Art or Sledgehammer: Today’s culture of psychometric testing

Amrop's Annika Farin, argues for a shake-up of

how we use psychometric testing.

Art or Sledgehammer Psychometrics

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Your business may have spent big on finding the right leadership team, with the latest psychometric testing working its magic, but was it money well spent? Did your executive recruiter use the right methodology? Are they knowledgeable practitioners of the selected assessment tool, or just click-and-go users?

In today’s talent market, every search and leadership consultant claims to have the latest and most incisive toolbox to find the perfect match between your company and its next leaders. But according to Amrop’s Annika Farin, there can be a culture of naivety and superficiality in the application of psychometric testing methods in the business world.

Farin has more than 20 years of experience as a search and leadership consultant. She has been the Chair of the global Amrop organisation since 2020. She believes there’s a tendency in the market for consultants to attend a two-day certification course and then feel qualified to run “assessments” on an executive’s entire personality and career background.

For her, this is simplistic and superficial. Psychometrics have an important role to play in the assessment process, but we must avoid surface judgements based on a simple test. Quite often, we see that there is too little thoroughness applied to psychometric testing in the corporate world, says Farin.

"We need to establish serious quality control methods and standards about when and how to use psychometrics."

Today’s global psychometric testing market is saturated with tools and tests, with hundreds of aptitude and ability tests in use and a market whose estimated worth is in the billions of dollars. And with advances in machine learning and AI, demand is only going to grow.

But according to Farin, selecting, assessing and coaching executive leaders is equal parts art and science, requiring the talent of listening both to the organisation’s needs and to the story of each candidate, and designing a bespoke methodology for each assignment. A simple reliance on a psychometric test amounts to hiring in the dark. “It’s our job and our responsibility to bring our full toolbox of expertise to the engagement,” Farin says.

Jan Lisiecki is a 28-year-old Canadian classical pianist taking the world by storm as one of its brightest young talents. On a superficial level most of us would find his playing beautiful and impressive. “But to appreciate the rare talent and artistic dimension of this individual takes years of listening and training,” says Farin. “Applied to the world of senior talent recruitment and coaching, this is the ability of consultants gained over many years of training and experience”.

"They learn one test, apply one test, and expect to know the truth."

Psychometric tests are now used widely to assess various aspects of a candidate such as personality traits, emotional intelligence, problem-solving abilities and leadership potential. Farin says, “There is nothing wrong with using these tools, and in fact they can be very helpful during a hiring, assessment or coaching processes. But you have to be very thorough and very clear about the goals of the specific process.”

“Not everyone can be a great assessor, you need to be able to listen. Part of our art is listening to the client and finding out why they want to use us, and then listening to each executive candidate to uncover the best match. The use of a psychometric tool is part of the puzzle, but the full story goes beyond it. Many recruitment firms just list their tools. The real product is the recruiter’s time and expertise, not the psychometric test,” says Farin.

But the outlook is positive, she says, if you are thorough and use a bespoke approach with your client. A skilled consultant knows the different schools of thought around leadership (not just cognitive, analytic or psychometrics) and can apply a variation in methodology to bring a deeper understanding of the candidates, leading to a successful outcome.

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