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  • Maria Cristina Brodu

Comparison among 2 of the most popular tests to assess cognitive capability for intellectual careers

I tried two of the most used tests that talent sourcing professionals administer to assess all the job applicant's cognitive capabilities, and potential fit for intellectually intensive roles. I developed my opinion about them, and I explain why I think the traditional ones are better.

The first test I tried is Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test, CCAT, provided by Criteria Corp (where I scored in the top 2% for logic reasoning, so in the 98% percentile, and in the top 5% overall, so in the 95% percentile). This test also provides an estimation of suitability for various roles, by indicating if the CCAT score is in the required range for each types of listed role. The CCAT scores measures cognitive aptitude: general fluid intelligence, problem solving and critical thinking, which are the most "accurate predictors of job success"(according to the test provider, and also in my opinion, by common sense and experience).

I believe that objective assessments as this can counter act unintentional discrimination, bias and misconceived preemptive assumptions that disadvantaged some candidates, which are often penalized by a perceived lower social class (as the lower this is, the least likely is that one has a supportive business network for sales of services, essential for career progression), race (as nationality, culture, or perceived ethnicity) and all the other protected characteristics, as much as by eventual defamation (especially in the case of whistle blowers, whose reputation is torned to prove there was no retaliation for disclosures of wrongdoings).

Who screens candidates should consider non-subjective tests as these as much as the written feedback that stakeholders gave while working with a candidate, rather than feedback given behind the shoulders once the candidate has left a former employer, and there may be conflicts of interest in allowing the candidate return to the workforce. Objectives tests as the CCAT help also in countering gender bias (as only women are discriminated if not good looking, conservative in dress code, decliners of dinners invites).

The second assessment I tried is the 12 Pymetrics game-tests, offered by a Harver Company, which tests not only cognitive but also emotional attributes through behavioral data points (my "most unique" traits were: "changing behavior based on new information", LEARNING; effective "approach to managing incoming information and distractions", for ATTENTION; "strategy for interpreting the emotions of others", EMOTIONS recognition and empathy.

The first "unique trait" means that I "find it easy to detect patterns in the environment" and this allows me to "adapt behavior and respond to feedback with ease", therefore I may be "well suited to work in environments where there is a need to adjust your approach quickly").

I was a bit surprised by the suggestion about my ability to"interpret the emotions of others through the lens of the surrounding context rather than through facial expressions alone": my 2022 scoring in the highest percentiles for emotions recognition was the opposite than in my Pymetrics of 2020, when I scored in this trait in the lowest ability percentile ... however, Pymetrics inference about my work suitability (and consequent suggestion) was exactly the same for my 2 opposite scores! Pymetrics concluded that either if I'm super good (2022) or super bad (2020) in reading emotions, I am best suited to "work in situations in which seeing the facial reactions of others is not always possible, such as when you are required to speak with colleagues or customers over the phone."... This left me with some doubts about the real agenda of the Pymetrics use for role matching:

strangely enough, regardless of what's the assessed "unique trait" in the top percentile, Pymetrics suggests the exact same suitability for roles that are less desirable, less paid, less intellectually challenging, alienating, less conductive to promotion or leadership. For example: over the phone work alienates and detriments to visibility for promotion. I would have expected different suggestions of roles suitability for scoring on the top or on the bottom percentile of specific traits, but this didn't happen. So there is a plausible chance that Pymetrics is used to fill out the less desirable roles, blaming science for the matching.

Also to note is that when I did the games in 2020 there was a bug in Pymetrics - according to their customer services emails responses - therefore I received a pdf report that had nothing to do with my results that I could see in the app! It was that random pdf report that was attached by error to my account due to a bug that was showing the score for a person who could not recognize emotions: that's why I have results for opposite percentiles in 2 years.

In 2020 - when I was told in writing by Pymetrics about the bag - their customer service also wrote me that the prospective employers do NOT receive the results that we see in the app, nor the pdf report that we can download (which in my case were mismatched), because the employers receives another independent set of data about the candidates: a "back-end games data report", in their words, which as candidates we cannot view (I asked a copy of it in 2020, and also now as I did it again, but only the employer can have this 'secret' report).

That said, here's some more feedback I got after completing each game, which is another different set of data I recorded with photos. For what I saw, it's the same for all candidates:

● You have a great handle in balancing old and new information

● You have a good sense of trust and skepticism, which helps you evaluate situations

● You are neither overly impulsive nor overly deliberate when processing and reacting to information that come your way

● You may apply familiar solutions to similar situations, but you also learn as you go

● You have a great memory

● You think strategically about how to spend your energy

● You are a beast when it comes to directing your focus

● Experience is a great teacher, and you adjust your strategy over time

● Well done you are able to balance speed with accuracy to get the best results!

● You read other people well, but NOT solely on facial expressions, to understand the emotional context of a situation

● You can filter out surrounding information to attend to details

I personally don't endorse the traditional 12 Pymetrics tests as a tool to source candidates for intellectually intensive careers that require innovation, critical thinking, intellectual effort and the creation of something new, such as some grow strategy or a new optimised process:

the 12 traditional games of Pymetrics are only valuable in my opinion to match candidates to roles that require the same low level of intellectual effort than playing those 12 games, and that are based on methodical and routine operations, such as roles in customer service or knowledge support over the phone, back office roles such as finance reporting and payroll and IT set up and troubleshooting, audit, accounting and all other past-looking operations.

There are however 4 new games that are not as mindless and low in cognitive-effort as the traditional 12, and some are actually enjoyable because they involve numerical reasoning and logic: for these tests it is wise to find a distraction-free environment, as the numerical ones require some thinking, at difference from the traditional 12 that can be done with low focus (as there's only need of some strategic planning and setting of criteria for execution).

Overall, except for the numerical reasoning test that compare fractions and the series, I see Pymetrics tests unsuitable to assess candidates for highly skilled and highly intellectual roles: even the new 4 tests at most can help to select staff for medium skilled roles, such as for example technicians of laboratories for R&D in the pharmaceutical industry, assemblers in the manufacturing of high-tech products, and other non-office based less-privileged roles.


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