Should jobseekers be psychometrically tested?

17 September 2014 -


BPS weighs in on Esther McVey’s plan to test unemployed for "psychological resistance" to work

Jermaine Haughton

Ethics experts at the British Psychological Society (BPS) have warned MPs that psychometric testing of jobseekers must be must be conducted by experienced practitioners, and proper feedback must be provided to candidates. The group’s input follows proposals unveiled earlier this month by employment minister Esther McVey, under which benefit claimants would be forced to undergo psychometric testing to determine whether they are psychologically ready to return to work.

With an aim of tackling youth unemployment, McVey’s scheme would subject jobless individuals to attitude profiling to judge whether they are “determined”, “bewildered” or “despondent” about job hunting, or the prospect of taking a job. In a format inspired by similar back-to-work initiatives launched in Australia in the 1990s by Therese Rein – wife of former Aussie premier Kevin Rudd – interviewers would also analyse a jobseekers’ behavioural norms, past work experience and family background to assess the potential challenges they may face in looking for work.

Following the testing, people who are deemed less mentally ready for work will have more intensive coaching from professionals at the job centre, explicitly distinguishing them from claimants who are more optimistic. If a current pilot in three job centres proves successful, the project will be expanded by a voluntary trial to 27,000 jobseekers in 27 cities. According to a recent Telegraph interview with McVey, “It will be scales of eager, despondent, maybe apprehensive. There are factors within that: somebody who is apprehensive but willing is different from someone who is reticent but disengaged.”

University of Glasgow senior teacher Dr Ian Bushnell CPsychol – chair of the BPS’s Division of Occupational Psychology – said: “Psychometrics can be a valuable source of information for guiding people in their career search and decisions. The longer-term unemployed could find the insights provided by a professionally conducted psychometric assessment very helpful in determining their choices about jobs.

“It is critical, however, that all assessments are conducted by experienced users of psychometrics – ideally under the supervision of a chartered psychologist. The success of a psychometric assessment of jobseekers will depend on sensitive, constructive and meaningful feedback about the results.”

Psychometrics are not new to the working world, and have often been used to screen job candidates in the financial and technology sectors – particularly graduates. But doubts have been raised over whether the tests are unfairly designed to downgrade the qualities of people with introvert personalities.

At present, there is a study underway at UWE Bristol to examine this very issue. On launching the project earlier this year, lead researcher Inge Aben – a lecturer in organisation studies in UWE’s Faculty of Business and Law – said: “People like Rosa Parks and Gandhi were quiet characters, but also major world figures, with world changing impact. Yet in talking about leadership we still find there is a preference for extroversion. It is not considered normal that introversion can achieve a lot.”

Fellow researcher Eda Ulus added: “We are both interested in exploring possible links between learning in classrooms and how it is replayed in the future. For example, in the selection of people for management roles, candidates are often tested using psychometric tests for introversion/extroversion. And if people choose to listen at a meeting rather than speak out immediately, this may be regarded as not contributing.”

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