How psychometric testing can help overcome bias in hiring

 We’re all biased, whether we care to admit it or not. And bias becomes a real problem when it interferes with your ability to find real talent and affects your business’s growth.

We are all biased, whether we care to admit it or not.

That’s not the same thing as saying we’re all racist, xenophobic, homophobic or misogynistic. It’s not even the same thing as saying we prefer people who have the same background as us or think the same way we do (although, frankly, many of us do).

Bias is anything that prevents us from seeing things objectively. It can mean favouring the last - or first - person you spoke to; it can mean assuming someone possesses certain traits; or it can be simply thinking that past events will automatically predict future ones.

When it comes to business, these biases stand in the way of hiring the best talent, building the most effective teams and ultimately achieving what we want to achieve.

So if you want to conquer bias and introduce some objectivity into your hiring processes, here’s our guide to doing it right.

What does unconscious bias look like?

Bias comes in a number of forms. In fact, people analytics company Revelian identifies no less than 21 different people biases that can influence the way we hire. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Stereotyping. Taking an overly simplistic view of a person or group of people without considering potential differences.
  • Confirmation bias. Where we only consider new information insofar as it confirms our pre-existing beliefs.
  • Dunning-Kruger superiority bias. Assuming we know more about a topic than we really do or that we’re better at something than we really are and so forming an uninformed view.
  • Anchoring bias. Using the first piece of information we receive as the base point for understanding future information.
  • Social comparison bias. Thinking that someone is better or worse than us at something and hiring on that basis.
  • Blind spot bias. Assuming our reality is accurate. It’s not.

How to overcome bias when hiring

For a lot of companies, a dose of old-fashioned bias has been the cornerstone of the recruitment process. But a growing number of businesses are starting to look for ways to overcome bias in their hiring process so that they can build real diversity in their workforce and leadership teams.

One of the most effective ways to achieve this is through rigorous psychometric testing.

According to the Psychometric Institute, psychometric tests are designed to measure a candidate’s suitability based on the personality characteristics and aptitudes (or cognitive abilities) needed to succeed in the role they’re applying for. These tests can also help uncover some of the personality traits that aren’t so obvious in a face-to-face meeting.

A good psychometric assessment should also be statistically examined, and constructed to be objective and unbiased.

When to conduct testing

Clearly, sending psychometric tests out to every applicant for a role would be a waste of time and precious resources. However, there is a strong argument for integrating assessments into the final stages  of your recruitment process – and ideally before the final interview.

That way you can get a clearer picture of where there might be gaps or issues in terms of their personality, work-style or cognitive fit for the role and you can target your interview questions, ensuring the best use of your time and reducing the risk of a bad hire.

The type of psychometric assessments you issue matters too. For instance, for a high-level role, it’s worth the investment on comprehensive testing, including aptitude testing (including cognitive and verbal reasoning, as well as potentially numerical and abstract reasoning) and personality testing (such as 16PF or DiSC). You may want specifically assess aspects of their psychological character such as their emotional intelligence, their integrity, or their attitude towards safety at work. There are tests for all of these things.

Criticisms of psychometric testing

Not everyone is convinced that psychometric tests are the be-all and end-all. Some suggest they can be gamed because they assume people will answer accurately and chances are they will instead simply tell you what you want to hear.

There is also the argument that some - such as the Myers-Briggs test - take an ‘all or nothing’ approach to different characteristics, when really all our traits fall along a spectrum.

Finally, some critics believe that psychometric tests are, of themselves biased and tend to favour people from a different background or with different beliefs about the right way to behave.

While some of these criticisms may have legs, we think that by using a well renowned test that is appropriately verified and validated, and having it administered properly, you can help overcome many of the deficiencies.

Having said that, test results should never be uses as the deciding factor in whether a candidate is offered the role.

Instead, they should be seen as a way of adding value to the recruitment process in supplementing your own information through objective, scientifically validated and bias-free data.


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