Psychometric tests: can we make more optimal use of ’em?

I think I first encountered psychometric tests used as a recruitment tool more than twenty-five years ago. It’s probable that I have been asked to complete a few of these tests, though bless me, for the instances themselves have been lost from my memory.

And it happens that I have hired a lot of people in my time. Nothing too high-powered, and mostly as running busy desks in employment agencies that provide temporary workers. But I did spend time working in personnel kind of role, evaluated people, interviewed people, hired people in numbers, and I studied for recognised qualifications in human relations (HR).

I can come at, indeed have come at, psychometric tests from both sides, as the prospective hirer and the prospective person hoping to be hired. Coming at psychometric tests from either angle is consistent in the main and extends about as far as, ‘What’s the point?’

The test usually has some direction at the beginning. ‘Don’t think too hard about your answers, and reply in accord with your first thoughts’, is one of the common directions. Then quite reliably there will follow a cautionary warning; ‘Don’t be random’ as the test is designed to detect a person who is not giving any thought at all to his or her responses. I have always been tempted to be random in my responses, but never have.

I simply cannot perceive any merit in the tests whatsoever, save that they can be applied as a filter. They take a bunch of applicants and the test results can be used to whittle the bunch down. If they are used to filter in, that is applicants progress on the merits of their test results I think that is wasteful of time and effort. Suitable applicant with off-axis test results will be overlooked. If they are used to filter out, but as weak filter and not a strong one, so candidates with wildly off-axis results get rejected at this stage then, to a point, fine.

I just don’t think the tests themselves are that sophisticated, then in turn I do not think that the recruiters ability to analyse results will be that sophisticated either. When it comes down to interpretation there must be a lot of ‘noise’ involved. ‘Noise’ that stems from the tests themselves and their limited ability to extract coherent and consistent responses from candidates, and ‘noise’ that stems from variance and limitations in the human ability to interpret the results.

Psychometric tests make me feel uncomfortable. I have no qualms at all about completing them, it is the uncertainty that ranges in my mind over how useful they are or how appropriately they will be used that forms the basis of the unease.

Even if they are reliable in the context of a test, they are just that, they are a test. The working environment requires real-world responses to complex situations; and human behaviour is subjected to all manner of influences. The ‘ecology’ of the test and setting cannot be a match the ecology of work.

I know these tests are only meant to indicate traits like decisiveness, willingness to compete, willingness to co-operate, willingness to conform and act in accord, or willingness to innovate and depart from the norm, etc., but none of these traits are fixed in any of us, they are dynamic and vary from day-to-day or context to context. We are truly enigmatic people, and the work-place is a truly enigmatic setting which brings people together in collective enterprise, but then has them compete as rivals in all manner of ways.

Psychology is coming of age, and this could be instructive. In our lives we contribute to all manner of influences that bear upon how we think and how we act. The human psyche plays a big part in this, but then so too do external influences that bear upon the psyche. Our thoughts and actions are rarely ‘free’, nor rarely truly ‘open’, and rarely truly objective, either. They are consistently acted upon by influences we often do not notice nor understand. Consequentially we wind up with a head full of false narratives and/or preference sensitive beliefs that bear upon our actions. There’s an instructive book upon this, ‘You Are Not So Smart’; David McRaney, that is worth a read and in assocaition with a title by Daniel Kahneman, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.

The greatest value in psychometric tests, I think, is that they have leant an air of gravitas and purpose to certain people. Management consultants and recruitment consultants top the list. They have promoted the use of psychometric testing because it makes them look good. The tests have the look of adding value to the services they provide, and the tests can be one of a lists of selling points used to attract business. Psychometric tests, I’m sure, have become more widely used simply because they help make some people money, and along the way nobody has really bothered to question, ‘do these tests constitute any real benefit in a real-world setting?’

I haven’t checked, not in the sense of having set out to examine any available evidence, hence I may be wrong in relation to psychometric tests. ..

However our world is now quite replete with products and services that have narratives attached that say they do good, yet anyone who does go to the trouble of checking the factual and evidential basis then the evidence turns out to not be so supportive of the narrative(s) as one might expect. There are some classic examples.

