In episode 35 of the Graduate Job Podcast we cover a topic which can strike fear into many people applying for graduate jobs, namely psychometric testing. We are joined by Ben Williams, managing director at Sten 10, as he guides us through everything you need to know about numerical tests, verbal reasoning tests, situational judgement tests, personality tests…..you name a test, Ben has probably designed it. We cover what each of these tests are, what they look like in practice, and what graduate employers are actually looking for from them. We delve into tips so you can perform at your best, why you definitely should not try and cheat, through to the importance of accuracy and whether you should guess if you don’t know the answer. No matter where you are in the application process, this is an episode which you aren’t going to want to miss. Make sure you listen to the end, as I’ve negotiated a special 20% discount for you with www.CareerGym.com which has all of the practice tests you need to ace any psychometric test, simply use code GJP
MORE SPECIFICALLY IN THIS EPISODE YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- What psychometric tests such as numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning, situational judgment, abstract reasoning and personality tests actually involve
- Why companies use these tests and what they are looking for
- How many questions you can expect in a test, and how long you have to answer them
- Top tips for improving your test scores
- Whether it is better to guess at an answer or go for accuracy
- Why you don’t want to cheat!
- Why you should always seek feedback on your performance
- How to save 20% at Career Gym by using the code GJP
SELECTED LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
- Career Gym – Enter code GJP to receive 20% off all of Career Gym’s brilliant online tests!
- Sten 10 – Ben’s business psychology firm
- The Drifting Classroom: Volume 1 – Ben’s book recommendation
- Research Digest – Ben’s website recommendation from the British Psychological Society
IF YOU FOUND THIS USEFUL, CHECK OUT THESE EPISODES:
- #37: How to Succeed at Assessment Centres, with Kath Houston
- #2: How to ace assessment centres with Denise Taylor
- #1: Amazing interviews with Jon Gregory
- #19: Secrets of a graduate recruiter with Matt Hearnden
- #43: How to use a graduate recruitment agency, with Rob Blythe from Instant Impact
Episode 35 – How to pass psychometric tests, with Ben Williams
Announcer: Welcome to the Graduate Job Podcast, your home for weekly information and inspiration to help you get the graduate job of your dreams.
James: Hello and welcome to the Graduate Job Podcast, with your host James Curran. The Graduate Job Podcast is your weekly home for all things related to helping you on your journey to finding that amazing job. Each week I bring together the best minds in the industry, speaking to leading authors, entrepreneurs, coaches and bloggers who bring decades of experience into a byte size weekly 30 minute show. Put simply, this is the show I wish I had a decade ago when I graduated.
In episode 35 of the Graduate Job Podcast we cover a topic which can strike fear into many people applying for graduate jobs, namely psychometric testing. We are joined by Ben Williams, managing director at Sten 10, as he guides us through everything you need to know about numerical tests, verbal reasoning tests, situational judgement tests, personality tests…..you name a test, Ben has probably designed it. We cover what each of these tests are, what they look like in practice, and what graduate employers are actually looking for from them. We delve into tips so you can perform at your best, why you definitely should not try and cheat, through to the importance of accuracy and whether you should guess if you don’t know the answer. No matter where you are in the application process, this is an episode which you aren’t going to want to miss. Make sure you listen to the end, as I’ve negotiated a special discount for you with CareerGym.com which has all of the practice tests you need to ace any psychometric test. As always, all links to everything we discuss and a full transcript are available in the show notes at www.graduatejobpodcast.com/test. Before we start don’t forget, I love to hear your feedback so do get in touch either by email or twitter, on twitter I’m @GradjobPodcast, and email is email@example.com. What you love, people or companies you’d like to see on the show, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so send them all my way. But now without further ado, let’s dive straight in to episode 35.
James: Really excited to have Ben Williams on the show today. Now, you might not have heard of Ben, but if you’ve ever done a psychometric numerical verbal reasoning test you’ve probably come across Ben’s work. Ben is a business psychologist, resident occupational psychologist at CareerGym, and managing director of Sten 10, who are one of the leading providers of online assessments. Ben, welcome to the Graduate Job Podcast.
Ben: Thank you very much James, and hello everyone. I’m the person you love to hate.
James: And I’m sure we’ll get into that later on. I’ve given a very brief introduction of what you do, but would you like to fill us in properly about what it is that you do at Sten 10 and your other endeavours?
