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Talent Assessment | 4 Min Read

Understanding the Science behind Psychometric Tests


Modern society has always looked for ways to qualify and measure entities and things. Scientific revolution and advancement in physical science led us to successfully measure temperature, pressure, volume, area, etc. However, contemporary times in the nineteenth century also witnessed advancements in psychology and efforts were made to measure intelligence and personality. Psychometric research came into existence with a definition that it’s an art to measure the operations of the mind. And psychologists have only added more ideas ever since to make psychometrics more profound and accurate. 

The measurements in psychology depend on tests and questionnaires. However, it has always been a matter of discussion to find reliable and error-free results from the questions. And that’s when statistics come into the picture. Psychometric science vitally depends on the statistics to find attributes of interest.

Psychometric science is mostly used for measuring personality, behavioral inclinations, attitudes, and beliefs. Quantifying these phenomena in humans has never been easy. Critics have always shown their doubts to put human nature and tendencies in the boundary of certain metrics.  

The definition of measurement given by Stanley Smith Stevens (1946) suggests that “the assignment of numerals to objects or events according to some rule.”

However, scientists have suggested that the measurement in physics and psychology is no different. According to Reese, Physicists can measure when they can find the operations by which they may meet the necessary criteria; psychologists have but to do the same. They need not worry about the mysterious differences between the meaning of measurement in the two sciences.

Understanding the Science Behind Psychometric Tests

Psychometric tests are very important when it comes to measuring human behavior. An employee’s true sense is likely to emerge in stressful or rather difficult organizational situations. It could be the stress that comes from meeting deadlines, collaborating as a team, negotiating deals, or having to make hard but emotional decisions.

When it comes to cultural fitment, it isn’t merely about employee-company compatibility, but of a deeper sense of how an employee reacts during a crisis. Likewise, it also makes a case for how an employee reacts to the organizational culture.

Advanced metrics urge us to consider test technology, especially psychometric research-based tests, to optimize different aspects of the employee life cycle. Similar statistics prove that people’s interaction reveals about 10% or a third of the traits that directly impact both individual and organizational performance. The numbers are perhaps worse when the experience is weighed in as a factor on both ends.

Practitioners of psychometric psychology firmly believe that culture is a critical component in determining business success. As you may well know, however, culture as a topic is at times – if not at all the time – difficult both to manage and grasp.

No matter the involvement of psychometric science in the employee lifecycle – be it recruitment, performance evaluation, learning & development, leadership planning, or more as discussed extensively in, there are two layers to every employee. It’s safe to say that his/her evaluation through the lifecycle is incomplete without considering both layers. What are these layers?


SOURCE: Culture in Business Process Management; Schmiedel, Brocke, Recker


The reason we enter this discussion is to open room to understand the world of competencies, and how utilizing it can be made efficient.

The Iceberg Model is most efficiently defined via the use of competencies – components of a job that are reflected in behavior observable in the workplace. Skill, aptitude, ability, knowledge, and personality all factor into performance computations at work. Even with psychometric tests that measure all the necessary factors in the ideal situation, not often do they actually discern what’s necessary.

  • Knowledge: Identifies learning and information within a person.
  • Traits: Physical characteristics and consistent responses to information or situation.
  • Skill: Ability to perform certain tasks.
  • Motives: Emotions, physiological needs, impulses, desires that prompt action.
  • Self Concepts & Values: Attitude, self-image, and value.

This is an indication to the fact that within these factors exist various definitions, but with little difference between them. It’s easy to argue that the only common denomination between them is observable behavior in the workplace, but not all competencies predict or measure performance, to begin with.

The concept is better explained with an example. A surgeon requires intricate knowledge of the human anatomy along with the necessary skill to perform a surgery. But that doesn’t exempt the individual in question from factors such as self-confidence or personal belief, values required to complete a complex surgery. Perhaps interpersonal orientation is what motivates the surgeon to work well with other members of the team. No matter how irrelevant in mind, traits also weigh into a professional skill.

Psychometrics Psychology and Human Behavior

1. The Bright Side

The bright side of human personality comprises those positive personality traits which are noticed quickly and capable of enhancing job performance. It is what we see when people are at their best.

The bright side of human personality is based on the Big Five Personality Traits of the Five-Factor Model, which specifies that people can be described based on their standing on the five broad personality traits.

