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Psychometrics and How to Use Them

Well, I’ve got the bit between my teeth this afternoon after seeing a post from a connection that was passed over for a job opportunity because of psychometrics. As a qualified MBTI administrator and practitioner (9 years ago TODAY, strangely enough), I along with many of my peers have to fight a constant battle against recruiters and hiring managers using tools like MBTI and Insights for selection. One of the first lessons we learn when training in our metric of choice is all around the ethics of it.

  • Firstly, it is unethical to enforce or expect anyone to share their profile, reported type or best-fit type with anyone else. This profile is incredibly personal self-insight, and as such, works like any other piece of personal data – a person should not be forced to disclose it, permission should always be granted and whatever the individuals decision is, there should be no prejudice.

  • Secondly, many of these psychometric tools assess preferences, and not absolutes. The MBTI, for example, not only assesses preferences in 8 different approaches, it also assesses the clarity of those preferences – a person isn’t simply ‘one or the other’ in MBTI, as is the case in other tools such as Insights or Strength Deployment Inventory. There is a scale.

  • Thirdly, these tools generally assess a person’s APPROACH and not their SKILL. For example, in the MBTI, one of the preferences is around the process a person prefers to use in coming to a decision. The tool here gives an indication of HOW a person makes decisions, and not necessarily whether those decisions are good or bad. Also, the MBTI is strengths-based, meaning that there is no right or wrong way to be – everyone can and will do everything, and everyone is capable of achieving – or making mistakes – regardless of their approach.

For these reasons, psychometrics are unreliable for selection. Using psychometric outputs gives no indication of competency or skill, and it also makes no allowances for development. To illustrate this, lets look at a case study, for these purposes we’ll call them Leigh.

Leigh reports, self-assesses and ‘best fits’ with a clear ‘P’ preference, meaning that they prefer to live their life in a more spontaneous, emergent and adaptable manner. However, Leigh has spent their career in a number of leadership and development roles that have included long-term strategy planning, project management, organisational & team structure and design, as well as managing a very busy diary supporting multiple departments and stakeholders. Throughout their career, Leigh has developed exceptional organisational skills, is adept at project planning and management and has delivered a number of long-term plans as well as been an incredible ‘fire-fighter’ during times of rapid change. Leigh has also learned the value of an approach that is different to their own personal preference.

Leigh fully accepted many years ago that structure, planning and routine are valuable approaches within the types of roles they do, and has spent time and energy developing this approach. Furthermore, Leigh acknowledges that this is a part of their role that perhaps isn’t their favourite, but accepts it because overall, they love what they do.

This is why relying on psychometrics even partially can paint an inaccurate picture of Leigh. This is also why qualified and properly trained administrators of psychometrics would only ever use them for self-awareness and development. Ruling someone out based on their preference is no less a discrimination that ruling someone out based on their sexual orientation – neither are an accurate indicator of job performance.

When it comes to recruitment and selection, it’s all about facts and evidence. The problem with psychometrics is that they can create pre or misjudgements about a person when considered in isolation. They can also mean that a team or group of people performing in similar roles may all have similar approaches, and the point of psychometrics like the MBTI is to encourage type development. Knowing one’s ‘type’ is not useful if you’re using it to justify your approach – doing so demonstrates a lack of value for diversity. Great candidates would demonstrate high levels of self-awareness around their own ‘type’, as well as value for other types and a willingness to develop their own approach. They will also – and far more importantly - need to demonstrate their skills, competencies and achievements. It doesn’t matter HOW they achieve, what matters is whether they achieve or they don’t.

Becoming a personality practitioner was a seminal moment in my career, in fact, in my life. Not only did it open my eyes to others unique approaches, it also opened my eyes to my own. I also realised that a balanced individual displays a good grasp of ALL approaches, as do balanced and high-performing teams. What saddens me is that when these tools are used incorrectly, they put people off. The message it sends when a person is selected or not based on their preference is that there are right or wrong ways to be, and this is what sours people to psychometrics when it can be such a powerful tool for development and self-awareness.

Yes, I can see some benefits – placing someone in a role by preference may mean they find the majority of that role easier or more natural, which may reduce stress and increase job satisfaction, but should that be the recruiters decision or the candidates? To my mind, recruiters, hiring managers and job descriptions should educate candidates properly on the role so that the candidate can decide whether or not it’s the right fit for them before they even apply. An applicant may know going in that the role requires an approach that is not their preference, but they wish to develop their non-preference, or have already developed it and accept the approach as a part of a role that they really want to do – like Leigh.

Be really clear on what the role is, communicate that role, warts and all, and use that clarity to properly assess competency, skill and achievement. That way, candidates know exactly what they’re applying for, and recruiters know exactly what they’re looking for in assessment. Using psychometrics could also be perceived as a ‘lazy’ way to find out about your candidate. Getting them to sit at a screen and fill in a questionnaire won’t yield you anywhere near as much insight into a person as a great, discussion-based interview and assessed performance against tasks would. And even if psychometrics is used, evidence of achievement, skill and competency should far outweigh those results, and if that’s the case, then why bother using psychometrics during recruitment at all?

Over the years I’ve known many people that, according to type, may have been passed over for opportunities based on psychometrics – Introverts that are incredible training facilitators, Judgers that can fire-fight, Sensers that have incredible ideas that they can also execute. Preference and ability are very different things. And when you consider that psychometrics don’t give any indication of ability, skill or achievement, can create inaccurate judgements, and could actually give a false reading if administered or interpreted incorrectly or completed by someone who isn’t yet fully self-aware, its unreliability for hiring decisions far outweighs any possible benefit.

Use psychometrics for self-awareness. Use them for enlightenment. Use them to initiate self-compassion and self-empathy. Use them to highlight strengths and inform development plans. Use them to nurture and grow both yourself and others. Use them to build tolerance, diversity and inclusion. Use them to mend fences, reduce conflict and build relationships. Use them to influence and adapt your approach and style of communication. Use them to become a better person.

Please don't use them to segregate.

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