Ben: Yes, no problem. So, I’m a chartered occupational psychologist. I began my career in general psychology, had a little stint at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, that was work related, but decided that forensic psychology wasn’t for me and decided to enter the business world. What I really like about my job as a business psychologist is that you can have a real difference to a massive cross section of society, and if you think about how much time we spend at work then actually working as a psychologist in this sector, you’re having the biggest impact on the biggest number of people. My special area of interest is around people assessments. So, I really thrive on getting to know what makes people tick from a personality perspective, from a drivers perspective, and from an abilities perspective. And my company Sten 10 specializes in the design of these assessments. We work with companies across the full range of industry’s sectors and at all levels in organizations to help them gain a better understanding of what makes people tick. And I guess, probably around about 70% of our work is in the selection sphere. People who are recruiting will come to us and ask us to design assessments for them. So, that’s us in a nutshell.
James: Super. And today we’re going to explore psychometric tests in all their glory. So, starting at the beginning. Could you explain what psychometric tests are and what are some of the common types that graduates might face?
Ben: Yeah. So, the word psychometric comes from, essentially, the measurement of the mind. Where a psychometric test might differ from something like a quiz you might get in a magazine, is that it has been rigorously developed, typically by occupational psychologists, and has some kind of researched teeth behind it to say that it does have a link to future job performance. I mean, if you think about the typical types of psychometric tests, and what I often like to use is the analogy of a car, you have tests that look at your ability in a particular area, so that could be analogous to the engine of a car. It looks at your raw intellectual horse power. And these types of psychometric tests will look at things like your verbal reasoning skills, your numerical reasoning skills, your conceptual thinking skills. Then you have the types of psychometric tests that look at your work style. And those are typically personality questionnaires. So, to take the car analogy further. Are you a thrusting, red Ferrari? Are you a solid, dependable VW? Are you, etcetera, etcetera? It looks at your working style, at how you like to portray yourself at work. The third type of psychometric test looks at your metaphorical fuel. So, how much drive do you have to invest energy at work? What kind of things make you motivated? What kind of things make you demotivated? And that’s an interesting one actually. It’s often the missing link when people are recruiting for a job, actually looking at the motivational match. I’d say just to round out the analogy, often you might find tests that look at your knowledge of a particular subject area. I’d like to see that as the map that you’re using to drive with and tests like that are seeking to measure your specialist knowledge in a particular subject area. For example, accounting tests that look at your accountancy knowledge. Or your knowledge of being a psychologist if he wants to become a business psychologist. But, three primary types that would be called psychometric; ability, personality, motivation.
James: Okay, and thinking about the graduate job market. Why do companies use these sorts of tests when they’re in their recruitment process?
Ben: Yeah, so there’s a number of good reasons for using these tests. First and foremost, they’ve been proven to be valid. And what that means in psych speak, is that there’s a link between how well you do in these tests and how well you do in the job. What we do is use correlations to look at peoples test scores, and we map that to things like manager’s ratings once people have been in the job maybe a year or two down the line. And these psychometric tests, or the well-designed ones, show a good level of relationship. So, they’ve valid. That also means that they are legally defensible. And I guess that from that come a number of other advantages. I mean, one of them is that they’re relatively cheap for the power that they give you. They’re far more predictive of future performance than something like an interview. Even things like group exercises and in-trays. Ability tests can out perform them in predicting certain types of behaviour in the workplace. They’re cheap. They’re valid. And then there are also other benefits, like the fact that they’re fair and objective. They’re not susceptible to things like how you’re dressed, that an assessor might make a judgement about you on. Your accent, your ethnicity even. That kind of thing is monitored and controlled for when we develop these tests to make sure that they’re as fair as they can be. I guess the final thing is that they are fairly resilient to changes over time. Personality does shift a little bit according to what’s going on in your life at the moment or as you mature, but things like ability are pretty reliable constructs. So, again, they provide a sound basis for making these judgements. And they provide easy comparisons. If you’ve got 1,000 graduates who are applying for 10 places, and you need to get the numbers down because you can’t possibly see all these people face-to-face, then it gives you a common language to compare people for that initial sift to get those numbers down for the more in depth, and more expensive stage of the process.
