The practice of assessing job candidates has a long history. In ancient China, candidates for prestigious jobs were required to successfully pass a demanding exam to demonstrate their abilities in areas like law, military, agriculture, and economy. In most cases only the top 3% of candidates were considered, and those selected for such jobs had to retake these exams every three years.
The Beginning of Modern Psychometric Tests
The practice of psychometric testing as we know it today can be traced back to the work of Francis Galton, an English polymath, in the 1880s. Galton created a testing framework to measure the intelligence of people by assessing their sensory and motor skills. He was also the one who coined the term ‘psychometric’.
One of his followers, James Cattell, established in 1887 the first laboratory for psychometrics as a scientific discipline. He worked to established psychology as a scientific field that would be as valuable as fields like chemistry or physics.
In 1917, Robert Woodworth introduced the Personal Data checklist to identify psychoneurosis in recruits during World War I. In the 1950s and 1960s, further research led to the conception of the well-known Big Five personality test.
Present-day Use of Psychometric Tests in Recruitment
Nowadays about 80% of the Fortune 500 companies have made psychometric tests part of their recruitment process. By doing so, their recruiters can measure the cognitive abilities, personality traits, motivations and aptitude of their candidates. As a result, hiring managers get objective insights in the dynamics, capabilities, and suitability of candidates for their open positions.
Psychometric tests can roughly be divided into aptitude tests, personality tests and behavioural tests. Aptitude tests assess cognitive abilities and reasoning skills, which provides insights in the candidate’s intellectual potential and their capacity to learn and adapt in different situations.
Personality tests, on the other hand, focus on understanding on a candidate’s unique personality traits, behavioural tendencies, and motivations. Such tests examine aspects like extraversion versus introversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, conscientiousness and agreeableness, which provides insights in the candidate’s behavioural patterns, preferences and compatibility with specific job roles and work environments.
Behavioural tests delve deeper into a candidate’s behaviours, values, and preferences. They aim to predict how a candidate responds to different situations, their communication style, their problem-solving approach, and their interpersonal skills.
Aptitude tests are widely considered to be most crucial for determining job performance, with a correlation ranging from 0.65 to 0.74. In contrast, the predictive power of a traditional resume (CV) is relatively weak: only 0.10 correlation between education and job performance and 0.16 correlation between work experience and job performance.
One of the most used aptitude tests assesses an individual’s ability to recognize patters and sequences within visuals such as this sample question from the Raven's Adaptive: