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Shonky psychometric tests kill potential careers

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 29 May 2013


There is no more compelling evidence than the use of psychometric tests in recruitment, that parts of modern organizational life are drifting back in to the dark ages.

Recruiters are making unsubstantiated promises to businesses by using unreliable, invalid and inappropriate psychological tests on often bewildered job seekers and staff.

In Australia about 40 percent of recruiters and employers ask job applicants or their staff to sit psychometric tests. The tests are insulting, invalid, unreliable, unethical and a waste of time and money.

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Applicants are made to perform a 'Dadaesque' dance of ticking boxes and manipulating three dimensional objects in space, to divine their ability to perform X, Y or Z or to assert their 'cultural fit' within an organisation.

Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

My favourite piece of HR voodoo is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). In 1921, Jung published Psychological Types, in which he laid out all the same concepts found in the MBTI, but he had them organized very differently.

An American woman, Katherine Briggs, was fascinated by Jung's book and she and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, got hooked on the idea of psychological metrics. They reasoned that just about every personality type could be described by a combination of four measures cross referenced against themselves.

According to the MBTI, with Attitude, you're either an E for Extravert or an I for Introvert. With Perceiving, you're either S for Sensing or N for Intuition. The third dichotomy is the Judging function, and you're either a T for Thinking or an F for Feeling. The final classification is Lifestyle, and you're either a J for Judgment or a P for Perception. Binary madness.

The MBTI's is so overwhelmingly unscientific, it has no practical use at all. Neither Myers or Briggs employed research to develop or test these concepts, relying instead on their own observations, anecdotes, and intuitions. So your MBTI score is hardly more meaningful than your star sign.

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Aptitude and reasoning tests

Recruiters promise much with tests that involve verbal reasoning, numerical skills, comprehension and grammar, spatial reasoning, information processing, problem solving and IQ. You might have sat these for public servant exams. They involve problem solving.

Of the 5000 aptitude and ability tests, only a handful have been shown to have any internal validity. That is, the questions are logically framed so they elicit the right sort of information. They ask three questions which are roughly the same but with minor differences to obtain a 'valid' response.

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An edited version of this article appeared in HC Magazine.



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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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