Matt Stevens

Guest blog by Matt Stevens from Pearson TalentLens discussing occupational testing and different types of tests candidates are likely to face during a graduate recruitment process:

What is occupational testing? 

Occupational testing or talent assessment is the use of psychometric tests to predict the performance of potential and current employees in a range of roles and across different career levels. Psychometric tests are seen as an impartial way of evaluating people’s ability and their personality traits and values.

Many university graduates achieve either a 2:1 or a first class degree and consequently, due to the sheer volume of highly qualified applicants and in order to distinguish between candidates, companies rely on the objective information that psychometric tests provide. This is because cost to the company of a bad hire in terms of time and financial loss runs into thousands of pounds.

Traditionally, the most popular methods of recruitment have been submitting application forms, CVs and then telephone and eventually, face-to-face interviews. However, these methods all rely on subjectivity – whilst an application form or CV is a very useful way of identifying qualifications or other basic requirements (though of course, a candidate can lie!), what do they independently tell us about a candidate’s cognitive ability? The answer of course is very little.

Later on in the process, organisations may use personality assessments to determine a candidates personality traits and values, in order to discover their ‘fit’ to the culture of the company. The emphasis is on ensuring those that are hired are suited to the role and are a good fit in terms of expectations and behaviours, to prevent weaker performance, de-motivation and eventually, a desire to leave.

The types of tests

Broadly speaking, tests can be grouped as cognitive ability tests or personality assessments. The tests are designed by occupational psychologists and are aimed at a particular vocational discipline. Tests of cognitive ability are set to examine candidates’ critical thinking or their verbal, numerical or inductive reasoning.

  • Critical thinking is the extent to which someone can solve new and complex tasks.
  • Verbal reasoning is the ability to ‘read between the lines’ in terms of understanding passages of text and drawing conclusions.
  • Numerical reasoning is the ability to decipher data or numbers from graphs, charts or tables and put them in context.
  • Inductive (or abstract) reasoning reveals problem solving skills – this type of test is normally diagrammatic and judges spatial awareness.

The type of test used depends on the nature of the role being applied for. For example, Professional Services firms might want to focus on applicants’ numerical reasoning and critical thinking ability, whereas a law firm might be interested in their critical thinking and abstract reasoning.

Personality type questionnaires can reveal what drives someone and to determine if they will be a good match for the organisation, but are used more frequently with existing employees, from a developmental perspective.

How to prepare

It is quite difficult to prepare for a precise test because most test publishers compile the assessments from a large bank of questions, in order to prevent duplication and to heighten the validity of tests.

There are resources online that are relatively easy to find – these often provide guides about the type of questions you are likely to be asked. It is worth noting that as ability tests reveal components of general intelligence, one’s level will likely not significantly fluctuate even with practice. However, it is prudent (and a sign of one’s critical thinking ability!) to have a look at the questions you may face once you have been informed about the type of test you are going to be asked to sit.

Another important point is at what stage of the recruitment process you are being asked to sit the test. As the image of the recruitment funnel below illustrates, different tests are used at each stage of the recruitment process.

Recruitment testing funnel

Ability tests are often used at the beginning of the process and due to the sheer volume of applicants, most companies ask candidates to complete the tests online (or unsupervised). Candidates may then be asked to complete the test again during an assessment centre later in the process as a validation of their earlier score.

Personality assessments are often used just prior to interview, in order to provide the recruiters with information about behaviours and values – there are no right or wrong answers with these assessments as they are simply a reflection of the candidate’s personality. They do however help to inform the questions asked in the interview.

Overall, it is important to remember that psychometric tests are not there to trick candidates. They are objective and remove the discriminatory facets that organisations can sometimes be accused of using and truly promote diversity in the workplace. And with several large organisations now removing A-levels from their graduate recruitment requirements, the impartiality that psychometrics provides is here to stay.

Pearson TalentLens publishes the UK’s main test of critical thinking, the Watson Glaser. Both of these tests are extensively used by employers and are available for you to try on our website.

See the LSE Careers website for more information about interviews, assessment centres and psychometric tests.