Looking To Use Psychometric Tests In Recruiting, Here Is What You Need To Know.

Can a psychometric test truly determine if a candidate is the perfect fit for your team? It may seem like a game-changer for screening candidates, but it could also be a gamble in recruitment.

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Jun 21, 2024

Are you someone who would say, “That’s too much work?” when asked to do more things, or are you the type of person who would just take it on?

That’s one of the questions Whole Foods used to screen candidates, according to this Reddit Post.

Honestly, I’ve worked in HR for over 20 years and have no idea what the “right” answer is here. Without context, there’s no right way to answer this question. Is the “too much work” something that would bring you up to two hours of meaningful work per day or push you over the edge into burnout because you’ve been doing so much that you literally cannot take on one more thing?

This type of analysis comes from Traitify and offers free assessments, so I took one. Three times. The first time, I hit “Me” on every trait (although the “that’s too much work” did not show up.) I got the following result:

Your Big Five Personality is 


You are focused on the horizon, wondering how to improve and innovate. Engaged in the work of groups and eager to be heard, you are energetic in your approach to ideas.

The second time, I hit “Not Me” for everything and got the following result:

Your Big Five Personality is

You can get lost in your work, appreciating the value of devoting expertise to the execution of a task. You are at ease working in your own way, on your own terms.

The third time, I answered what I really think (considering my original criticism of the lack of context, which makes this not a good indicator of reality, which probably is a personality type of its own).

Your Big Five Personality is

You can take on a lot, juggle multiple projects at once, and devote creative energy wisely. You are unlikely to shy away from a challenge, and you provide energy for yourself and others from the enjoyment you gain from keeping busy and having an ear for what’s next.

I do juggle multiple projects and have a lot of creative energy! The question isn’t whether or not this describes me accurately. The question for hiring is, does this describe the ideal person for this job?

Psychological test validation

For a psychological test to be valid, it needs to meet four standards:

  1. Reliability
  2. Validity
  3. Standardized administration methods
  4. Normative data.

Administering psychological tests for candidates is troubling in all these areas and is not limited to the above-mentioned tests.

You can be reliable in a test because if the same person takes the same test, they get the same result. But, job candidates aren’t looking for psychological help, so their motivation can be flawed. Their goal is to get the job, so there’s no guarantee that they aren’t answering the questions the way they think they should rather than the true answers.

Validity measures whether the test is valid for what it says it tests for. Psychological tests are validated in several ways. Assuming the test is reliable and valid, we still have a problem: Applicability.

The test I took might be reliable because if I took it again in two weeks, I would likely still be classified as a Campaigner, which makes sense since I am a Campaigner. However, how can we validate that a Campaigner would be a better Whole Foods employee than a Gamesman, or vice versa?

Standardized administration is pretty much thrown out the window with self-administered psychological tests given to candidates. I took mine in a quiet room alone, but there’s no guarantee that someone else isn’t taking theirs during a crowded lunch break at a fast food restaurant after a long day of work or even having their cousin fill it out. Ensuring a standardized administration is impossible.

And normative data is a huge problem in hiring. The National Library of Medicine identifies normative data problems in the following areas:

  • Language. Tests should be developed for and given in a person’s native language.
  • “Different cultures, races, and ethnicities may be exposed to different educational materials or have different socioeconomic backgrounds.” All these things can affect how a candidate sees and understands a test.
  • Tests should be age-normed, especially for younger people.
  • Norming should be done with specifically selected participants so your evaluations are correct for the people you’re testing.

Practical application

I contacted Paradox, the creator of this test. They provided documentation of the validity of their tests and said they do work with clients to help with the application, adding, “In the implementation process and at regular intervals, job analysis is done by one our PhD I/O psychologists for the specific jobs. We closely advise clients on how to use the assessments and the statistical testing for each role and measure the impact of them at regular business reviews.”

There are many employers and test creators out there, with numerous companies utilizing psychological testing in various formats, and some may not be as rigorous as others.

Duane Lakin, a consulting psychologist, explains, “So why use psychological assessments in hiring? Because talent/potential and fit are difficult to evaluate in a typical pre-hire interview. But the combination of a behavioral interview and psychological testing that make up a psychological assessment can give you valuable insights into the candidate, insights that go beyond the resume.”

It certainly provides more information. However, according to the Redditor, it wasn’t used as a supplement to an interview but rather as a first screening tool, which is a very different application. (Admittedly, the lack of contact may not be due to the test—it could be an issue with the resume.)

If you are using these tests as decision criteria, you need to validate them for those purposes. With over 91,000 employees, Whole Foods could certainly have validated these tests for hiring. They could have tested current employees and seen what traits work best in which positions. If you are working with small businesses, this type of internal validation is more difficult. (I contacted Whole Foods, but they did not respond.)

And keep in mind psychological tests can be controversial for a neurodiverse population. Professor Jada Wiggleton-Little studied the impact of these tests on autistic candidates. She reiterated that neurotypical candidates attempt to increase their chances of getting the job by giving “answers they believe the employer wants to hear, not what they really think.

“Autistic adults tend not to fake answers,” Wiggleon-Little writes. “Studies suggest that autistic adults are less likely to use reputation management compared to neurotypical adults.”

The legality of testing

Is it legal to use psychological testing in hiring? Employment Attorney Todd Stanton likes this type of testing. He said, “I really don’t have a legal (or personal) problem with pre-employment screens – essentially “personality tests” like this. We’re all looking for ways to create efficiencies, and heuristic aids like this can streamline what might otherwise be a time-consuming process. If companies aren’t using them as a pretext for unlawful discrimination, using well-calibrated assessments according to the instructions, know for what they’re looking, and recognize the tool’s limitations, it’s probably a good idea.”

His points are important in recruiting. You must meet Stanton’s criteria for these tests to be effective tools. Trying to apply a test you got online for free to your hiring process is not an effective use of these tests.

Using tests to screen candidates may allow you to shorten the screening time and gain more effective candidates, but only if it’s done right.

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