Why measuring the mind helps

Unlike aspects such as experience, education, skills and personal presentation, the behavioural traits and personality of a candidate can be difficult to assess objectively. Psychometrics have provided us with the solution to this kind of assessment conundrum. But how does testing fit with and enhance the recruitment process?

We spoke with Chris Preston from The Culture Builders to gain an insight into how ‘measuring the mind’ can help with assessing and retaining outstanding candidates.

  • Which areas of personality can you test? Do all profiling systems provide the same results?

Personality testing has, over the last ten years, grown into a major area of professional interest – giving rise to thousands of tools that cover pretty much every aspect of what makes us ‘tick’ – in both a work and wider life settings. Trying to group all these together isn’t easy, but as a starter we look at two main components – how we ‘behave’ and how we ‘feel’. The latter is more difficult to delve into, as a great deal of what it seeks to measure is hidden within us. The second grouping that builds on these two is ‘self’ and ‘others’ – looking at our interactions with others, and how we manage ourselves.

From this starting point it gets very complicated! The types of tool vary greatly and the depth and strength of the results differs dramatically. Some are simple two minute tools that give a snapshot of a particular element of a person, whilst others are highly in-depth processes that require input from others. We can measure if someone is likely to be cheerful, or if they are good at problem solving, will want to be in control, enjoy team work, insist on perfection… and on it goes.

Rather than look at tools and choose one, the advice is to decide what the most critical factors are for the role, and then seek a reputable provider that can help you measure that within candidates.  

  • How can the test help to determine whether a candidate is a good personality fit for a school or organisation?

When recruiting someone, the consideration should never only be ‘what is their experience’ – doing this by-passes the human elements – the parts that are most likely to dictate success or failure far more strongly than a person’s previous roles.

Good business tools that profile emotional and behavioural elements will provide far more than number-based results. They give practical advice around how to use identified strengths, how to mitigate potential weaknesses and look at scenarios when an individual will perform at their best, or when they will struggle to succeed.

Many use ‘pen portraits’ that describe a set of results in a way that makes sense for a lay-person – rather than say ‘they scored 4 on resilience’ the report may say ‘This person may struggle to quickly overcome the emotional pain of failure – meaning they will work hard at avoiding a similar situation in future’. This helps position people within the work context – making the results ‘real world’ and more applicable.

Many clients also use the tools within the existing teams, which ensures they understand the current dynamic, and bring in the right person to ensure a harmonious recruitment… Or a challenging new voice.

  • Do you measure intelligence in a different way to an IQ test?

IQ is a standard measure of intelligence, and relies on comparing your answers to a standard set of questions to those of a sample group. In this respect, many profiling tools work in the same way – the questions are very different but the process is the same. However, there’s a great deal of debate around exactly what intelligence is – one respected academic talks about seven different types of intelligence, including emotional, spatial and musical. Others believe there are hundreds of different types.

Emotional intelligence is a good example of where the questioning differs – asking people to rate statements around personal attitudes, responses and self-held-beliefs. The results are more open to interpretation, but can be highly powerful in unlocking insights for individuals.

Our engagement intelligence tool mixes behaviours and beliefs – our view is that, to be effective, you have to have a strong mix of both. Adding into this the third element ‘Substance’ gives our effectiveness model: Belief-Action-Substance. When we profile people around this we use a mix of behavioural questions and self-perception ones – the scores for which are compared to a database of 500 business people. 

This last element is vital to making them useful. Suppose I ask you 20 questions and you only get two right… you’d be disappointed with your results and feel that you were scoring very poorly compared to others.  However, what if I then told you that the average score for my 20 questions was actually one? Suddenly your attitude changes – your score of two is actually very high. This is a simple way of explaining ‘normed’ tests – your results are only meaningful when you compare them to other peoples.

  • How can psychometric testing fit within the recruitment process?

We always advise using psychometrics towards the end of the recruitment process – the early stages of interviews and CV sifts will remove the most obvious unsuitable candidates, leaving you with a smaller pool to profile – reducing cost and time.

  • Do you recommend that the results are shared with candidates?

This is an area of debate – are we morally bound to share results of something that determines someone’s chances of securing a role? In an ideal world I would say yes, but the practicalities of sharing information can sometimes make this impossible. Some tools contain quite tough information about an individual – which may need careful positioning with the candidate. This requires someone trained in the tool to be on-hand to administer, and it also changes the process from recruitment to coaching – which isn’t the overall aim.

Many tools provide recruiter feedback, which is designed for candidate selection and not ideal for the person to see. In these instances I believe it’s better to be open and explain why the results are not shared.

However, it makes great sense to share results with the successful candidate – it enables an initial conversation about how they can quickly demonstrate success, and agree which areas both they and their new manager will need to be aware of.

  • Can the tests ever be wrong?

Tests can be wrong – people can mis-read a question, lie, click the wrong button – there are books out there that tell people how to ‘pass’ a psychometric. However, many modern tests build in both redundancy to avoid mistakes and detection methods to spot cheats or random completes. They can never be 100% accurate, and should always be considered as input to a choice, rather than the only deciding factor.

Competency tests are more difficult to cheat – with right or wrong answers, there’s only lucky guesses that could throw the results.

The general rule of thumb is the more complex and deep a tool, the more error is possible to exist. Working out if someone is good at maths is easy, working out if they will be mistrustful of others is more complicated.

  • Can mood or environment effect the results of the test?

A person’s mood will certainly affect the ‘how we feel’ tools. If I’m having a bad day, the results will reflect that to a lesser or greater degree, depending on the tool’s complexity. Giving people guidelines on when and how to complete the questionnaires helps, as does asking them how they felt when they completed it.

Tools that mix behavioural and attitudinal questions are less prone to this.

  • Do you have any data on success rates of retention, where psychometric tests have been used in the recruitment process? 

There is very little hard research in this area – so many factors are attributed to retention rates that it is impossible to run scientifically valid trials. Anecdotally the feedback is good, with managers recognising that the tools have helped them place better candidates that fit the culture well.

Ultimately, it’s not just the use of the psychometrics during the interview that makes for a successful placement, it’s the use of the results once the person has been appointed – to help them understand how to quickly become effective in-post – that drives a successful recruitment process.


Chris PrestonThe Culture Builders provides psychometric testing for schools and businesses through ‘The Culture Builders Profiling Tool’.

LSC Education works in close partnership with The Culture Builders to offer psychometric profiling on candidates for the benefit of our clients as part of the recruitment process.