Psychometric Testing in Selection – How to Maximize Candidate Reactions

How to Score a Positive Reaction to Workplace Psychometric Testing


Just hearing the word test can evoke anxiety for people. Test implies that your performance is going to be judged—that you need to pass, and that you can fail. With psychometric tests widely used in hiring decisions, news of testing is a common experience for job candidates. A negative reaction to a selection method like testing can influence the accuracy of results (Nikolaou, Bauer & Truxillo, 2015). It may also lead to poor views of the hiring company.

Accurate or valid scores depend on persons being focused and motivated when completing tests. This becomes more likely if they buy-in to the assessment, trusting that it’s appropriate and fair. The way applicants are treated during psychometric testing can affect their views of the hiring company. If the process is viewed as unfair, the reputation of the company may suffer. It may become difficult for the business to attract strong candidates going forward. There may also a be a greater risk for legal challenges to hiring decisions.

If the first contact your business has with a potential employee is to request the completion of psychometric tests, it’s up to you to make a positive impression about assessment. Here are six ways to ensure the best reaction to the news, “There’s going to be a test…”

  1. Explain the purpose of testing and how results will be used.

If you don’t tell candidates exactly why you’re using tests, what you intend to measure, and how their results will fit in to the selection process, you’ll leave them guessing. You’ll also risk demonstrating a serious lack of respect for the candidate. A better approach? Remove all mystery surrounding assessment. Convey to the candidate the careful planning that goes into the assessment portion of recruitment, and that it will be professionally conducted. Take the time to ask if there are any questions, and if there are, be sure the candidate understands your answers.

  1. Consider the face validity of the instrument you’re using.

Be sure the test you’re using looks the part. Does it appear to measure what it’s intended to, and what you’ve told the candidate it is assessing? Reactions to a test will improve if the candidate feels it is appropriate and job-relevant. A mechanical engineer would question being asked to complete a clerical skills test, as an extreme example. How might a retail associate respond to a test of abstract reasoning?

  1. Assure candidates that testing will be fair.

Candidates should be assured that each person taking a test has the same opportunity to perform at their optimal level. Be able to explain what processes you have put in place across administration, scoring and interpretation to guarantee fair assessment to all. For example, is standardised timing in place? What about the instructions? Will computerised scoring be used to minimize human error? Will test performance be evaluated separately from candidate background and demographic data?

It is essential that candidates are asked about any unusual needs or special requirements they may have for workplace psychometric testing, and that these are considered in planning administration. Aside from addressing legal and ethical requirements, this is consistent with ensuring respectful and professional candidate treatment.

It may be helpful to have candidates sign an honesty contract prior to testing. An honesty contract provides an opportunity to clarify that they need to complete the test independently and as instructed, and the implications of failing to do so.

Finally, fairness will be partly judged by candidates according to the communication they receive about test results. This is referred to as procedural justice (Gilliland, 1994). It can be improved by explaining to candidates how their test scores will be evaluated, what type of information they will receive back about their performance, and how this will be communicated. For example, will they have the chance to discuss their performance during a feedback meeting? Will they receive a detailed written report of their results? Can they find out how they performed relative to other candidates?

  1. Give candidates a chance to complete sufficient practice items and become comfortable with the testing format.

Most tests include examples of sample items at the beginning. Instruct candidates to work through these items carefully, so they’re absolutely certain they understand how to find the answers or complete the responses. If testing remotely, provide candidates with a way to contact the test administrator with any questions. Knowing what to expect and how to proceed allows candidates to focus their attention on answering the questions. It can also help to alleviate anxiety, and to boost confidence as testing begins.

  1. Address data protection.

Explain to candidates how, where, for how long and in what form their data will be maintained. This is consistent with upcoming GDPR legislation going into effect on 25 May 2018. It’s up to you to ensure the rights of candidates regarding the protection of personal data are guaranteed.

  1. Explain to your candidates their rights related to psychometric testing.

Best practice in testing means guaranteeing that test takers’ rights are respected. These include areas like understanding precisely how test results will be used, and knowing how inquiries or complaints about testing will be handled. Explain to your candidates what their rights are, and the steps you are taking to ensure these throughout the testing process. This will demonstrate your commitment to treating those you are assessing, and their personal data, with respect, dignity and complete confidentiality. The BPS provides a useful summary of test taker rights in their Test Taker’s guide available here.

It takes time, effort, thought and planning on the part of the testing professional or hiring organisation to address each of these areas. But the potential gains in candidate trust, engagement and motivation will result in assessment that accurately and truthfully reflects the potential of your job candidates. By communicating the good news about psychometric testing, you can help ensure that your most promising prospects successfully complete the recruitment process.

References and readings

Gilliland, S. W. (1994). Effects of procedural and distributive justice on reactions to a selection system. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 691-701.

Nikolaou, I., Bauer, T. & Truxillo, D. (2015). Applicant reactions to selection methods: An overview of recent research and suggestions for the future. In I. Nikolaou & J.K. Oostrom (Eds.) Employee Recruitment, Selection, and Assessment: Contemporary Issues for Theory and Practice (pp. 80-96). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Would you like to find out more about candidate reactions to the selection process? You can find a useful White Paper from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology here.


Learn to expertly use psychometric testing as part of the hiring process through Selection by Design’s training for BPS/EFPA Occupational Test User qualifications. We are enrolling now for our next courses!

Leave a Reply

Sign up for our Newsletter


Psychological Testing Resources