A conversation about questionable psych tests with the delightful Nicole Underwood, Adelaide recruiter extraordinaire, and HR Daily Community Blogger yesterday, inspired me to re-visit this post, which I thought I'd share here:


A quick google search reveals all kinds of over-simplified and so called “psychometric” charts and graphics and tools, that have been deliberately, and I think cynically, designed to appeal to our human desire for colour and simplicity. Among these, you’ll find sea and water references of various kinds, circles, boats and other simplistic contrivances aimed at making the product look attractive and easy to use and understand.


This is partly natural, and as someone who comes from a long line of graphic artists, and who used to be a high school teacher, I know the importance of making things look attractive and understandable. But as an ex-school teacher, I also know the harm that can be done to genuine understanding by over-simplifying: you can patronize your audience, and thereby lose their trust and attention, and you can completely lose the meaning of what you are trying to convey.


Any textbook or advertising writer will tell you how difficult it is to sum up meaning and information succinctly and accurately, while at the same time making it easy to understand and quickly grasp. That’s why experts have to do it!


I’ve written in a previous post Keep Psychometric Assessment Scientific about how much I hate the over-simplification, and the misunderstanding this can lead to, in many of the less credible (and they’ll all tell you they’re credible!) “psychometric” products that are available. It’s one of my favourite soap-box topics.


As our shocked graphic artist said when I showed him the material of another (and surprisingly popular) psychometric tool, “The workplace is not kindergarten!”.


The workplace is not kindergarten, but I can easily understand that everyone is keen to solve a problem in the quickest, most straightforward way, and it’s this general desire that the designers of the kindergarten-style psychometric tools are tapping into. Just as in meetings, where we expect reports and presentations to look attractive and readable, too much glitz or “bells and whistles” will distract from the underlying subject matter, and undermine our confidence in its credibility. Good communication requires a balance between presentation and meaning.


All of this is not to say that psychometrics should not be easy to use. While we are a psychometric provider with good academic credentials and connections, we are also totally committed to making psychometrics easy to understand and use in the workplace. However, we would never patronize anyone with over simplified, overly bright kindergarten charts and graphics, and I’m sure most of our clients would be insulted if we did.


While all presentation should be attractive, clear and easy to understand and interpret, I’d suggest that psychometric tools that are deliberately designed to allure, rather than clearly represent underlying scientific theory, probably have more “style” (if you can call it that) than substance.


I’m highly suspicious of, and offended by, psychometric tools dressed up like Thomas the Tank Engine. As a prospective target audience member, it makes me ask, why would their publishers do it if not to trick me, and what are they hiding, or providing, for that matter? Why wouldn’t they have more respect for me?


And ultimately, how could I trust their product?


Lynette Jensen



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Views: 294

Comment by Karen Schmidt on October 7, 2011 at 9:50
I agree but you do need to differentiate between tests claiming to be psychologically valid and quizzes designed to get people thinking and generate discussion.
Comment by Satrina Brandt on October 7, 2011 at 11:05

That's true Karen. However, one workplace I worked at I discovered a manager using a quiz that had been published in a magazine that categorised people as various animals. It would have been fine if it were part of a team bonding session with the "we need to recognise and work with each others differences" message but she was using it for recruitment. So yes, there is a place for both but the decision to use these tools and where each is appropriate needs to be decided by an expert. I know you will agree but thought I would point this out as I was gob-smacked when I discovered it.


Lynette, I'd be interested in hearing your views on the DiSC model as this is one I have used. For what purpose do you think it is most useful?

Comment by Karen Schmidt on October 7, 2011 at 11:07



As a former recruiter I definitely agree with that! I would never recommend my clients rely on my "home grown" models when they should be using the professional ones.

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