Mettl has, further, used these five factors as a construct to develop and categorize its set of behavioral competencies.

Positive traits in an individual make them feel confident, with the focus being on the betterment of the organization and not on individual success. People who rank high on these traits tend to be fair-minded co-workers and are endeared by people as a professional.

Leaders exhibiting an overall positive personality are efficient enough to articulate a vision in a way that builds commitment towards the organization’s goal.

However, you can’t really judge a person only on the basis of the bright side of human personality. If human personality could act as the drivers of success, then there are some hidden traits too, that can act as the derailers.

Let’s have a look at the traits as well as the determinants of personality.

Five Facets of People with Openness Trait:


Six Facets of People with Conscientiousness Trait:

Six Facets of People with Conscientiousness Trait

Five Facets of Extroverts:

Five Facets of Extroverts

Six Facets That Makes You Agreeable:

Six Facets That Makes You Agreeable:

Three Facets of Emotionally Stable People:

Three Facets of Emotionally Stable People

2. The Dark Side

Dark Personality Traits are stable characteristics of a person when triggered, lead to the display of undesirable, counterproductive and destructive behavior that have a negative impact on surrounding people (friends, family, co-worker or customers).

To measure these dark traits in the candidates, Mettl has created a dark personality inventory where almost all the lowlights of an individual at work have been clubbed. Here’s a brief look at the traits and related facets.

Opportunistic People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories:

Opportunistic People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Self Obsessed People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories:

Self Obsessed People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Insensitive People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories:

Insensitive People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Temperamental People Can be Divided into 3 Categories:

Temperamental People Can be Divided into 3 Categories

Impulsive People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories:

Impulsive People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Thrill-Seeking People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories:

Thrill-Seeking People Can Be Divided into 3 Categories

Dark Traits Get Triggered by Various Factors Such As:

Just the presence of dark traits in a person does not ensure that they will act in an unwanted way. The dark traits have to be activated to present dark behavior, which gets triggered by various factors.

Level of Dark Traits

Greater be the level of dark traits; higher would be the chances they get triggered, even with the slightest provocation.


Places where people tend to be superior, there comes a subtle tendency to misuse that powder, hence triggering dark traits.


Relaxed– where the person is at ease and not being observed & Stressed– where the person is made to do a lot in limited time.

To know everything about the dark side, do read our data-backed and scientific report on Uncovering the Dark Side of Human Personality

3. The Cognitive Abilities

Cognitive Abilities are brain-based skills one needs to process any activity, be it simple or complex. It is more of the ability to comprehend, and benefit as a matter of fact.

The way things are perceived, strategic thinking, decision-making abilities, all these also form the substratum of how people behave in a given situation. It could be divided into two categories:

Fluid Intelligence

The ability to perceive things, absorb and retain new information to tackle issues in novel circumstances.

Crystallized Intelligence

The capacity to recover and utilize data obtained over a lifetime and leveraging on the acquired knowledge to perform certain tasks.

core brain function

Well, you can read the guide to cognitive assessments for a detailed explanation.

Apart from the bright & dark side and cognitive abilities, some other factors are affecting human behavior. These are clubbed under the X-factors.

4. The X-Factors

Although the dark and bright sides form a significant part of human personality, yet there are several other factors, which we call The X-Factors, that act as catalysts and affect the intended human behavior.

The Nature vs. Nurture debate influences fluctuating personalities through the course of time. It provides an image of whether surroundings determine human behavior or if it is the individual’s gene.

Human personality

Nature: This is pre-wiring and is affected by biological factors, basically the hereditary legacy or the genetic inheritance.

Nurture: This is the impact produced from external factors, for example, the experience, acquired knowledge, learning, or exposure of a person.

The X-Factors Include Certain Factors Discussed Below:


Kids are like sponges- they tend to learn and demonstrate behaviors that their parents portray. This can be seen in the positive & negative behaviors they display.


The way soldiers behave is unique and outstanding. The joy of meeting their loved ones after winning the battle and love for one’s country keeps them pumped to behave, accordingly even in the hardest situations.


If we think of an organization as a decision-making body, then values establish the relationship between decisions and what happens consequently. They grow gradually over time, subject to an individual’s social and psychological development.

How is Psychometric Science Related to Competencies?

How is a competency different from the factors mentioned above or how these factors amalgamate to form a competency?. It would be better to define competency and then develop that concept for the organizations.

