9 June 2010
It’s not just your paper qualifications that count when it comes to securing a training contract.
If you are planning to apply for a training contract later this year then you will almost certainly come across the use of psychometric tests in one form or another. But what exactly is a psychometric test and how can you best improve your chances of doing well in them?
Psychometric tests are assessments that, as the name suggests, measure the mind. Primarily they are split into two different types: ability tests and personality questionnaires. They can be delivered online or on paper, but the fundamentals for preparing and performing well in them are principally the same.
Graduate or trainee assessments come in many shapes and forms and might include, in addition to psychometric tests, anything from interviewing to scientifically derived assessment centre events constructed to measure very specific behaviours, strengths or preferences.
Potential employers are likely to use online ability tests in the earliest stages and this has advantages for both the recruiting firm and the candidate. By utilising timed online ability tests it allows you to be measured on a like-for-like basis with other candidates without forcing you into the logistics or expense of travelling. Every effort has been made to make these processes fair and objective; I have not yet spoken to a graduate recruiter who wanted their recruitment process to be anything other than a meritocracy.
Ability testing will most likely, for the legal profession, include a verbal reasoning test. You will be provided with a passage of text to read and then presented with a series of multiple choice answers from which you must choose. Often you might have up to four questions per each passage of text, so read the text quickly but thoroughly.
Numerical reasoning is also a very popular online test. This requires the candidate to study some numerical data in the form of tables, graphs or text, and once again provide an answer to a question in a multiple choice format.
Abstract, logical or diagrammatic reasoning has become increasingly popular in recent years, but is still not seen as often as verbal and numerical tests. These types of tests will present the candidate with a series of images, often made up of different colour and size shapes and patterns that form a logical series with one image missing within the series. The candidate is then again presented with a multiple choice selection of similar symbols and required to select which symbol would logically fit the missing image.
Good advice for candidates completing these at home is to find a quiet place to complete the tests where you will be uninterrupted. Remember this is a test, so creating an environment where you can concentrate is vital. Try to relax and work through each question quickly but thoroughly.
If you finish the test early (and if the test platform allows you to), go back and check your answers. Many candidates who finish early and simply end the test could potentially achieve a better score by using the time allowed to them.
Candidates who may have logistical difficulties completing timed online tests are well advised to let a prospective employer know about this as early as possible in the process, as reasonable adjustment can be made to allow you to take an assessment in a manner that will be fair.
Again, graduate recruiters want to ensure that the best and most fair process is used to select the best candidates and there are a host of accommodations that can potentially be made for candidates.
Personality questionnaires are not devised to provide ’wrong’ or ’right’ answers, but instead give the recruiting firm an idea of your preferences and work style. With personality, simply answer honestly and try not to second-guess what you think a recruiting firm wants to hear.
Later in the process you might be asked to attend an assessment centre or interview day. These are most often run at one of the recruiting firm’s offices and give you an opportunity to view the kind of environment that you might be working in. Take this opportunity to really explore each firm. Don’t forget, this isn’t just
the firm assessing you: you are also making a judgment on the firm as to whether it will provide the environment, challenges and opportunities that you are looking for.
Assessment day tips
Good advice for candidates at assessment centre/interview days - and all stages of the recruitment process - is to:
- get a good night’s sleep before you are due to be assessed;
- travel early to arrive at your venue with plenty of time;
- try to relax and be yourself…
- … but remember that you will be being assessed from the moment you arrive at the firm to the moment you leave. There is often a lot of time spent on an assessment day where you will be waiting around and there have been many instances where candidates who, thinking that they are not being observed, have made offhand remarks or acted in a manner that is inappropriate.
Practice makes perfect
There are a number of places on the internet to find practice tests which allow you to familiarise yourself with the kinds of questions that might be asked. Here is a flavour of what you can expect:
- Most interviews are highly structured, so don’t underestimate them. A recruiting firm is using this forum to gain evidence that you either are or are not the right candidate for the role, culture or environment.
- Many interviews will be ’competency-based’. This means that the interviewer will likely be looking for an example of something you have done in the past that might suggest how you would carry out similar tasks in the workplace. For trainees, potentially entering the workplace for the first time, this can be a daunting prospect so try to prepare by thinking what experiences you have had in the past and how you might learn from them going forward into the work environment. Typically firms are looking for engaging and interesting people, so an interviewer who asks for some examples of “where you’ve been part of a team”, for example, might allow you to explain your involvement with sports, school projects or other outside interests. Make the connection between what you have learned and how you would apply that moving forward.
- Interviewers will often be using a scoring method called SBO - situation, behaviour, outcome - which forms the basis of what they need to understand from you. A sample question might be: “Give me an example of a time when you’ve had to make a decision quickly.”
Situation (detail what the situation was): “I was involved in coaching football and it became very apparent when I started that as well as doing coaching courses I would need to do some physio courses to deal with common injuries and recovery etc. Once during a game there was a clash of heads and one of our players had a very severe cut to the head.”
Behaviour (what you did): “I had my training on how to deal with injuries but this was potentially life-threatening and the player was going into shock. I made the decision not to move the player, suspending the game - the referee supported me in this - and called for an ambulance while I performed emergency treatment and calmed the player down. Several people were upset with me for delaying the game but I felt my priority was with the injured player and staunchly refused any attempts to move him.”
Outcome (what happened as a result of your actions): “The ambulance arrived and the player was taken to hospital. He was given a number of stitches and treated for concussion. The player’s family was very grateful that I had acted responsibly. The game continued with a 20-minute delay once the player was on his way to hospital. The above is an example of something that happened to me over a decade ago but the idea is to demonstrate what I’ve done and how that affected the situation. It isn’t immediately transferable to the workplace but it could cover a number of competencies that an employer might be looking for such as being prepared, decision-making, taking control of a situation, dealing with people in difficult circumstances and so on.”
Assessment centres often provide you with a series of exercises to complete, often as part of a group. Exercises such as presentation tasks, group discussions and/or role-play will again test you against some of the competencies that the firm require to be measured.
In addition, in the case of the group exercises, the firm will want to see how you integrate as part of a team. However, don’t think that you have to push yourself to the front and be the only voice in the room. These kinds of exercises are devised to measure the quality of your input rather than simply the volume, so again - be yourself.
Assessment centres will often include further psychometric testing to ensure that your earlier online test results are accurate.
Peter Remnant is the business development manager at Previsor