Organisations can use a range of tests to assess candidates in addition to interviews, which carry the possibility of unconscious bias. These range from practical tests, such as keyboard and telephone skills, to psychometric tests, which measure intelligence, personality, aptitude, reasoning, decision-making, and interpersonal skills.

Just as attainment tests, such as traditional exams, are designed to show what a person knows or the technical skills they have, there are tests which help to indicate a candidate’s strengths in group scenarios, as well as aptitude for tasks and even likeability!

The various forms of psychometric test are designed to show what a person might be capable of and the type of behaviours they exhibit. Research by Personnel Today reveals that good psychometric tests, particularly delivered online, can cut recruitment costs by between 30% and 40%, and reduce the time a new recruit takes to become fully effective. Eight in ten companies who use it find it a “powerful tool for hiring” and have faith in the results.

Most organisations make use of psychometric testing, particularly when assessing high volumes of applicants. Tools such as personality profiling, cognitive ability assessments and structured behavioural interviews give a greater predictive validity.

Often administered online, popular assessments include:

Cognitive ability tests

These assess a person’s thinking and problem-solving ability and measure maximum performance under timed conditions. It’s important to match the test type to the requirement for the role. Cognitive ability tests are used widely due to their high level of proven ability to predict future performance in a role.

‘Armstrong’s handbook of human resource management practice’ list the main ability tests:

  • spatial reasoning – the ability to understand and interpret special relationships between objects
  • verbal reasoning – the ability to comprehend, interpret and draw conclusions from oral or written language
  • numerical reasoning – the ability to comprehend, interpret and draw conclusions from numerical information
  • mechanical reasoning – understanding of everyday physical laws such as force and leverage.

Aptitude tests

In addition, an employer may also set candidates an aptitude test to display their skills and achievement level in a given area (e.g. IT skills), which are necessary to the job – and so prove their qualification to do it.

Candidates will be made aware in advance that they will be expected to take such a test, which usually takes place on the day of interview. The content will be relevant to the job – such as analysing performance data; drafting a letter to convey challenging news; computer tests; preparing for or giving presentations; role play; and exercises that test for an applicant's speed, skill, accuracy and dexterity at practical tasks. The work test can also illustrate the applicant's ability to analyse statistical or budget information.

Personality tests

There is debate about the applicability and appropriateness of personality tests. It can be difficult to determine what is being measured, whether a personality remains constant or develops with time and circumstance, or even if a personality can be measured at all.

Tests are usually worded so that candidates cannot shape their answers according to what they imagine will be required. However, personality tests run the risk of curtailing diversity. Training, attitude and experience may have a bigger impact on job performance than personality alone.

What they provide employers with is a categorisation of psychological character, which can determine the best way to develop a person when they are in the role. The psychological dimensions typically examined include:

  • extroversion
  • emotional 
  • stability 
  • agreeableness 
  • conscientiousness 
  • openness to experience.

Trainability tests

Candidates for jobs needing certain skills are shown how to do a new task and then observed to see how well they have responded to the ‘training’ in picking up those new skills. These tests can be tailored to the type of job to be filled.

Emotional intelligence tests

The concept behind emotional intelligence (or EQ for Emotional Quotient, to mirror IQ) is that to be successful requires the effective awareness, control and management of your own emotions, plus an awareness and understanding of other people’s feelings. As such, it argues that the traditional general intelligence test is too narrow because it does not measure social skills. EQ testing comprises: knowing your emotions, managing your emotions, motivating yourself, recognising and understanding other people’s emotions, and managing relationships. However, some academics argue that its value is in performance management, and EQ testing may not be appropriate during recruitment.

Group selection methods and assessment centres

Assessment centres are useful when selecting a group of candidates. It is usually used for higher-level roles, where the cost of not securing the best candidate is high.

‘Assessment centre’ refers to a process, not a place, combining a number of tools and assessments to simulate important elements of the job. It uses direct observation and not evidence of past experience to determine candidate potential and is recognised as one of the best ways to select staff and assess their potential.

Candidates, whether internal or external, go through a programme of tests and exercises, such as role-play, business games and group tasks. The structured sets of activities, usually lasting one or two days, are set up by trained and briefed assessors. Candidates may also be set simulated individual job-related tests, such as a timed ‘in-tray’ exercise, where they are asked to prioritise and deal with a selection of work-related challenges. Marking is structured and coordinated by all the assessors to remove any individual assessor bias.

Tests will generally be interspersed with interviews. They often consist of:

  • testing – general and specific aptitude tests
  • group interviews – both task and simulation exercises 
  • panel interviews.

Group tests

Organisations who want to see how potential candidates will act or react in the workplace often use group tests, where candidates are observed and scored throughout the process, including how they:

  • relate to one another 
  • influence others
  • persuade others
  • express themselves verbally to others
  • handle their thought processes under pressure
  • apply themselves to a problem
  • solve problems
  • define the role they play in group situations.