Psychometric Testing South Africa

The Practice and Purposes of Psychometric Testing in South Africa

For years, school selection boards, military recruiters and employers have adopted the practice of supplementing interviews with some form of aptitude test. Often such tests were designed to measure a particular skill such as the ability to perform calculations in one’s head or perhaps to re-assemble a dismantled item of machinery correctly and in a given period of time. An examination once undertaken by children at the age of ten to eleven was intended as a means to differentiate those considered more suitable for an academic future from those who were seen as better adapted to working with their hands. Today, a procedure known as psychometric testing is widely employed in South Africa not just as a means to determine an individual’s aptitude but also to gain some insight into his or her personality.

As the name implies, a test such as this will normally be compiled by a psychologist and, most likely, by one who is a specialist in the way that humans tend to behave under various conditions. Furthermore, these tests may be intended to fulfill one of several possible purposes that are determined by their composition. One of the first and among the most common uses for psychometric testing in South Africa today is as a means to screen job applicants. Used both by prospective employers and on their behalf by recruitment agencies, they provide a means to gather information regarding a candidate’s cognitive abilities that may be directly relevant to a given post. Such information is not readily revealed during the traditional interview process or evident from a review of the applicant’s qualifications and references.

One classic example of its use is in determining the suitability of an individual to perform in the role of a salesperson. In such cases, the candidate may be of good appearance, intelligent, eloquent and capable of absorbing all of the relevant product knowledge. These qualities alone, however, are not the only requirements for success in this field and characteristics such as persistence, empathy and the ability to handle rejection are equally important. In practice, traits such as these that relate more to personality and character than to achievement will generally only be revealed through psychometric testing.

In South Africa, as in all countries, management styles and corporate cultures tend to vary considerably and these are factors that can have a marked influence on the performance of those who are subjected to them. One may possess all of the skills and experience required for a given job but be unable to adjust to an authoritarian culture or perhaps to operate as part of a team. Once again, these potential failings are more likely to be revealed by these tests, providing a far better option for both employers and employees than discovering such incompatibilities only after filling a post.

For a company to operate at its full potential, each employee needs to be deployed in a position where they feel confident and, as a consequence, are most productive. Again, psychometric testing offers the means to achieve this end. The Johannesburg-based consultancy, FWA Organisational Development, operates a team of business experts and industrial psychologists specialising in people development, helping companies and institutions in South Africa to be the best they can.