Pre-Employment Testing: The Pros and Cons

Major companies have been using pre-employment testing for more than fifty years. Despite evidence that personality isn't all that related to job performance, personality tests are a multi-million dollar industry.

Companies also use other kinds of testing, like tests for checking cognitive ability and skills assessments. These tests have helped companies retain new, beneficial employees.

All tests have their positive aspects; however, they are far from perfect. In order to help you figure out whether or not you want to include a pre-employment screening in your recruiting process, we've put together this overview of their pros and cons.

Types of Pre-Employment Tests

There are a number of different pre-employment tests, but for the most part, they fall into two categories: Personality and skills.

Personality Tests

Personality tests are also called "strength finders" and they are used to measure the base behavioral traits that are important to each specific job's performance requirements.

In some instances, some positions might need specific personality traits, like strong interpersonal skills. There aren't any right or wrong answers in these tests, but they can give insight into how comfortable a candidate might feel in the job and how well they would fit into the company.

Skills Tests

In a customer service or sales environment, the best candidates will have strong interpersonal skills. For a technical position, a candidate's personality traits aren't as important as their specific skillset. In these instances, employers can choose to use tests that are based on skills to make sure that candidates have the knowledge they need to succeed.

The Positive

There are a number of benefits to the different kinds of pre-employment tests available, including that they are generally: 

More Objective

Interviews, resume screenings, and pre-interview calls are often not great indicators of what a potential candidate's job performance could be. Recruiters and hiring managers tend to judge candidates based on things that are subjective rather than remaining objective.

Pre-employment testing works differently. If the tests are designed well, they can help you make more objective conclusions. These tests measure successfully and they produce consistent results.

Consistent

Screening calls and interviews can be unfair. Interviewers can ask different things of different candidates and there is no consensus on how to rate the answers that those people give. Recruiters can also add in their subconscious bias.

Pre-employment testing is standardized and given to all potential employees in the same way. If they're created based on job-related questions alone, they give everyone the same chances to succeed.

Time-Saving

If you wanted to try and assess 20 different traits for every interview you needed to do, it would be time-consuming and downright exhausting for you and your potential employees as well. Pre-employment testing allows you to test that beforehand.

It's actually better to assess a candidate's job knowledge with tests that way you don't lose time interviewing candidates who really can't do the job. Pre-employment testing also allows you to evaluate specific skills, like typing speed, written communication, or problem-solving.

Measurable 

Recruiters and hiring managers tend to make their hiring decisions based on how they "click" with another candidate or their "gut feelings" about them. Most of the time, these feelings don't actually amount to much. This feeling can lead to recruitment managers making the wrong decisions in the form of unconscious bias.

These decisions aren't legally defensible, and if candidates try to file a lawsuit for discriminatory hiring practices, organizations will have a hard time defending their decisions.

Tests, like structured interviews, will allow you to make those decisions based on something measurable in order to guide your decisions. They can help you be specific about the reasons you choose to pass on some candidates and take away the intuition factor.

Job-Related

When you are interviewing candidates without structured interviews, it's pretty easy to get off track. However, tests stick to the point and focus only on what actually matters for the job.

This, of course, depends on the kind of test you choose. One of the most popular personality tests (the Myers-Briggs test) doesn't do a great job of predicting job performance or personalities, and it's better for companies to avoid it.

The Negative

That said, these tests do have a few pitfalls, namely that they usually cannot avoid: 

Providing an Incomplete Picture

Every test will usually just measure a specific handful of traits. They don't tend to look at some important details. Job knowledge tests are great for assessing job-specific knowledge, sure, but they don't measure how willing or able someone is to learn and grow.

Maybe this specific candidate has never used the system you use on the job but they could learn quickly; You would never know that if you relied solely on job knowledge tests because they would never have made it past stage one. And in that same vein, other candidates might have a lot of knowledge about these systems, but they aren't willing to try new technologies.

Test results alone won't tell you who would be the best candidate for your company. In order to assess more traits, you must use many tests. And there's a pretty good chance that this will annoy and exhaust potential candidates and limit their ability to give honest or thoughtful answers because they're sick of taking multiple tests.

Discrimination

While we just said that tests are objective, the cognitive ability and knowledge tests can still screen out non-white candidates at a disproportionate rate. This can result in lawsuits, not to mention stopping you from improving your business with diversity.

There are also some personality and physical ability tests that can break anti-discrimination laws if they are trying to detect a mental or physical issue that isn't related to the job.

Lying Candidates

Unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks to pre-employment testing is how easily it can be faked. You can ask a potential candidate to complete as many integrity and work ethics tests as you want, but that won't change the fact that some people are good at faking answers.

This doesn't always happen consciously. People naturally try to paint themselves in the best light they can, especially in professional settings. 

As an example, take being an introvert versus being an extrovert. If a personality test asks a candidate to rate their social skills, candidates very rarely rate themselves as introverted or anti-social.

Ambiguous Tests and Results

Let's use an example for this one, specifically related to integrity tests. You may have a question that asks you to say whether you agree or disagree with the statement, "morality is important." That sounds easy enough, right?

But how can you make sure that there is a consistent agreement among candidates about what this means? Maybe one person thinks it means treating someone fairly while another associates morality with religion. This makes your results pretty unreliable.

Longer Wait Times for Results

Even if you just give one test that takes twenty minutes for all candidates to complete, you can wind up slowing down your recruitment process by several days. If you add in different tests and an additional assignment, you could push that back by weeks - maybe even months.

This delay can still be worth it, though, as long as the tests conducted improve the quality of each hire you make.

Incomplete Views of Candidates

People have a lot in common, but there are many things that make us unique. Tests just can't get an accurate picture of this variation. Tests assume that we all respond to everything the same way.

Companies usually look for people that fit a specific mold, but this approach rarely works for that. And even if they did work every time, it's actually beneficial for organizations to hire people who complement their culture rather than replicate it. Diverse teams produce better results.

Does Pre-Employment Testing Have a Place in the Recruiting Process?

Pre-employment testing can help decide the quality of your potential hiring decisions under some conditions.

First, tests should be legal. This should be a given, but it is worth mentioning. Discriminatory tests damage more than just your hiring procedures - they can damage your whole company.

There are ways that you can monitor tests outcomes by calculating the yield ratios. If you discover that you re disproportionately rejecting some groups, stop using the test. And if you want to use pre-employment drug tests, learn the legal guidelines beforehand.

Second, each test should be related to the job. Make sure that the questions only measure the job-related traits. It's best to assess the must-have traits for the position, and nothing else. And use different tests for different positions.

Also, tests should be validated well. The law won't stop you from using a test that you made up this morning as long as they aren't discriminatory. But that doesn't mean you should. Tests are only worth the trouble if they successfully predict job performance.

The Bottom Line

If you use pre-employment testing correctly, they can add a level of objectivity to your recruiting process. However, it's important to be skeptical of them. Tests are created by people, so they are naturally imperfect. There will always be false positives and false negatives.

Use these tests with other assessment methods and choose tests that are researched for validity and reliability.

 

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