Untrained Psychometric Users Risk Making Bad Hires

Angus McDonald, ex Chair of the BPS Committee on Test Standards, expresses concern over survey findings which indicate that over 30% of psychometric test users are unqualified.

For years the UK, through the work of the British Psychological Society (BPS), has led the way in setting standards for test training. The standards in occupational testing launched around 30 years ago have heavily influenced the standards of the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA) and many across Europe and further afield recognise them as the ‘gold standard’ in equipping people to use tests professionally and ethically.

It’s therefore a bit of a surprise when you read headlines like “One-third using psychometrics have no training, finds survey”. This comes from a survey conducted by Personnel Today and Network HR that goes on to say:

 “Although more than three-quarters of respondents agreed that psychometric testing was a powerful tool for recruitment selection, 30% said it was not a requirement that their staff undergo training in these tests before running them with candidates.”

Accepting these findings at face value, and there’s no reason not to, they raise a number of important questions around training and test use.

Where are the tests coming from?

Most of the UK’s test publishers subscribe to the BPS’s best practice guidelines on test training. This means that people wishing to purchase psychometric tests either need to have a recognised qualification – ‘Test User Ability’ for those wishing to use measures of cognitive ability or ‘Test User Personality’ for those wishing to use personality measures – or undergo such a course. Most publishers and many smaller training providers deliver these courses or versions of them that cover the core knowledge and skills to use tests appropriately.

We know that some publishers allow more ready access to their tests than others. However if 30 per cent of users say it is not a requirement of their staff to be trained but, as another Personnel Today article shows, the most commonly used tests come from publishers who do require at least some training, something does not add up. Either the surveys are wrong or many tests are being used by people the test publishers would not view as being qualified to do so.

What are the barriers to training?

Having being involved in training for a number of years, I’ve had many conversations about training and heard many objections. Here are some of the most common ones:

It takes too long: Maybe it used to, but not now. It’s now common for courses to take 2 to 3 days at most, often with a bit of pre- and post-course work that can be done flexibly. Some training providers also offer distance learning options, meaning delegates study when they want to at their own pace

It costs too much: Training may not be considered by some to be cheap, but it’s nowhere near the cost of making a poor hiring decision. The CIPD estimates that the cost of a single poor hire could be up to £12,000 though other estimates add at least a zero to this for senior positions.

It’s not relevant enough: Revisions to the BPS courses over the past few years have updated them to ensure their relevance to current recruitment issues. The knowledge and skills covered on courses also often goes beyond the simple use of tests, helping delegates improve their assessment practice generally, whether this includes psychometric testing or not.

I don’t really need to do it (do I?): See above and below. If you want to have access to some of the best quality instruments from the main test publishers and, when you have access to instruments use them effectively, you will most likely need some form of training.

Testing is risk free… isn’t it?

I argue that recruitment is essentially about risk management, and psychometrics are some of the best tools we have to do this.  However, there’s another type of risk involved in any recruitment decision, the risk that as a recruiter you may be challenged about the decisions you make.  One of the key messages that comes through psychometric test training is about the limits of the accuracy of tests.  Tests are good, much better than many other methods of assessment people swear by, but nothing is perfect.  Without appropriate training, there’s a very real danger that test scores are taken at face value, over-interpreted and poor decisions are made.  Decisions that would be difficult to defend if challenged.

There are also many other points of risk associated with test use: matching tests to the job requirements accurately, identifying tests that are reliable, valid and fair, administering tests fairly including issues with online testing and dealing with candidates with disabilities appropriately to name but a few. Good test training equips users with the knowledge and skills to manage all aspects of test use, from the identification of needs through to the interpretation of results and integration of these with other candidate data. If you are a recruiter or responsible for others using tests, getting good training in psychometrics is certainly the best way of managing your risks.

Some concluding thoughts

I have spent more than a decade of my professional career involved with setting and maintaining test standards with the BPS. Like any complex system, it’s probably not perfect and is certainly not without its critics. But the value that I have seen it add to professional practice is very real. Far more than just managing risks, people who have undergone good training come away with broad insights into assessment that stretch far beyond testing. They approach testing from a critical stance, recognising it as a valuable tool but also one than needs to be handled carefully if they are to get the best out of it. In a competitive market place for the best candidates, these are the 70 per cent of test users whose understanding is most likely to help them win the war for talent.


Angus MacDonald is the MD of Realise Potential Ltd and the ex Chair of the BPS Committee on Test Standards. He is also the lead trainer for the TalentLens BPS Test User: Occupational Personality course.