development and training. Psychometric tests can help you to determine how best to improve current skills and performance. For example, if your department is going to introduce a new type of technology, it might be helpful to assess people on their interests and motivations related to new technology. The Business Attitude Inventory and the California Measure of Mental Motivation are psychometric tests available for training and development purposes. You could also use aptitude and skills tests to determine a person's ability to perform certain tasks.
- Team building and development. This area can provide many opportunities to use psychometric tests. The better people understand themselves and others, the better they can build and maintain positive workplace relationships. Tests such as DiSC® and the Hogan Development Survey are designed specifically to uncover potential sources of relationship tension. General personality assessments, including the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator® (MBTI) and the California Psychological Inventory™ (CPI), are also very helpful for team building and strengthening. Values in Action can give you insights into group behaviors and dynamics that relate to people's values.
- Career development and progression. Psychometric tests can help you to uncover values and interests that are fundamental to overall career satisfaction. For those starting out in their careers, and those looking for the right career path, interest surveys like Holland's Codes and Schein's Career Anchors are also useful psychometric tests to consider.
Remember to keep psychometric testing in perspective. These tests are only one of many different types of assessments that you can use in recruitment and career development.
Assessing and appraising people is a highly complex and subjective process, and psychometric tests are a good way of objectively assessing people's "hidden" traits.
From recruitment to long-term career development, these tests provide reliable information to use when making important personnel decisions.
Ensure that any test you're considering is appropriate for your needs, up to date, and has been evaluated rigorously.
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