Pre-employment testing: a selection of popular tests
Pre-employment testing is a standardized method to test job candidates on their qualifications for a job during the recruitment process. These can range from tests for standard job skills and knowledge of software to emotional integrity and cognitive ability. Learn the strengths and limitations of the 7 most popular tests and how to best use them in your recruiting efforts.
Many companies use graphology (handwriting analysis) when hiring. But graphology hasn’t been proven to predict job performance any more than crystal balls or star signs. So long as companies don’t rely in pseudoscience, pre-employment testing can help them make better hiring decisions.
Of course, you should use pre-employment screening with caution. A well-developed test can shed ample light on candidate fit and suitability. But the wrong test can hurt candidate experience and impede your decision-making.
Here are seven common pre-employment tests that can help you make better hiring decisions:
What are the most common types of pre-employment tests?
The whole hiring process is a test for candidates. But in this context, pre-employment testing refers to standardized tests.
1. Job knowledge tests
Job knowledge tests measure a candidate’s technical or theoretical expertise in a particular field. For example, an accountant may be asked about basic accounting principles. These kinds of tests are most useful for jobs that require specialized knowledge or high levels of expertise.
A job knowledge test doesn’t take into account a very desirable attribute: learning ability. A candidate may have limited knowledge but be a fast learner. Or they may know a lot but be unable to adjust to new knowledge and ideas. Plus, there’s always a gap between knowing something in theory and applying it in practice.
2. Integrity tests
The story of pre-employment testing began with integrity tests. They can help companies avoid hiring dishonest, unreliable or undisciplined people. Overt integrity tests ask direct questions about integrity and ethics. Covert tests assess personality traits connected with integrity, like conscientiousness.
If carefully constructed, integrity tests can be good predictors of job performance. Plus, they’re less biased than other tests, as few differences have been spotted between people of different age groups or race.
Candidates faking answers is always a concern. Especially with overt integrity tests. If a candidate is asked whether they ever stole something, how likely are they to answer yes? If they did, they’d be (paradoxically) honest enough to tell the truth. Employers should consider the fact that people can repent and change.
3. Cognitive ability tests
Cognitive ability tests measure a candidate’s general mental capacity which is strongly correlated to job performance. These kinds of tests are much more accurate predictors of job performance than interviews or experience. Workable uses a General Aptitude Test (GAT) which measures logical, verbal and numerical reasoning.
As with any cognitive ability test, practice can improve test takers’ scores. Also, cognitive ability tests are vulnerable to racial and ethnic differences, posing a discrimination risk. Use multiple evaluation methods and don’t base hiring decisions on these tests alone. Just use the results as a guide.
4. Personality tests
Personality assessments can offer insight into candidates’ cultural fit and whether their personality can translate into job success. Personality traits have been shown to correlate to job performance in different roles. For example, salespeople who score high on extraversion and assertiveness tend to do better. The Big five model is popular. Motivation tests are also personality assessment tests, used more frequently by career guidance counsellors in schools.
Social desirability bias plays an important role in self-reported tests. People tend to answer based on what they think you want to hear and end up misrepresenting themselves. Make sure the test you choose is designed to catch misrepresentations. Some candidates might also find personality questionnaires invasive, which could hurt candidate experience. So, be careful how and when you use them.
5. Emotional Intelligence tests
Emotional Intelligence (EI) refers to how well someone builds relationships and understands emotions (both their own and others’). These abilities are an important factor in professions that involve frequent interpersonal relationships and leadership. In general, tests that measure EI have some predictability of job performance.
People don’t always tell the truth when reporting their own EI abilities. You can ask experts or observers to give their input but be prepared to spend more money and time in the process.
6. Skills assessment tests
Skills assessments don’t focus on knowledge or abstract personality traits. They measure actual skills, either soft skills (e.g. attention to detail) or hard skills (e.g. computer literacy). For example, a secretarial candidate may take a typing test to show how fast and accurately they can type. Other examples include data checking tests, leaderships tests, presentations or writing assignments.
Skills assessment tests are time-consuming. Candidates need time to submit work or give presentations. Hiring managers also need time to evaluate results. You can use skills assessments during later stages of your hiring process when you have a smaller candidate pool.
7. Physical ability tests
Physical abilities tests measure strength and stamina. These traits are critical for many professions (like firefighting). So they should never be neglected when relevant. By extension, they’ll help reduce workplace accidents and worker’s compensation claims. And candidates won’t be able to fake results as easily as with other tests.
Sometimes physical ability tests may resemble medical examinations that are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you’re not careful, you could face litigation. You should also allow for differences in gender, age and ethnicity when interpreting your candidates’ results, for the same reason.
Related: 17 effective candidate sourcing tools
How much should tests count?
Tests are a useful way to sift through candidates, helping you to disqualify people who don’t meet your minimum requirements. But, what happens if a candidate scores exceptionally high on a test? Should you rush to hire them? Well, maybe.
If a candidate meets every other criteria, then a stellar test result could be the final push towards a hiring decision. But relying too much on a score isn’t a good idea. The best hiring decisions consider many aspects of a candidate’s personality, behavior and skills. It’s better to use multiple tests, developed and validated by experts. View the results as one of many dimensions that can influence your hiring decision.
Frequently asked questions
What are pre-employment tests?
Pre-employment testing is a standardized method to test job candidates on their qualifications for a job during the recruitment process. These can range from tests for standard job skills and knowledge of software to emotional integrity and cognitive ability.
What is the most common pre-employment test?
The most common types, IQ tests, measure general mental ability. Other tests gauge verbal ability, math skills, spatial perception, or inductive and deductive reasoning. Physical ability tests measure strength, endurance, and muscular movement. Aptitude tests measure an applicant's ability to learn a new skill.
How are pre-employment tests used by employers?
Pre-employment tests introduce an element of objectivity into the hiring process by providing concrete results that can be standardized across all applicants. Employers can then use these data to make better informed, more defensible hiring decisions.