How Psychometric Tests Could Undermine Diversity in the Workplace

Photo by  Ben Mullins  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Certain assessments that are commonly used within recruitment selection processes can be very effective at filtering out candidates. The question is, how often are they filtering out candidates that might actually be ideally suited to the role?

Are these tests causing you to not only miss out on quality but diversity in your team as a result?

In this article I’ll discuss some thoughts on why psychometric testing could be causing you to miss out on talented candidates.

The base case for psychometric testing

According to the Institute of Psychometric Coaching, “Psychometric tests are a standard and scientific method used to measure individuals' mental capabilities and behavioural style.”

The objective of using Psychometric testing is to either quickly reduce a large pool of applicants early in the recruitment process. Or to gain a deeper understanding of an individual’s thinking styles, attitude and motivations later in the recruitment process.

Many organisations face the pressure to identify a short list of potential candidates and progress selection with often limited capacity within recruitment teams. Add to that the risk of poor hiring decisions on the business, anything that can help is going to be seen as very attractive.

When psychometric tests don’t support talent and diversity acquisition

Certain people that you may be wishing to hire to increase diversity and business performance may operate in a way that isn’t entirely compatible with standardised testing.

A core advantage of neurodiverse minds is the very simple fact that they are essentially wired differently to the majority of other people. However, this fundamental difference in the way neurodiverse people perceive the world and process information can set them at odds with psychometric tests.

When a test is graded against a ‘standard norm’, there is an implicit expectation that participants align to that ‘norm’.

The neurodiverse advantage that you’re looking to capitalise on is the simple fact they don’t fit ‘the norm’.

A common result in these tests are variations in results that are more pronounced than standard. Also, you’re likely to see spikes that are inconsistent with typical distributions.

Many neurodiverse people can struggle to complete psychometric tests effectively to due a combination of anxiety and executive function challenges. When a candidate loses time trying to understand the intent of a question or starts to over analyse the relationship between different questions (ie, this question is a lot like question 15), they are going to have a hard time finishing.

The modern trend towards gamification of psychometric tests doesn’t necessarily make things easier either. Between the need to both read and interpret the question, understand the expectations of the task or manage their anxiety in completing the ‘game’, candidates can often perform poorly in these tests.

Alternatives and Options

There are a number of groups looking to develop more effective and accessible psychometric tests.

Being able to provide an assessment that removes the time pressure and presents questions or activities that allow a wider range of people to demonstrate their innate capability more clearly is going to be a positive for both participants and users.

Also, keeping in mind that a psychometric test should only be one input into hiring decisions, there is always the simple option to bypass the test during selection where a candidate has disclosed to you.

If you do encounter a candidate who might otherwise appear worth progressing but you’re concerned about an unusual or anomalous test result, perhaps knowing that there are often good reasons for that you may consider taking time to meet or talk with them at the least.

Some questions you could definitely ask yourself are:

  • What are you looking to assess as part of the psychometric test?

  • Are there other ways you could identify and evaluate that data point?

  • If not easy or practical to assess in an alternative way, how critical is the assessment to your decision making?

Some final considerations

Dr. Paul Barrett, Chief Research Scientist with Cognadev has noted that “an unstructured informal interview has been shown to be of greater validity than any self-report psychometric test other than of ability.”

Being careful that you understand how to conduct and interpret the psychometric test that you are using. Many require trained professionals to do this effectively. Something that may not be an option for many businesses, who might otherwise considering doing it by themselves.

And lastly, a word of caution. A test case in the UK found that failing to offer an alternative assessment as a reasonable adjustment was requested by a candidate was discrimination.

Offering reasonable adjustments or at least seeking advice on alternative approaches in similar circumstances could help you to avoid legal issues.


All too often psychometric testing is evaluating people against a benchmark that may not be applicable to the specific individual taking the test. Equally, the format of these tests can often not be an effective approach to evaluate many different people.

Neurodiverse people will often underperform in psychometric or cognitive testing. It’s important that you understand how these assessments should be applied and how the results should be interpreted. Appreciating that not every candidate’s cognitive approach and preferences will suit the nature of the assessment will aid you supporting the best way forward for them in your recruitment process.

A heavy reliance on psychometric or cognitive testing as part of the selection criteria can be fraught. And where insufficient room for adjustments or alternative approaches are provided, could leave you open to claims of discrimination.

Need more tips on how to interview neurodiverse candidates? Download our free Neurodiverse Interview Guide here.

chris turnerComment