James: Definitely makes sense and having spoken to a graduate recruiter recently, and you know they talk about having 4,000 – 5,000 plus applications, she said there’s no possible way that everyone can be interviewed so it’s an easy way of beginning to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Ben: That’s right, that’s right.
James: So, the most common ones that graduates are probably concerned about are the ability ones. So, numerical tests, verbal reasoning tests, and also some of the companies using the personality tests. So thinking about those, specifically maybe the verbal reasoning and the numerical ones. How can candidates begin to prepare for those in advance of the test?
Ben: Yeah. So, I think with the verbal and the reasoning, verbal and numerical reasoning type tests. My first piece of advice would be to get familiar with the format that these tests tend to be presented in. What you don’t want to happen on the day of these tests, is for you to be thrown by their format, or let’s say the time pressure, that could easily be overcome just by having a bit of go at this and demystifying it. So, that would be my top piece of advice. I think that there are other general pieces of advice. I mean, if you know that you’re going to be sitting a particular test, then make sure you get enough sleep. There’s been a lot of research, actually, quite neurobiological research that shows, it was a study in 2010, that looked at subjects in this experiment who slept and dreamt of a memory related task during their sleep and improved their performance on that task later on. So, get a good amount of sleep. If you have been practicing the test before hand and you do end up dreaming about them, that’s not a bad thing. You’re likely to do even better in the actual test. I think in terms of other tips, I would say for things like, let’s say verbal reasoning preparation, these tests are often looking at your ability to get to the crux of a passage of information. So, a typical task that I sometimes encourage people to do, is try to summarize the essence of a newspaper article, let’s say in three sentences. What are the absolute core elements of that article? Maybe reviewing documents in an unfamiliar subject area. These verbal reasoning tests, because they need to appeal to a wide variety of clients and sectors, you will be 9 times out of 10 asked about a subject about which you know nothing and it relies purely upon your logical reasoning skills using verbal information. So, try to look at an academic journal that is completely outside your area of expertise and say what conclusions can be drawn from this abstract, or this conclusion, and what can’t be. Also, a quick brush up on basic rules of grammar, and basic understanding of things like conditional language, so and, or, but, kind of conjunctions, things like that. Just making sure that you’re not thrown by that. Because, the typical test that graduates will face, will be where you’ll have a passage of information and a series of statements that you need to rate whether they are true, whether they are false, or whether you cannot say based upon the information in the passage. And you need to have a real eye for detail around the grammar in that passage to be able to say for sure whether those statements are true, false, or you can’t say. So, that would be the main ones for the verbal reasoning. The numerical reasoning, I would say that once you’ve had a look at how they’re laid out. The key tip is refresh on basic numeracy. I’ve coached a number of graduates through this, and actually digging out an old GCSE text book, which is probably laying around in the attic somewhere in a cardboard box, but just refreshing your memory around how to do percentages, quickly and in the most efficient manner, how to work out ratios, all of these things that you might not have been doing day to day for the past year or so, refresh your memory around. Sorry, go on James.
James: So, what I was going to say. I definitely echo that. I mean when I was doing them, I can remember I used the BBC bite size GCSE revision page. It was a bit embarrassing using it. But, it was, you know, a great place to, as you said, just get the really, go back to the basics, or the basic ratios and the percentage increases and decreases and the sort of good stuff that you can expect in those tests.
Ben: Yeah, fantastic. And that’s a great tip. I mean, I think that once you’ve got those foundations in place, then it’s a case of taking it to the next level and saying, right, in the graduate level tests we don’t just want you to show your numerical computation, we want you to actually be able to draw conclusions from that data. So, looking at financial charts in papers, so look at the financial times, and say what conclusions could be drawn from this data, in this chart without necessarily viewing the accompanying text. Verbal and numerical reasoning are both quite similar in that way, in that verbal reasoning isn’t a test of your basic literacy, the numerical tests aren’t a test of your basic computational skills, they’re looking at your ability to reason with that information. So, that’s what’s going to get you the highest scores, is honing your skills in that area. I guess my final tip around numerical would be to practice estimating the results of complex calculations rather than using a calculator. We’ll talk about this a little later I’m sure, but the tests are timed. So, if you have efficient mental shortcuts that enable you to multiply quickly, brushing up on your old times tables, that’s going to save you precious seconds that will enable you to move on to further questions and ultimately score higher overall.