The criteria of competency are an effective and superior performance, and it is better yet divided into two essential categories:

1. Threshold Competencies:

Essential characteristics that would make an employee minimally effective; this doesn’t distinguish average from superior performers.

2. Differentiating Competencies:

Distinguishes superior performers from the average ones 

For any organization to remain competitively ahead of its competition, it becomes all the more important to utilize new ideas of psychometric science under the bracket of advanced technologies.

According to this concept, core competencies transcend business events within an organization also. Projects have the capacity to become persuasive or massive, ensuring that no specific individual holds simultaneously all the competencies required. Organizations are, therefore recommended to identify, manage, and develop core competencies that drive critical enterprise projects.

As a measure of direct impact, not all organizations may require an identical set of core competencies. The theory holds true for large projects, but this does foreshadow a brighter future for those who utilize tests based on psychometric research within the realm of these subtleties.

Building a Competency Based Model Based on Psychometric Psychology

Models are something built to represent phenomena closest to reality. Some may resemble simulator or real-world physical or roleplayed situations, while others a meager job description. Both categorically fall into branches of models, albeit differently.

A competency model could, by definition, resemble a descriptive tool that identifies competencies required to operate within a specific role – industry, organization, occupation, or job. It is a behavioral job description that is best described by each occupational function and job.


As this reading continues, you’re likely to find certain similarities between descriptions around psychometric tests and competency-based models. It’s because they’re closely interlinked, to the point that one develops from the other. One researcher identifies with competency models as something adhesive or glue-like, necessary among elements of an organization’s human resource management system.


It implies that competency models help companies with a more coordinated, or rather unified, approach to structuring the human resource management system. This would cover hiring, job designs, employee development, performance management, succession or career planning, and compensation mechanics.


In fact, investment in competency-based models benefits beyond the usefulness of the results in Human Resource Departments (HRD) also, showing a valid impact in business outcomes as a consequence of the former. Let’s take a look at the numbers based on a study that covered around 373 U.S. companies, of which 20 have been labeled the best for leadership.


leadership_competency_trends_among_us_companies_how_psychometric_tests_worksSource: Hewitt Associates on Leadership Development | 373 U.S. Companies


Furthermore, competency models translate to the following advantages:

  • Excellence in Performance Management:

By standardizing the development criteria, it becomes easy to bring coherence and structure to the performance management function.

  • Unification of Corporate Culture with Business Units:

Some of the best companies manage this, utilizing culture to unify employees in decentralized corporate environments.

  • Identifying Training Needs & Employee Development:

These are easier to identify with competency models, enabling the development of comprehensive learning plans that encompass broad perspectives across learning platforms outside traditional norms.

  • Augmentation of Recruiting Process:

It helps with the creation of a more robust hiring process, matching candidates to opportunities based on data-driven analytics. This would lead to improved consistency in talent selection and the recruitment process.

  • Improvement of Employee Development:

It links development activities to corporate goals, serves as development targets in terms of succession planning, and the organization of talent areas of development and strength.

In simpler terms, a competency-based model identifies what it takes for an individual to evolve into solid contributor roles at a workplace. This would translate to enhanced learning, snowballing into performance on par with the desired competence for organizational or career success.

Competency Scores Based on the Performance

One of the reasons for this discussion hinges on business value or output. The question is, why would organizations reassess the present scenario for newer technologies in psychometric science, test technology, or competency-based models. Return on Investments is best assessed by correlating competency scores to on-job performance.

The Model of Effective Job Performance specifies that effective action that translates to performance occurs when three critical competencies – job demand-based, individual-based, and organizational – are most consistent. Inconsistencies in one or more competencies in relation to the other simply breaks down to ineffective behavior or inaction.


In accordance with this model, individual competencies reflect on what an individual brings to the workplace in comparison to the responsibilities of the job itself. On the other hand, these responsibilities represent the demand side of the competencies. And of course, effective action is possible with consistent alignment to the organizational environment – policies, conditions, and procedures.


It’s within the walls of this delicate cross-section that an individual fully contributes to an organization, signaling effective action. At the same time, it’s important to understand that competency scores are approximations and nothing definitive, best taken with a grain of salt.


