Alan Bourne: Are people analytics and psychometrics testing essential to recruitment?

Looking at the evolution of recruitment methods over the past 100 years or so, we can see that the end goal hasn’t changed. Our over-arching objective in any recruitment process is to find the best people for the job in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way possible. By using assessment to make hiring decisions, we want to quickly identify those who are not suitable for the job and accurately pinpoint those who are.

What has changed over the last century are the methods we use to make our recruitment decisions. Initially it was just an interview, a handshake, and straight into the job. However, we’ve long since realised that not only is this time consuming, especially for volume hires, but it’s also inaccurate at predicting job performance, and tends to produce hires similar to those people who hired them – so no diversity, underperformance and a saturation of similar skills and strengths in your workforce.

The armed forces were the first large scale recruiters to realise that in order to eradicate nepotism and lower the cost of assessment, they needed to add in objective assessment of all candidates to improve the accuracy of their decisions, drive efficiencies and level the playing field. This testing developed into what we’d see today (now online, rather than paper) as classic aptitude testing using psychometrics principles, generalised across jobs, sectors and industries, but a useful way of gaining a deeper understanding of the candidates being assessed.

However, each job is different, each organisation is different, so assessment really needs to be more personalised, tailored to the specific needs of the organisation and role. This becomes vital to organisations when they need to ensure they hire the “right fit” people for roles that need instant productivity or may change or adapt over time.

It’s worth defining what we mean by psychometrics. There are four technical principles that must be used to develop any quantitative psychometric measurement tool:

  1. Standardisation: a way of assessing where it’s possible to compare across candidates using, for example, numerical scaling
  2. Reliability: is the assessment reliable over time, does it give the same results today and in two weeks’ time?
  3. Validity: does it predict who will actually be good at the job, rather than just predicting that someone will be hired?
  4. Fairness: Is it fair? Does it assess who will be good at the job, rather than who is good at answering the questions in the assessment?


Classic aptitude testing, even that which customises for a role or organisation, uses psychometrics to assess candidates reliably and fairly in a standardised way, and many organisations have stopped here, reasoning that they now have enough information to make good hiring decisions for specific roles in their organisations. They often include situational and values assessments alongside the more traditional reasoning, personality and behaviour tests, to further refine their candidates, and much of this can be used at scale.

However, introducing people analytics into the assessment process can elevate a recruitment process from simply being about hiring candidates for specific roles, to aligning recruitment to business strategy and directly influencing business productivity and growth. The first step to doing this is ensuring that when those assessments go online, you are collecting the data at every stage of recruitment and following that employee’s journey all the way through to the end of the talent lifecycle.

In this way, it’s possible to link recruitment to business outcomes, understanding what drives high potential, what drives retention, and the sort of hires a business should be making to optimise these two targets. The final step is to put it all together, tailoring assessment processes to an individual organisation’s goals and strategic objectives, ensuring businesses make better, safer, longer-term people decisions that are fair, value-driven, accurate, objective and transparent.

By ensuring that all assessment data is captured in recruitment, and it’s matched up against data from later on in the talent lifecycle, it’s possible to start interrogating that data to begin to recognise patterns and analyse linkages between key outcomes. This is people analytics, and in today’s data-driven world, if you don’t make it central to your recruitment strategy, you’ll end up with a process that is inaccurate, biased, costing more, and less of a seamless, digital process for the candidate.

There are three main challenges to ensuring you incorporate people analytics successfully in a modern organisation. The first is the candidate experience. If you don’t get this right, and the assessment doesn’t feel fair or transparent, then there is a high probability that candidates will be left unsatisfied, or worse, with a feeling of negativity towards the company. In some cases, this has been directly linked to decreased revenue, for example in the case of Virgin Media, who lost £4,4 million to poor candidate experience in 2014.

Candidates need to understand why they have been selected or rejected and a good assessment process will also help candidates match themselves to a job. The feedback can often be automatic or candidates will realise through the process why they are not suited for the job. Additionally, by assessing a candidate through a “whole-person” process, rather than many different tests for different aspects of their personality and skills, not only do you present a good experience for the candidate but you remove any of the hurdles that hiring managers worry about when selecting more complex recruitment tools over a “simple” CV + interview process.

The second challenge is ensuring the assessment data is integrated. Many assessment processes are used in a siloed way. Many may or may not include paper-based tests or person-to-person interviews that are not mined for their data and therefore leave chunks out of your people analytics insights. Getting all the data into one assessment platform is key to this, and then ensuring that platform can be easily linked to an overarching HR tech solution like Workday to link up the entire employee journey. Once you have all the data in one place, you can start doing exciting things like using machine learning to increase speed and produce real time validation of hiring success.

A final challenge is ensuring that data from candidates’ wider digital footprints, particularly social media, is being used ethically, sensibly and relevantly. For example, rather than use data from Facebook (which can be misleading as it’s not intended for work use, and people operate differently in both environments) as a way of selecting candidates, data from LinkedIn or Twitter can be used as an initial identifying funnel for sourcing and pre-assessment. However, there are a number of things you can’t pick up from a digital footprint, like values fit to the organisation, skills and evidence of being able to do key things required to perform in a role, applying experience to a role, and a candidates’ potential for the future. For these, you need psychometric testing.

If psychometric testing principles and people analytics are used in the way I have described, then recruitment teams will see better quality of hire, an increase in diversity and fairness, better candidate experience and high retention. This more efficient, effective process will in turn lead to organisations starting to see real growth and their desired business outcomes delivered. No assessment solution is essential to a recruitment process, but if you want to see positive results in your workforce and on your bottom line, then it’s imperative to have people analytics, adhering to the psychometric testing principles, central to your recruitment strategy.





Alan is CEO and founder of Sova Assessment, and a chartered occupational psychologist and holds a PhD in Organisational Psychology focused on understanding how progressive HR practices impact on business results. Alan started his career in assessment with SHL and then worked in-house with Royal Mail Group. In 2006, he co-founded Talent Q, a psychometric assessment business. He managed the delivery of services in over 25 countries and subsequently led product development, culminating in the business being acquired by the Hay Group (now Kornferry) in 2014. Alan serves on the Board of the Association for Business Psychology, leading their work on Industry Standards.