James: That’s great advice there. Thinking about, you mentioned the timed aspect, for both the verbal and numerical, does there tend to be, how long do the tests tend to be on average? And how many questions could you expect within that time period?
Ben: So, they will range. The general thrust within the market has been to try to make tests that are shorter and shorter and shorter. This is mainly because the perception was that graduates rebel against being asked to sit long tests because it takes a lot of time, it’s quite onerous. So, the shortest ones nowadays get down to around about 7 minutes long. Yeah, really really quite short and sharp. And you might get maybe 10 to 12 questions in that. So, really short. The longer ones are more like 25 minutes or so, and then you’ll have about 30 questions in those. It’s interesting actually, what test publishers are finding is that test takers are sometimes rebelling against these shorter tests because they feel like it hasn’t given them a chance to demonstrate their skills to its fullest. They feel that the timing element was too stressful, and actually they preferred the longer tests. So, we may see a passage back to the longer tests over time. But, generally you’re looking at about a minute per question ish.
James: Okay. And looking at the example then of, say 25 minutes and 30 questions. What would be a pass mark, an expected pass mark for something like that?
Ben: Yeah, so if I go into the scoring a little bit. I mean, when we design these tests, we put in enough questions so that even the most intellectually able person shouldn’t be sitting around twiddling their thumbs by the end of the time. So, the first thing to say is don’t worry if you don’t get to the end. That isn’t a necessary requirement. The second thing is to say that of all the scores on the test, you’ll get a raw score in most cases. And we will compare this against a comparison group. So, a norm group. And each organization will have chosen a norm group that suits the requirements of the job. So, if you’re applying to a job in retail at the graduate level, there is very likely to be a retail graduate comparison group. What that does, is it tells the recruiter for each score, or each score point you’ve got, what percentage of that comparison group that score would out perform. So, let’s say on a 25 question test a score of 20 might have out performed, let’s say 75% of that comparison group. If you use a different comparison group, then that percentage would shift obviously. So, if you’re thinking, “What would the pass mark be?” we generally tend to talk about pass marks in terms of the percentile that we would accept. And when you’re sifting out large numbers at an early stage in the process, you tend to set that quite low. And by low, it’s typically between the 20th percentile and the 50th percentile. So, as long as you’re preforming better than around about half of the other graduates that are applying for these types of jobs, then you’re likely to get through to the next stage. When you get to the later stages of the process, then that can be increased. It can be increased even as high as like the 70th percentile. But, that doesn’t happen at the start. Part of the reason for that is that these tests aren’t absolutely fool proof, so you need to leave a little bit of a buffer room. And partly because you also do see a greater adverse impact. So, people from different groups, if that’s ethnic or gender, tend to become more pronounced if you set those cut offs too high. So, companies tend to set them low.
James: Okay, and do they, when you’re looking at the results, do you just look at solely the number of questions that have been answered correctly? Or would they also look at the number of questions that people attempted? Because I know when I doing it, it was, do you go for accuracy or you just go for, you’ve got 20% chance if there’s five questions, you just go for A, A, A, A, A, A, A, and see how you get on it?
Ben: Yeah, that’s a good question. What psychologists tend to do, is to look at the raw score. So, the number of questions that you got correct in isolation. However, accuracy can sometimes come into play when you’re looking to distinguish between two very closely matched candidates. So, if you have two candidates that both got 20 questions right, but one of them only attempted 20, and one of them attempted 30, then the person that got 100% of the questions they attempted correct could be seen as being the more accurate worker. They’re less likely to make mistakes. So, it might just tip over the balance. And some of the more modern psychometric tests do actually start norming your level of accuracy as well. So, the employer will know not only how bright you are compared to other graduates, but also how accurate you are compared to other graduates. But, that’s relatively rarer. Typically, it’s the number correct, and that’s why when we advise, is it better to just wild guess and just put A, A, A down, then my advice would be, make an educated guess. If you can narrow down your multiple choice options from four to two, let’s say, then I would say make a guess. If you really haven’t got a clue, then responding in a near random manner will start to impact your accuracy and that could hinder your chances.
James: Interesting. Thinking about the answers, and you’ve got five answers, one of which is right, would you, as a test creator, try and create four other answers that are very similar to it and try to throw people off? Or do you do it in more of a random manner?
