‘I just can’t do numerical reasoning!’: What to do when you can’t pass recruitment tests

Often in my role at the Careers & Enterprise Centre I speak to students who are anxious about upcoming psychometric tests or assessment centres. Sometimes – they might have failed previous psychometric tests or underperformed at assessment centre tasks. We have a range of information and advice we can provide to prepare, but you might always want to have a think about your other options.

Why do employers use assessment centres?

Many large organisations use these types of recruitment practices as a way of filtering, in a cost-effective way, the thousands of applications they get for their vacancies. However, a large proportion of the UK workforce is actually employed by SMEs (small to medium enterprises). Because smaller companies receive fewer applicants they tend to have more flexible recruitment practices. SMEs are not an easy option, and you may still have to sit certain skills tests: it’s just that if you might have more opportunity to shine when applying to a smaller organisation. In fact, speculative applications are a great way of finding work in an SME. Which leads me to my next point…

Recruitment Flexibility

To ensure standardisation of its recruitment, large companies may have set hiring practices with managers unable to deviate from these norms. They may have specialised recruitment staff so that the person who hires you is not necessarily the person you’ll be working under. This is often designed to rule out accusations of bias or discrimination, but it also can sometimes mean less chance for you to demonstrate your personality. Smaller companies tend to have more flexibility in this regard. So if you make a good impression on the interviewer, they are more likely to be able to hire you based on their own judgement.


As an anonymous applicant – one among hundreds if not thousands – one way for a large organisation to try to glean more about your personality and abilities is via psychometric testing and assessment centre tasks. A way to avoid these practices is by making yourself known to an employer before applying for a position. Again, this works better with SMEs, but even large companies are more likely to hire you for a permanent role if you have already interned for them, because they know who you are. Indeed, in certain sectors, such as the creative industries, recruitment is done almost entirely by personal connection and reputation. So use the power of social media to get talking to people.

You haven’t failed

I understand that, if you’ve had your mind set on a particular job or a particular company, it can be hard to accept that you just might not be able to pass their tests. I’ve seen a number of students who find this demoralising. But instead of feeling like a failure think of this as an opportunity to reassess your job hunting plan. Also consider: if you are struggling with the way a company recruits, would you actually be happy working at that organisation anyway? You never know – by accepting you limitations and focusing on your strengths you might find a job much more suited to you.


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