If you manage to land a job just by pinging off an application and showing up for an interview, you may well have got off quite lightly. Many employers use sophisticated ‘psychometric’ tests of aptitude and personality to help them thin out a field of applicants and find the candidate they’re looking for.
The purpose of these tests is to provide recruiters with more accurate insights into how likely you are to succeed in the job than they might gather from your application and interview alone. Find out here what to expect from them and how to give yourself the best chance of success.
What to expect
Aptitude tests come in all shapes and sizes, but will typically be like a mini-exam, and often multi-choice. Whatever the format, they aim to tease out how effectively you process verbal, numerical, spatial or logical information. The questions tend to become more difficult the further you go through the test, and there are often more than you can comfortably complete in the allocated time. It is the number of correct answers which counts, so both speed and accuracy are crucial.
Your score will be compared with the results of past examinees, other applicants, current jobholders or some other group.
You might be invited to the offices of an employer or recruitment agency, but tests are increasingly run online at a time and location of the candidate’s convenience. Typically, they are strictly timed and last 30 minutes to an hour.
What they’re looking for
While other parts of the selection process are concerned with your specific skills and experience, aptitude tests are designed to help measure more general characteristics. A test may centre on your ability to respond to different workplace scenarios. Most employers are looking to hire someone quick to learn new things, who can think on their feet and solve problems under pressure, and who can understand and communicate effectively with colleagues and customers. The results are usually combined with information from other parts of the process to assess your ability to do the job.
How to prepare
Even though aptitude tests are usually taken under exam conditions, as with any part of the jobseeking process the more time and effort you put into your preparation, the better your chances.
The employer or recruitment agency may provide you with a sample of a previous test. If they don’t, it’s certainly worth asking for one. Having at least a general idea of the kind of test you’re likely to face minimises the chances of unpleasant surprises on test day and is one less thing to worry about. A quick search online will also turn up no end of sites offering suitable practice tests, some free, others charging a small fee. Reading sample questions will give you a feel for the sort of language used. University careers websites are another good place to look.
Word or maths puzzles can also help get you into the mindset for an aptitude test, especially if you try to do them as fast as possible against the clock.
On the day
Treat the aptitude test in the same way as an interview: arrive with plenty of time to spare, dress professionally and make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
At the beginning, glance at the whole test, see how many questions there are and work out how long that gives you for each one. Try to stick to this time limit as you go along, but remember that the questions are likely to get harder as the test progresses, so do them all as quickly as possible, particularly the early, simpler ones. Make sure you know what each question is asking you to demonstrate before you answer it.
These tests are usually deliberately designed so that the majority of candidates don’t finish, so if you’re feeling under pressure, remember everyone else taking the test will be feeling the heat just as much as you. There’s no cause for panic.
Your performance will be judged on both speed and accuracy, so aim to complete as many questions as you can.
A personality tests (of which Myers Briggs is perhaps the best known) is a different beast entirely. Through one, a recruiting manager may hope to gain insights into whether your personality, attitudes and the way you like to do things would fit the role and the company culture. You can’t adapt your personality to suit a test – and you shouldn’t try to. There are no right or wrong answers. All you can really do to prepare is promise yourself to be honest, and not try to second-guess what you think the employer wants (not least because you really don’t know what that is). If it turns out you’re a good match for the job and the employer, great. If not, maybe you had a lucky escape.