Ben: We would always be devious where we have the chance. So, we would never try to trip people up, I guess, unfairly, but we would want to make all of the answer options seem plausible. So, in a numerical reasoning test you might see a series of responses, but with a decimal plot point in a different place each time. That enables us to determine whether you’ve done the correct rounding in your estimation. What we wouldn’t do is put a complete outlier. So, let’s say the answers to a numerical reasoning question wouldn’t be 15 pounds, 16 pounds, 17 pounds, 342 pounds. That would just be too obviously wrong or odd, and therefore it wouldn’t be adding much to our understanding if we were to ask that question, because it would be too easy to discount some of the options.
James: That makes sense. Yeah, as you’re doing them, say for some of the percentage ones, if you do do the percentage wrong you might often find that the wrong answer is one of the options to easily trip you up. Then, as you said, as you practice you can quickly spot the ones that are deliberately wrong, if you know what you’re doing.
Ben: That’s right, that’s right.
James: Would you give any advice to people who might have learning difficulties? Such as dyslexia, who might find these tests more challenging.
Ben: My advice would always be to let the recruiting organization know. It will not harm your application, and they will either then make amendments or they will talk to the test publisher who will be able to make amendments accordingly. The very best recruiters will actually ask you what kind of amendments you find most useful. So, say for example with dyslexia it’s often a time increase that is important, and we can get a gauge on the typical percentage time increase that you might have had before. So, they will ask you for your views. For things like, let’s say like visual impairments, then we can provide the test in different font sizes, we can also look at things like the colour, to make sure there aren’t any colour interferences going on. So, there are a number of adaptations that can be made and my key piece of advice would be to raise it and to ask them what their advice would be, because then they will make those changes accordingly.
James: Now, that’s great advice. And you should always just let these employers know because it’s always going to help rather than hinder your application. Do most of the companies that you work with always retest the people who do the test, because I know when I spoke with one of the graduate recordings off recording he did say that they did assume that lots of people cheat so they do chuck in a retest on the assessment centre day when people come in just to make sure that haven’t been getting their mates doing maths at University to do their online test for them.
Ben: There was a general concern in the psychology industry about moving tests online. Previously, when they were all paper and pencil, very controlled at a physical location, the test’s confidentiality was never compromised, and also the identity of the person taking the test was pretty much guaranteed. It has been investigated pretty extensively, and for the last couple conferences at the British Psychological Society the surprising result comes through that there is a strong correlation between the scores people tend to get when they’re online, and the scores they tend to get when they come in face-to-face. So cheating is not as prevalent as a lot of people think it is. That said, a lot of companies do retest face-to-face just to be on the safe side. There’s often a shorter version of the test that you’ll have to do to save time on the assessment day, and there are some very clever algorithms coming out now that not only compare your total score, but also look at the types of errors that you made online versus the types of errors that you make when you’re face-to-face to gauge whether you are indeed the same person taking the test. It’s getting very smart; I have say that the prevalence is probably less wide spread then people might think though.
James: The net is drawing in, so my advice would be to do the work, do the practice. They are difficult, at the beginning, I put my hands up, I did get an ex-girlfriend to do one of my applications, and I did get retested, and I didn’t get through because I majorly messed it up at the face-to-face retest.
Ben: I think it’s something to bear in mind is that with all these tests, there really is no advantage in trying to cheat the system, because if you cheat the system, you get into a job that you’re ill-suited for, and the amount of stress that you’ll experience, and the general impact upon you and your colleagues will be bad. So, my advice is yes, prepare in order to do the best that you possibly can do, but never try to cheat the system. And likewise, I mean we haven’t talked so much about personality questionnaires, but again in those be honest, because they will have spent a lot of time and money in mapping out the personality traits of those people that tend to thrive and to stay in those organizations, and if you give an incorrect impression then you may well find that you’re one of the people that ends up leaving because of a poor match.
James: That’s a really good point, and moving on to the personality type questions. Whenever I’ve done them, I’m always torn in my mind between what I honestly feel, and what I think that the employer is trying to get me to say. You know, what advice would you give people who are doing that?
