Psychometric Testing Reduces Diversity (Postively)

Not long ago, after finishing up at a client meeting, I noticed the cafe downstairs. Rather, I noticed that all of the staff within this cramped stall looked quite similar.

They all had atypical multicoloured hair, tattoos, piercings, similar clothing and a very similar burst of energy when interacting with their customers. This vision prompted me to think that these pronounced similarities between the staff, although quite extreme, are quite a representative microcosm of what actually happens in a recruiting exercise.

The recruitment game is a competitive process designed to dwindle down the mass of applicants to the most suitable talent.

Whether we like it or not, what we are really doing is reducing diversity in a positive sense. Recruitment and selection activities are targeted at individuals with a particular background, specific level of training and qualification, competency set and skill level etc. It’s easy to see that these particulars shrink the size of the relevant candidate pool.

Further, as the hiring decision maker you will quite often have an idea of the type of person you are looking for, an organisational values set to match, what types of individuals you would be comfortable pinning your corporate brand on, the type of attitude and behavioural orientation you wish to see...and if you do not, you may as well walk to the busiest intersection and simply pluck the first person that walks past.

You may agree or disagree, but what makes this observation quite interesting is the fact that travelling around the place and consulting with clients I am often exposed to some fascinating questions and opinions on the topic.

Quite recently, I was challenged and told quite directly that psychometric tests reduce the diversity of applicants. Isn’t this the point? Isn’t this what we are trying to achieve? The best fit; so that we can have some type of reassurance that the person we are selecting is going to perform at an appropriate level?

Diversity in this sense isn’t about the person’s ethnicity, but their professional set of characteristics. Of course, the convenient truth that we often abscond in all of this is that we have historically most often relied upon quite subjective methods of selection. From the mountain of research out there we know that subjective measurements are as good as flipping a coin.

Many of these shortfalls stem from our own biological architecture. The human brain is designed to take cognitive shortcuts to help us make sense of the incessant stimuli that it is required to churn through.

Sometimes these cognitive shortcuts lead to stereotyping and biased decisions. Human raters involved in selection processes have a tendency to place disproportionate emphasis on early negative information. Rater biases consistently arise in relation to issues such as sex, race, weight, and age. We are naturally attracted to individuals who look like us, sound like us, act like us and ultimately personify an image we are comfortable with (think of the coffee house workers above).

The key to this is that it happens automatically and subconsciously.

Some years ago I applied for different roles within my field with five employers. After receiving no call backs during that time my narcissistic alter ego questioned how this could be. How could they not want to call me back? I was suitably qualified for each and every role.

I decided to do something a little out of the ordinary and so I resubmitted the same resume to the same five companies a week later with everything intact apart from my name. My resume now read “Sal Mujcic” instead of “Salih Mujcic” at the top of the header.

The response was overwhelming.

One day after I resubmitted my resume I received call backs for interviews with three of the five organisations I applied to. Some of them were even surprised that I was a male when I answered my phone and – here’s the kicker - every single one of the representatives I was talking to referred to me by the name of Sal.

It was Sal that got these calls, not Salih. Even though these two personas have exactly the same skills and experience, the name made all the difference – a completely inconsequential factor in candidate selection.

Do psychometric pre-employment tests reduce diversity or do they help us reduce diversity in a positive sense?

Ultimately, I think that it is quite important to emphasise that psychometric tests are never going to replace a human decision maker.

Pre-employment psychometric tests are critical in helping us bolster human shortcomings and add a certain level of standardisation, credibility and rigour to a decision making process.

So yes, psychometric tests do reduce diversity. They reduce diversity in the sense that they help us isolate the best suitable talent while at the same time being blind to funky names, race, gender, and age.

About this Post

This post was originally published by Onetest on our HR and psychometric testing blog.

Onetest Australia -

Onetest UK -

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