The Stress Test – The Changing Face of Psychometric Assessment

Posted in : HR Updates on 17 December 2019
Heather Angiolini
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

With 85%[1] of decision-makers within HR admitting their organisation has made a bad hire and 39% of employers admitting that their candidate interviewing and assessment procedures could be improved, how relevant is psychometric testing to the modern workplace?

Legal Island talks to Heather Angiolini, Associate at Clarendon Executive and occupational psychologist with over 20 years experience, about the evolution of psychometric assessment and the value it can bring to Northern Ireland businesses.

Psychometric testing has come in for some bad press over the years. Is this form of assessment still fit for purpose?

Absolutely, in fact it’s growing in popularity. In the last few decades, in line with the discipline’s commercialisation, the definition of a psychometric test has expanded from mental ability to include measures of personality, judgement, motivation and aptitude for a specific role.

Its misuse however has led to some unfortunate negativity. Of course, it is not an exact science. Humans are complex beings and you will never get a personality test, for example, that tells you everything but overwhelmingly, our clients find that when used properly and alongside structured interview, they provide an added layer of reassurance and insight into candidates, ultimately assisting them in making the right hire.

What value does candidate assessment bring to companies?

It is estimated[2] that a poor hire at manager level with a salary of £42,000 can cost a business more than £132,000.  At Executive/C-Suite level it could be even higher. Clearly, there aren’t many businesses that can afford to make a mistake of this gravity.

Psychometric assessment allows you to probe into key skills that are important to the success of your company and the role you are recruiting for - measuring intrinsic traits including those that people may try hard not to reveal, or may not even be aware of, for example Machiavellian tendencies. Get it right, and the use of such tools can bring a myriad of benefits to HR processes, from mitigating bias or filtering out candidates, to increasing self-awareness.

Assessment also has a role to play in employee development in terms of aiding talent planning and building a pipeline of leaders. It’s not just about hiring the right staff in the first place, but also about ensuring that successful candidates become long-term employees. This is critical in an increasingly upwardly mobile workforce whereby retention is an issue and we see greater demand for clarity, particularly from a millennial generation, around their future career prospects.

How important is psychometric assessment when it comes to executive recruitment?

Plenty of companies use psychometric tests at all levels of recruitment however, arguably it’s most critical at a leadership level where the stakes are higher.

Against a backdrop of rapidly emerging technologies and AI, softer skills are expected to rise through the ranks to become some of the most sought after and powerful skills in a leader’s arsenal.

Personality testing can enable recruiters to assess unique human capabilities such as empathy, resilience and curiosity, as well as identify talent that is likely to fit well with an organisation’s culture and thrive in a particular context.

Likewise, psychometric assessment can also be used to identify gaps in an existing leadership team, highlighting areas for development whilst also informing the type of skills and qualities that might be required during any further recruitment activity.

What are the emerging trends in psychometric testing and workplace assessment?

I expect to see assessments increasingly being used to bridge the divide between recruitment and retention as well as an improved use of tools specifically designed to test resilience, adaptability, empathy and curiosity – the real “emotional intelligence” of leaders.

As mentioned, because of the advances in AI and robotics, businesses are looking for people with uniquely human skills. Successful leaders will be adaptable and responsive to a dynamic, technology-led and rapidly changing business environment. Agility is key, and businesses want employees who are able to adapt and move with the organisation as it changes. We’re seeing this reflected in the nature of assessments being employed across all sectors of business.

What are the different types of tests and when would you use them?

Some of the reason that psychometric tests come in for such a hard time is because they are inadvertently misused. With so much choice it is easy to become unstuck.

One tool I would use quite frequently for clients is the Hogan Development Survey. It measures the dark-side of personality in managers and executives, providing insights about counterproductive tendencies – or “risk factors” – that inevitably cause problems in the workplace.

As technology evolves new forms of psychometrics such as game-based assessments, are becoming more popular.

Before making a choice, however, you should be clear as to your objectives and the type of candidate you are seeking to hire and tailor your assessment accordingly. ‘Off the shelf’ assessments are absolutely fine provided you look for those that are accredited by the British Psychological Society, a guarantee of their validity and robustness.

What pitfalls should HR professionals look out for when planning candidate assessments for senior level hires?

Psychometric tests should be used to inform and strengthen your decision-making, not to make a decision. Always consider the bigger picture and the context of the assessment piece within the wider recruitment process.

Going back to what I said previously, use a robust and valid assessment tool and ensure you are clear as to what you are measuring, recognising that this will change from role to role. A common mistake is for companies to become preoccupied with, for example, numeracy skills. While this might be important for a finance manager it may be less so for someone in marketing.

I recommend clients and HR decision-makers road test any assessments first to fully understand and appreciate how they work and ensure they deliver what is required. It’s a simple tip but you’d be surprised at how many don’t do this.

Finally, and this is a bit of a bugbear for me, where possible try to de-mystify the process for candidates – explaining the assessment in an open and transparent way from the outset will ensure that you and they get the most from it - and always provide feedback.

[1] Report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)


[2] Report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)


This article is correct at 17/12/2019

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Heather Angiolini
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Heather Angiolini. Contact telephone number is 028 9072 5750 or email

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