Here’s a table that can probably explain what that implies:


It’s an easy way to summarize data, but bear in mind not to take this format too seriously. Now, for Shreya scoring a 4 – the highest total – doesn’t necessarily make her a better choice than Shubham despite a lower total score of 3. This is marked by her failure on a required and essential competency. The same can be said of the comparison between Deepesh and Shubham, with both identical holding scores of 3, but only the latter meeting all required competencies.


The scaling uses three segments to dissect candidates or employees based on a combination of test results, tactical exercises, and interaction. It could be used in the event of a job interview to filter high potential candidates from the rest of the crop, gap analysis to make an employee with low scores on certain competencies improve, and even to appraise performance.

Challenges in Using Competency-Based Model

Given all the information and everything that’s been said, there is no denying that competency models hold their place legitimately in human resource practices. And the basis of psychometric research makes it more reliable, but the models themselves cannot become the sole solution for every hiring, selection decision, education, appraisal, training needs, or other managerial functions.

In actuality, framing competencies as an outcome to most decisions ignore the personal or mental processes utilized in developing and exhibiting skills. What does this mean? A variety of things that might include idiosyncratic competencies that could contribute to individual performance or the competitiveness of the organization overall.

These competencies hold a high chance of being overlooked against decisions that rely entirely on competencies within the model devised alone. For example, several researchers argue that it is unwise to select staff that solely fit the competency model over-relying on developmental resources that facilitate the acquisition of missed competencies where a gap exists.

However, despite the shortcomings, a competency model scientifically augments the decision-making process in an organization pushing toward improved success.

For gaps in competency acquisition, learning, and development is one option to aid in the acquisition of desired behavior, skill, trait, or knowledge. In fact, allowance for some less important or required competencies may perhaps help enrich the talent pool, especially if these are subtle competencies that actually improve the model itself.

Competency models are assistive; it helps organizations invest in individuals, or rather help focus on current competencies while enhancing necessary competencies. These models are a positive add overall, ensuring that with appropriate knowledge and use – the information contained within such as strengths or weaknesses – an employee might direct to future job or career success and opportunities.

Read more about the applications of psychometric here – Applications Of Psychometric Tests In An Organization

Psychometric Science and Assessment Tools

Now that you know how strong values can affect your company culture, it becomes imperative for you to assess people for behavior in the workplace. Naturally, it is impossible to assess these things in an in-person interview that spans for a little over twenty minutes on average. What you need is a more extensive and accurate tool at your disposal that can precisely point to traits like these.

Online assessment tool – Mettl serves as the perfect platform to assess your employees. It consists of a set of questions that enable you to map the cognitive as well as the psychometric abilities of the people. It has a large inventory of personality traits that it uses to compare the results with, so you have a better understanding of your employees. The Mettl Dark Personality Inventory, in particular, can significantly help you in finding the people with negative influence at your workplace.

According to Mettl’s Dark Personality Inventory, there are predominantly six dark traits that make up for an overall dark personality. These are:

  • Opportunism
  • Self-obsession
  • Insensitivity
  • Temperamental
  • Impulsiveness
  • Thrill-Seeking

Then there is the Mettl Motivation Inventory, which educates you about what drives these people. When you know what these people are after, you are better able to understand the motives behind their actions. Mettl believes there are three major needs of a person, which can help us map the eight primary motivators in a person’s life. These are:

  • Sustainability Needs: assessed by Money and Security
  • Relatedness Needs: assessed by Recognition, Affiliation, and Competition
  • Growth Needs: assessed by Power, Advancement, and Achievement

Read more about the psychometric tool Key Psychometric Testing Tools


How Can Organizations Benefit from Psychometric Psychology?

Now that we know about assessment tools, let us understand how you can use them to refine your workforce. The wiser idea is to extensively use these tools right in the hiring process. Having a better idea of the candidate’s personality will allow you to make a well-informed decision and assess whether they are the right fit for the job. Alternatively, if such issues come to light later when the candidate has already been working in your organization, you can use effective learning and development programs to identify the gaps in their personalities and train them accordingly.

We take a look at some other prime advantages of assessment below:

  • Complete Insight Into Your Employees

The right assessment tools will help you get even the minute details of your employees. Their strengths and weaknesses are all put on a table. In fact, you can even predict accurately how a person is going to react when subjected to a specific situation.

When this information is put to good use, you will be able to assign the ‘right’ roles to these employees that align with their own core values.

Moreover, when it comes to learning and development programs, you will be able to choose the appropriate approach for each individual that promises better efficiency.