Cholesterol causes heart disease tops my list. Marg is better (healthier) than butter is another. Statins reduce incidence of heart disease because they lower cholesterol. And, ‘you can stay slim by eating lots of carbs and little fat’. Then finally, intensive farming and use of NPK fertilisers has increased yields and contributed to food security. Each is these narratives are widely accepted, but they are wrong, either in entirety for being completely false, or in part for not being wholly representational of the all-inclusive truth(s).

NPK agriculture, for instance, does raise yields, but only in the sense of restoration and not elevation. Intensive agriculture doesn’t pay enough regard for how water and nutrients find their way into plants. The process is essentially electric. Tiny charges matter. The nature of water molecules themselves matter because they are a simple example of a polar molecule that tends to be positive at one end and negative at the other. Waters polarity attracts ions. Water attracts mineral salts present in the soil and forms little ionic taxis, so that when roots take up water they also take ions of the mineral salts that convey the trace elements that enter and rise up the food chain.

The ‘ionic strength’ of a soil matters. two soils could have the same pH but one is low in ions and the other full of them. The soil full of ions is the more fertile and perhaps the more water retentive. The job of a rich soil ecology (lots of critter and earthworms) feeding off lots of organic matter (OM), like rotted manure and composted plant-matter, is to add to the ionic strength. Put simply things that live in the soil emit more ions than they take in. They add to the ionic strength of a soil and thus they contribute to fertility and yield. If intensive agriculture has neglected anything it is the soil ecology (lots of life feeding off lots of OM) and this has resulted in a reduction in ionic strength, that causes loss of yield, and it greatly diminishes mineral capture from the mineral cycles too.

To get back to the point, people will tell you owt (anything) to sell you owt, for they must think that we know nowt (nothing). It’s unfortunate that in this they are often correct. However all it takes is a little interest and a little thought to prove them wrong.

But if you were to prove them wrong, they wouldn’t want you aboard. Hence if you returned your psychometric test without completion, or if they could sense you were random in the manner of completion (I doubt they can), or if you tore the ruddy thing up, you’d prove you could be truly independent of mind.

They’d hate for such a person to shatter the delusions off which they trade, so they wouldn’t want you aboard. There’s a way in which psychometric tests and interpretation must be intrinsically biased, I feel, for the willingness to act in dissent is isn’t really included in the test or analysis.

If management consultants, recruitment consultants, estate agents, and the designers of psychometric tests are ever proven to be exempt from harbouring false narratives along with preference sensitive beliefs and behaviour then I’d like an assisted passage through the door marked ‘EXIT’, please.

If psychometric tests were printed on rolls of sufficiently strong, and adequately soft paper with little perforations making up around 50 -100 tear off sheets, only then would I be convinced they would be entirely fit for purpose.

Dare to be entirely random. They have no way of knowing. Be brave enough to try to become objective about the plight of our world. Aspects of our world are greatly in need of improvement. Understanding being one. Then if you come to detect a false narrative and understand it, dare to speak in dissent. Here’s my contribution to dissent:

  •  The dangers of cholesterol and saturated fats have been greatly overstated from objective, which is ‘non-existent’.
  • Butter is quite safe to use. Margarines contribute a surfeit of omega-6 PUFAs to the diets of many people and contribute to oxidative stress.
  • The benefits of satins have been greatly exaggerated, mostly through being attached to a property that is not the benefit it is made out to be. Lowering cholesterol actually does harm.
  • Low fat diets add to prospects of gaining weight and do not reduce them.
  • Artificial fertilisers do not elevate fertility and yields as such, they restore former and lost fertility that was present when the soil was naturally rich in organic matter, and a diverse ecology of species feeding off that plant matter (contributing to ionic strength) that is normal for nature in the wild. The fall in ionic strength in intensively farmed agricultural determines agriculture doe not make optimal use of natures water cycle and mineral cycles, raises costs, and diminishes humanity’s food security.
  • The design of the currency that dominates humanities money systems and economies has bearing upon all of the above.
  • Valuable and finite functional resources are abused as a result of the scarcity of fiat currency (that’s a kind of money) whose extent of scarcity is systemically endemic but escapes most peoples’ notice.
  • The scarcity of money acts like a selection pressure that rewards the endurance and persistence of false narratives.

Are we in danger of taking metrics and league-tables too far?

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