The Truth about Psychological Testing in Recruitment

For years, we have been hearing how validating people based on their resumes is ineffective and should be replaced with pre-employment psychological tests or gamification.

Adding a gamification element in recruitment brings real results. One of the examples of gamification in recruitment is Google Code Jam, Google’s largest programming competition. Gamified tests usually create job simulation experience and assess candidates’ skills and how they would deal with the work-related tasks.

But could pre-employment psychological tests bring better results than gamification or gamified tests, and do they really work?


Pre-employment Psychological Tests

Pre-employment psychological tests are a scientific group of questions that, it is claimed, can unearth the perfect job candidates even if they don’t necessarily have the most relevant work experience. Some companies believe in them so much they are trying to slip psychological evaluation into job application forms to evaluate their employees before they even speak with them and make those tests a standard part of their interview process.

That is why you are not only assessed based on your experience and the knowledge you have in your resume but also on your answers to questions like “Which colors describe you best?” “Which color do you like the most?” and “Which color do you dislike the most?”

Colors are very popular and part of many assessment tools. And these questions above are similar to a test that is quite popular in companies, “Which Color Is Your Personality?”

This test was described in a book, Surrounded by Idiots, by the author Thomas Erikson who divides people into four personality types, delineated by colors — red, green, blue, and yellow — each of which represents a different “communication style.” But more on that later.

Using colors is popular because it is easy, we all have some preferences and we do not change our favorite color for years. But human behavior is multifaceted, complex and dependent on your biological state and environment. Therefore, it is not possible to judge people only on the basis of their chosen colors.

And that is why some companies are also trying to learn more about your family by asking questions like “What line of work is or was your father in?” or “What line of work is or was your mother in?”

Imagine that you no longer have your father or mother or you were very unlucky and do not have any parents. What should you add there? Not only is this an incredibly insensitive approach, but you are also probably wondering how this is relevant to the job. Well, it is not at all!

And these questions have the same relevancy as the question “What kind of tree would you be if you were a tree?” sometimes asked during a face-to-face interview.

If they want to find out if you are eating healthy, they will ask about your breakfast when you are filling in the application form. Again, this question is not relevant to the job at all!


Do Psychological Tests Really Work?

Many organizations widely use tests like the Myers-Briggs test as a scientific method for candidates’ assessment. The Myers-Briggs test has been largely disregarded by psychologists, but because of its widespread fame, it is still used by employers and HR departments across the globe.

In 2014, thousands of professional psychologists evaluated the century-old Myers-Briggs, found it to be inaccurate and arbitrary, and devised better systems for evaluating personalities (source: bbc.com). They found out that Myers-Briggs provides inconsistent and inaccurate results. As research has found that as many as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it’s just five weeks later.

Other organizations are using the color test developed by Thomas Erikson that I already mentioned at the beginning of this article. You have probably heard that people are categorized into four distinct, easy-to-understand personality types, each represented by a color (Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue). But is there a scientific basis for the color theory?

In summary, the four-color model is based on a theory that has no scientific basis, has been subject to no rigorous testing, and gives confusing and contradictory results. It is, quite simply, pseudoscience. (Source: How Swedes were fooled by one of the biggest scientific bluffs of our time.)

The candidate market is competitive, and companies are literally fighting for every candidate available on the market. Yet the same organizations facing these hiring issues are asking their candidates, “What colors describe you best?”.

And they are using during the interview process tests of questionable quality to assess candidates. However, they have about as much scientific validity as tarot cards or astrological signs.


Last Thoughts

If you are using similar questions about colors, food, and candidate’s parents line of work, during your registration process, you should also ask your recruitment team how many people left when they were filling out the registration form. You might be surprised by the number of people closing the browser window and not finishing the application process.

Instead of asking these pseudo-psychology questions to filter candidates, companies should focus more on the candidate experience. Good candidate experience starts with the first click on the “apply” button and it’s just as important as the experience that candidates will have during the whole interview process.

So stop asking these questions and stop expecting candidates to upload their resumes and then copy and paste everything again during the registration process. Fixing this issue that is still common with many organizations will improve candidate satisfaction significantly.

I found only one positive thing about these tests. They will tell you with 100% accuracy (no science needed) that the company has no clue what makes a good employee or how to manage them, and you should avoid them at any cost.