Ben: Yeah, I think it would be, revisit the job description. It will be fairly clear in there what types of personality traits are important, so that’s going to give you a big clue as to what they’re looking for. But again, I’d echo that advice, don’t let that overtly change how you would respond, because, again, you’ll only be placed in a job that you don’t enjoy. There are some personality questionnaires out there that are far less transparent. Ones that maybe have their roots in more of a clinical psychology background, where they’re really hard to pick apart what actually they are trying to get at. I know there’s one in particular that says, “Would you rather appreciate the beauty of a sunset or a well-made urn?” Which is absolutely bizarre, and I believe that that relates to a trait to do with creativity, but again it’s those kinds of tests that you really can’t second guess but the more predominate ones are things like, “To what extent do you enjoy working as a team?” “To what extent do you enjoy being the centre of attention?” “To what extent do you x, y, z. And if you’re applying for a job as a seismic scientist working in the Artic, spending time on your own for months on end, then saying that you crave companionship and teamwork is unlikely to get you the job, but if that’s truly what you feel then you probably shouldn’t go for the job.
James: So I can understand with the numerical tests, and the verbal reasoning tests, there’s a pass mark, if you said, they expect the top 50% of people to go through. How do companies then use the results from the personality test to whittle down the people that they want? So, I can imagine they want people work well in teams, so if you say, “You know, actually, sometimes I like working in teams but sometimes I like working by myself.” Is it as simple as looking for the people who answered that would they get a no, and the other people get yes?
Ben: There’s two schools of thought on using personality questionnaires at this sifting stage. There are those who say, you can reduce a person’s personality to an algorithm and actually say, look you need a certain number of points in inverted commas before you would be allowed through to the next stage. And there are others that say that it should absolutely not be used in that simplistic way, and they say the entire purpose of a personality questionnaire is fulfilled by having an interview with that individual, and digging underneath what they’ve said, and trying to understand the rational for their responses. So, I think you’re going to find two schools of thoughts. Some people that will have gone through the personality profile, which can be measuring anything between 3 personality traits all the way up to 32 plus different personality traits, and they will have defined, for each of those, where the ideal person will be. So, that’s in the hard version of the sift. In the softer version, what they’ll be doing is saying is look, we won’t even use that as a sift, but we’ll use that to inform the probing at the interview. So, anything that seems contrary to what one would expect, let’s really ask them for more examples around that. Let’s play devil’s advocate for those that say they really do like the job aspects that we’re looking for, and ask them for the times when maybe they’d not wanted to work on their own or not wanted to work as a team. So, yeah, there’s two ends on the spectrum on using personality tests for sifting, and I think you’ll probably find both.
James: Okay, and thinking about the wider graduate market at the moment with what companies are using. Are personality tests currently in vogue for most companies? Or is it just mainly verbal and numerical?
Ben: The verbal and numerical are, and also abstract reasoning, so abstract shapes, what one comes next in the sequence, those are the hardy perennials of the testing world. I don’t think that they’re going away anytime soon. They’re still universally popular. Personality questionnaires are still popular. I would say that the big rise has come from situational judgement tests (SJTs), which give you a hypothetical scenario, and they give you a series of options for how you could respond to that scenario. And on the basis of that, the recruiter will make an assumption about your likely working style. Now, that does have elements of what your personality is, elements of your knowledge, elements of your behaviour in there, but if I think about my company, that was a couple of years ago, SJTs were about 50-60% of our workload. They’ve really exploded, and part of reason for that is they also give people a taste of the job. So, I was designing an SJT for use of a teacher, in a teacher-training recruitment kind of context, and we wanted to give people a view of the job warts and all, and say these are the highs and these are the lows, as well as having something that will help us to predict who will go on to be better in the job. So, that’s, I would say, the big shift that’s been emerging the last few years. We are working with a couple of other firms to develop mobile apps that will assess ones’ personality. A company called Artic Shores that we’ve been working with to develop a couple of games. One of them is called Firefly Freedom, and in that you play a game that looks very similar to an Angry Birds style mechanic. What that does is measures things like your working memory. So, your ability to remember sequences of events. Your risk propensity, whether you will go for a safe and secure reward, or whether you’ll gamble it all on earning more points. It will look at things like innovation. So, will you try out new tactics? Things like persistence. Will you continue things? So, I think a lot of the industry at the moment, apart from SJTs, is around how can we make assessments more technologically savvy, but yet still sound? And that’s what a lot of firms are, I guess, working on at the moment is trying making sure that these new tests, these new app based assessments are just as rigorous as their forefathers, which is a pretty significant investment requirement. It usually takes about 18 months, a couple of years to get a test fully developed and validated to a point that a company would feel happy to use it.
