When Agraj Sethi applied for a sales job in a company, he really was not convinced that it was the right career choice for him. “But, when I took the test, I knew that this was my true calling. Also, it helped me to know what my alternative careers could have been, if I needed to fall back on one of them at some point of time,” he says.
Sethi is talking about psychometric tests conducted by companies to gauge whether that particular person is right for the company.
In the past, the process of recruitment may have depended largely on the candidate’s profile, skills and past performance. Once employers were satisfied with the skill level and performance potential, job interviews became largely personality tests. Increasingly, however, employers want to use psychometric tests to scientifically assess if the candidate is suitable, especially for senior positions. “We conduct these tests only for the middle and the senior level employees. Since, it is at this stage that they start communicating with our clients, as well as with their own team members. So, it becomes imperative to know their emotional quotient and how well will they be able to handle stress and their team members,” explains Atul Pandey, VP, HR, Relaxo Footwear.
The reasons are two-fold. The impressions that candidates make in interviewers can be misleading and interviewers may not know how to evaluate the emotional well-being of the candidate.
Psychometric tests are standardized and tested for their validity. PF16, Big five personality types, FIRO B, DISC, MBTI and Strengths Finder etc are some of the instruments which can be used by the company to determine the personality of the individual. Proponents of these tests say that not only do employers benefit but employees too can find out their core skills and make informed career choices, especially if they are starting out.
“To apply a psychometric tool, the line managers and HR manager have to jointly agree on the competencies to be tested. This process pushes the concerned stakeholders to think through the contours of the role, context of the organization and the priorities among various aspects required in a person. As a result, the selection process becomes rigorous and benchmarked,” informs Aditya Narayan Mishra, CEO, CIEL HR Services, which helps conduct psychometric tests for companies.
While some might argue that such psychometric tests kill diverse workforces and a healthy work culture, there are a few that believe it’s an advantage, more so, a necessity. Trupti Kulkarni, an HR executive, who had taken the test herself before putting it to use in her organization, says, “From the HR angle, it helps you analyze how the person will fit into the organization’s culture. Provided, the employers share the results with the employee, it is a good tool. But, some companies do not provide the results. Then, you really end up taking a really long questionnaire and you might find the questions irritating, unnecessary or repetitive in nature.”
Neeraj Sharma, Senior Director, HR, FourKites, is of the view that these tests are a necessity for functional roles rather than for technical roles. “Also at entry level experience, there are three to four different applications for psychometric tests. One is when you want to hire for functional roles like sales, admin and non-technical roles. When hiring for engineering roles, there are specific tests like numerical ability and aptitude where psychological assessment is given lesser weightage. When the demography is highly diverse and we do need to recruit people pan India across various geographies and regions, like in recruiting 50 to 100 people for a customer service company, then filtering talents is easy through psychometric tests. Psychometric testing is also used for training and development, performance evaluation and employee engagement,” he says.
How reliable are these tests? Rajiv Naithani, Head of India , HR Organization, Infogain, a leading provider of technology solutions and services, says,“ These tests are helpful if used correctly. Mostly these tests help the organization in making the right decision of hiring which can increase the chances that the new employee will succeed in the organization. However, relying on these tests alone would be a bad decision. These should instead be looked at as an additional data point from assessment perspective,” he adds.
Sometimes, companies make a big mistake in terms of choosing the right psychometric test. For example, MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) was not meant to be used for selection or hiring purpose but some companies still use them. DISC (Dominant, Inspiring, Supportive, Cautious) profiling, on the other hand, could be an effective personality type which could be relevant while hiring people with specific profiling relevant for the job under that job family. When these tests are used correctly, cognitive and personality tests can increase the chances that new employees will succeed, says Naithani.
Some companies like P&G and Aditya Birla have a questionnaire with around 50 questions, and have multiple answers to choose from. The questions are situation-based: “What would you do if your distributor is not working properly” or “Your colleague has taken credit for the work you have done; how would you react”.
“The candidate may have remained calm all through, but a certain situation would have arisen which makes them angry or depressed. So, sometimes, these tests might not hold relevance,” says Dinesh Muthukumaraswami, an employee in an MNC.
Some companies gauge the mindset of their employees by creating situations. “They are tested even when they are unaware at times. For example, when I was working for an IT company, we used to hire fresh candidates and we used to purposely create a conflict inside the room. Pre-trained candidates would create the conflict and then we will try to gauge how this candidate is handling that conflict,” says Alen Hilary, consultant clinical psychologist. “A CEO might tell him to get a file which is least important; his junior subordinate may say I have a consignment to close in 5 minutes, can you help me in that; the team lead will ask him to do the review documentation; they see which work he gives more importance to and is it based on priority or authority,” he adds.
It is quite possible that the test reflects the candidate’s mindset at a particular point of time, thereby affecting its reliability. “The candidate may have remained calm all through, but a certain situation would have arisen which makes them angry or depressed. So, sometimes, these tests might not hold relevance,” says Dinesh Muthukumaraswami, an employee in an MNC.
There is the big factor of what a candidate desires to do in a particular situation and what he ends up doing. This can skew results although HR executives say there are inbuilt safeguards against someone trying to manipulate the test. “Normally, it is considered that over 80% of the results will be accurate at any given point in time,” says Naithani.
Atul of Relaxo Footwear agrees and adds, “Sometimes, facts might be distorted but the experts catch them in the evaluation stage as much as possible and there is little room for error.”