International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 1 September 2004



(2004), "Psychobabble", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 53 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Many organisations use psychometric tests as an important part of their recruitment and selection process – especially at particular hierarchical levels. Now, however, there are claims that current tests are not relevant to today’s employment and work situations.

The established psychometric tests, which are used by many companies when assessing potential recruits, are no longer effective according to Caroline Dunk, principal at cda, the organisational development and change management consultancy. She also suggests that not only are the standard tests outmoded, but also in response to the increasing demand for something new and relevant, the market has also seen an influx of poorly designed and validated personality tests.

“I believe that personality research is unable to deliver a sufficiently useful or comprehensive model for contemporary working styles,” states Dunk. “There has been a dearth of well-researched new ideas since the advent of the ‘Big 5’ theory of personality in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the corporate world has moved on.

“Flatter hierarchies, the increase in remote working and project-based teams, and a focus on objectives such as empowerment, ongoing change, lateral development, innovation and continuous improvement have rendered the existing psychometric models obsolescent. To support these changes, we need personality tests that provide new perspectives on behaviour at work.

“To be useful, new tests must be carefully developed to high standards of validity and reliability. Unfortunately there is nothing to stop someone designing a test on the proverbial ‘back of an envelope’ and taking it to market without putting it through a rigorous (expensive and time-consuming) programme of validation.

“Poor quality tests trap the unwary and contribute to the growing concerns about the misuse of psychometric tests. The well-respected Steve Blinkhorn, chairman of Psychometric Research and Development, commented recently on ‘the great underworld of psychometrics: shoddy personality tests and 10-minute quickies that tell you ‘everything you need to know’.

“Real damage is done to individuals and organisations by poor tests, which deliver inaccurate and misleading information. The companies and the candidates are being let down.

“Businesses need something innovative and reliable that that gets away from the traditional ‘tick box test format. I suggest the personality testing industry needs to look at using a more radical approach – such as speech patterns – to identify personality traits.

“The time is ripe for a change. It’s time the psychometrics industry delivered something new to meet the needs of today’s working world.”

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