James: Time is running away with us Ben, unfortunately, but a couple of questions before we move on to the quick fire questions. So, talking around situational judgement tests and also personality tests. Given that you maybe need to be more open and natural with your responses for those, would you still recommend that people practice them? Or is it something that is best just to do fresh and openly when you need to do them?
Ben: I would say that all of them benefit from a bit of practice, if for nothing else, to get used to the interface so that you’re not thrown off by the test mechanic, and also the time pressure so you know how quickly do you need to make decisions in these types of contexts. I think, where it can be useful, and there’s a lot of resources on the web behind this, is to have a go at some practice tests which also give you explanations for why the answer is correct or incorrect, rather than just practicing in isolation, because then you can reflect on and say, “What in my thought process led me to think that that was the right answer, when actually that was the least effective answer?” And it actually can work as a bit of self-development for you as well because it can start opening your mind to ways of thinking and behaving at work that maybe you didn’t consider before. So, yeah, I would say that the SJTs are worth practicing, but the very best opportunities to practice are when you can have the answers explained to you and do a bit of reflecting around it.
James: Yeah, and practice is definitely the key. As I mentioned, I cheated and failed, and then put a lot of work into practicing and practicing, and they do get so much easier. Especially from a numerical point of view. There’s only about five, six, seven, different key things that are asked in terms of ratios, percentage increase, percentage decrease, and if you just nail those five to seven different easy ways, you can go through the test, answer all of those, and you’ll be well over half the way there. And at the end of the show we’ll have a link to and a discount code for Ben’s excellent website CareerGym, which has hundreds and hundreds of brilliant tests, which are well worth practicing on. Now, final question Ben before we move on. Say it all goes horribly wrong, and you flop the test. How much scope have you got for getting feedback from the company?
Ben: So, under the data protection act, then what everyone is entitled to is feedback in a meaningful form on data that is held on you. So, what companies are obliged to give you is feedback. For example, what percentile that you got, so were you better than 50%, better than 10%, better than 1% of the population that you were compared against? Companies do vary on their policies. Sometimes they offer this proactively, sometimes, when they have thousands and thousands of applicants, they tend not to offer it, but they would have to give it to you if you asked. What you wouldn’t be entitled to is something like, “Tell me which questions I got right and which questions I got wrong,” because that would be confidential information for the test. But, you should definitely get some kind of feedback, then you can reflect and say, “Actually, did I race through that too fast? Would I benefit from slowing down?” Or vice versa in the future. So, it’s definitely worth getting feedback so that you can adapt your strategies for the next time.
James: Definitely, completely agree. Just be careful with the way that you do go about asking these companies. I know that recruiters tend to be very busy, but legally this data’s’ yours so if you’ve not got through anyway, you’re not really going to lose anything. So, ask it, get the information and hope it helps you improve. Now then Ben, moving on to our quick fire questions. What one book would you recommend our listeners to read?
Ben: That’s an interesting question. I know you said that it could be work or non-work related. I’ll give a little insight into my reading tastes here. I actually just read a manga series called The Drifting Classroom , it’s quite old. It’s back in the early 70s, but it’s basically a story of a school that is transported into what can be described as a nightmarish wasteland, where it’s described as part Lord of the Flies¸ part post-apocalyptic science fiction. It’s 11 books, so if you’re up for a bit of light-hearted relief, a bit of post-apocalyptic fiction, and you wish your educational establishment could be transported to another dimension, then I’d say that that book series is the one for you.
James: That’s our first recommendation of a post-apocalyptic nature. And I’ll link to it in the show notes. I’ve not heard of that one myself, so I will definitely check it out. Now Ben, what one website would you recommend that our listeners visit?
Ben: So, I think a really nice one, and this is of particularly of interest to those who have an interest in psychology but I think for all things human nature related the research digest from the British Psychological Society is a great resource that I go to weekly. It’s address is http://digest.bps.org.uk/, and it’s a blog about all of the latest psychological research, put into human language. So, if I’m just looking at some of the headlines up there now, we’ve got, “Psychologists study twins to learn more about the roots of procrastination.” We’ve got, “Slot machines are more addictive when we see them as having human like intentions.” “The Psychology of realizing that you need psychological help.” So, there are occasionally nice articles that relate to assessments and psychometrics. But I think just generally for those people that are interested in psychology and the study of the human mind that it’s a great website.