  • Aligning Core Values

Your employees are likely to be more productive if your organization’s values align with their own. That helps them connect better to your company’s ideals and work hard towards achieving common goals.

Since your work culture is heavily influenced by the core values of your employees, it is important that you are able to map accurately. With the right values, your company can:

– Contribute to the growth of an individual
– Lead to greater onboard success
– Improve employee engagement
– Increase self-awareness
– Enhance Productivity
– Inspire people to action
– Shape the organizational culture

Having strong company values does not only aid in improving work culture and hence organizational productivity but also helps your clients to identify with the company.

You are much more likely to benefit if your employees showcase the same set of values as your company’s. This will further showcase your collective mindset as a company and get you and the client on the same page.

With modern assessment tools at your aid, you can assess the precise personalities of your employees and the values that they possess. Not only will these tools enable you to make a well-informed decision right in the hiring process, but they also allow you to fill in the gaps in their knowledge during learning and development programs.

How is Psychometric Science Influencing Data Science?

There are some common ideas between psychometric science and data science. Psychometric research is about collecting data about the human psyche. A personality test based on psychometric science touches upon various dimensions of human behavior. It also includes cognition, integrity, and other skills. There can be various defined metrics for different individuals. 

Working on these metrics leads to more data. Getting more insights from this data has the role of data science. However, one can say that psychometrics is just one way to look at human behaviour and psyche. 

At times, psychometric data is put in comparison with other historical data from the organization, such as the earlier performance of the employees. By analyzing this data, we can find certain trends that exist in talent management. It also suggests that human behavior is a tangible thing that further helps in understanding the organizational dynamics and devising new strategies.

Personality measures provide good predictive measures to find the inherent traits of human behavior such as emotional status, tendencies, and inclinations. The 2016 USA elections are the best example of the same. It demonstrated how the use of data science with the help of psychometric psychology made it possible to measure voters’ minds. They didn’t use the traditional demographic data, but they used psychometrics to map the voters’ minds. 

We saw how psychometric science helped in election results. In the same manner, a company can use the data purposefully to make some essential business decisions. Psychology and information technology are merging, and the result is data science is gradually influencing psychometric science. It has now given birth to a new term called psycho-informatics. Machine learning has also helped psychometric science to become more equipped and accurate. Psychometric research is playing a vital role in making data science more useful by making use of the data that was always there but remained unutilized.

How Can Mercer | Mettl Help?

The psychometric tests from Mercer | Mettl have been designed to make the evaluation of behavioral and cognitive skills accurate and result-oriented. We can also provide companies with customizable solutions to address their specific needs of the recruitment process. We try to make our assessment process scientific and reliable. 

Psychometric Tests

Mercer | Mettl’s psychometric tests can provide statistics- based predictive insights to make the for assessing various traits of the individuals. These traits include-

  • Positive Personality Traits- These traits help in understanding the candidate’s trainability and flexibility to learn new things and apply.
  • Dark Personality Traits- These are mainly negative traits that an organization should avoid to keep the workplace healthy.
  • Motivation, Value, Preference- It tells about how motivated are employees towards their work and helps in achieving a company’s vision.
  • Cognitive Ability- It evaluates the attention span of the candidate and how well they process the data to take informed decisions.

Mettl Personality Profiler (MPP)

The Mettl Personality Profiler (MPP) is a perfect tool to help create a competency framework related to a particular job role. It is a good tool to decide on particular traits needed to complete a particular task. MPP is equally effective in making a customizable solution to cater to the specific needs of the clients and make the recruitment process totally frictionless. It also helps in the learning and development process for training the employees. It also provides meaningful insights for succession planning and high potential identification. 

Mettl Sales Profiler (MSP)

Mettl sales profiler is a well-designed tool to consolidate a competency framework for the sales profile. It helps in identifying people with the knack for sales. Matching the behavioral and cognitive competencies for the sales profile is one of the important features of the Mettl sales profiler. The evaluation bases on psychometrics tests provide reliable insights to choose people who would make a successful winning team.  

Every organization tries to find candidates who would turn out be the key performers in their respective job roles. These candidates should also be able to align themselves with the company’s values. The psychometric tests for hiring from Mercer | Mettl covers every essential idea to make a recruiter’s life easier by providing reliable information and insights about the candidates.

Originally published April 12 2018, Updated August 11 2020

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