James: Excellent, and there are so many psychology books that are popular best sellers at the moment whether it is Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds . Ones like that. That sounds like a really interesting site, I will check that out myself. And finally Ben, what one tip would you give our listeners that they can implement today on their job search.
Ben: The one tip that I would give job seekers, from a psychometric perspective, is to practice the tests that you’re about to take so that you’re not thrown by their format. And while there’s this debate over how much you can actually improve your scores on these tests, through practice, my key advice would be around the numerical. It would be around brush up on the basics, because that’s where I’ve seen the biggest step change in people’s performance in these tests once they’ve got the basics refreshed and buttoned down.
James: I completely agree. Practice definitely does make perfect in that situation. Ben, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the Graduate Job Podcast, I know that listeners are going to love this insight into all these different sides of testing. Before we finish though, what is the best way that people can get in touch with you and about what you do?
Ben: The best thing to do would be to drop me an email. Ben@Sten10.com And I’ll be very happy to field questions about all aspects of psychometric assessments, so do feel free to get in touch.
James: Ben, thank you very much for appearing on the Graduate Job Podcast.
Ben: Thank you James.
James: Many thanks to Ben for his time and expertise. Having done many of these tests myself it was fascinating to understand more about, and from the clients I coach, I know it is one of things that they really worry about. Normally I have 3 points to takeaway from each episode, but today, it’s such a biggy, I just have one. And that point I want to leave you with is….the importance of practice! I can’t stress this enough, with these tests practice really does make perfect. As I mentioned in the interview, initially I was pretty bad at numerical tests and it was something that I worried about, so instead of doing the work, I took the easy route of getting my maths grad girlfriend to sit the online test for me. When I then underwent a surprise retest I then flunked it massively and probably went from being in the top quartile, to the bottom quartile. After that I knew I needed to pull my finger out, so I practiced, practiced, practiced. I revised all the core basics of percentage increase, decrease, ratios, and all simple multiplication, because once you have the basics it’s all pretty easy, but just then a question of being able to do it under time pressure as Ben said, but also being able to quickly estimate the answer so you know if you are on the right path or not. Because once you’ve got the basics nailed, in the actual tests you can just whizz through it doing the easy ones, then decide to spend time on the more difficult ones. It’s painful and it can be hardwork, but…..if you put the time in your scores improve rapidly. Ben talked about the how these tests are marked and how you are ranked in terms of your performance against a select comparison group of your peers, and for me, across the entire application process, I see it constantly as a battle with yourself to be willing to do the things that other people wont do. By this I mean really personalising each application for each company, spending the time to really understand what the companies values are and what they are looking for from applicants, spell and grammar checking the application for the 20th time to make sure it’s perfect etc. Most people don’t do these things because it’s hard work, but putting in the hard work is what separates the people who get through from those that don’t. By the nature of the fact that not only have you listened to this episode, but are still listening 40 minutes in shows that you are willing to put the work in, so I know you are one of that select group. The good news is that it is now much much easier to practice than it was for me, many moons ago. Which is why I negotiated you a great deal with the website Career Gym which Ben contributes to. They have a range of different online packages depending on what you want to focus on, from numerical, abstract or verbal reasoning, situational judgement tests, or big daddy packages which combine them all. So you can have thousands or questions which you can practice online with realistic time pressures to mimic the real thing, or at a slower practice pace if you wish. What’s great is that you can see based on your performance what percentile you’re currently in, so you can track your progress as you improve. And given Ben’s background, you know that these questions are going to be the real thing. So to save 20% off all of their tests, enter the letters GJP, that’s GJP, in the discount code at www.careergym.com It doesn’t matter if its upper or lower case. Thanks to Ben and the team over at Careergym.com for that special offer, just for you amazing listeners.
So there we go, 35, finished. If you’ve enjoyed the show let me know on Twitter, my handle is @gradjobpodcast, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and please do leave a review and subscribe on ITunes or Stitcher radio, as I say every week it’s the best way other than sharing us with your friends to show appreciation for the podcast and it helps massively in the rankings, so that other people can find us. Do join me next week when I have property and podcasting guru Rob Bence on the show as we focus on the world of property. I hope you enjoyed the episode today, but more importantly I hope you use it and apply it. See you next week.