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Getting the Most from Pre-Hire Assessments

August 19, 2014

By: Crystal Spraggins

Two important concepts in testing are validity and reliability.

valid test measures what it purports to measure. A reliable test does so consistently.

Not so fast.

Even the best test can result in questionable outcomes if the tester forgets a couple of important things.

How can you get the most out of pre-hire assessments?

Be sure your assessments suit your business purpose.

It’s not good to test a candidate in a skill unrelated to the job or for a skill that’s best learned on the job. And don’t say that can’t happen. It can, and it does, especially when hiring managers are unsure of what they really want or are inexperienced in what they really read.

As a new manager, it took me a trial or two to realize that all potential human resource administrators needed to be tested in detail orientation, analytic ability, basic writing and grammar skills, basic math, and payroll concepts. These were the abilities and skills directly related to performing well as an HR administrator at my organization. Testing candidates for hard skills in, say, advanced Microsoft Excel would have been a waste of time.

If you’re going to test someone, pay attention to the results!

I tested one person in the low 70s for detail orientation, but he seemed so well qualified; otherwise, I hired him anyway—big mistake. A month or so into the new relationship, I realized my error. By month four, I was looking for a new administrator.

In other words, experience has shown me that a test can be both valid and reliable, but the testing (i.e., the tester) can fail. So, how can you measure the effectiveness of your testing? Easy peasy.

You’ll know testing was effective if … 

In the 1970s, Harvard University professors Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson developed the four-stage contribution model, which describes four development levels for employees:

  1. Dependent contributor
  2. Independent contributor
  3. Contributing through others (i.e., directing the work of others)
  4. Contributing strategically (e.g., providing direction to the organization)

Keep in mind that it’s common for even an experienced employee in a position of significant responsibility to begin a new job at a dependent contributor level.

Not every employee will reach all stages, and it’s not a race to see how quickly an employee can go through each stage, either.

At the same time, if you tested the candidate in the right things and paid heed to the results, your employee should progress from dependent contributor to independent contributor in a reasonable time.

We, humans, tend to like work we’re suited for and dislike work that requires the use of talents we don’t actually possess. If your new employee is struggling to meet goals, avoids doing certain necessary tasks, or isn’t performing to standard, it’s certainly possible he isn’t a good fit for the job. On the other hand, if the employee is meeting goals and gaining independence as expected (i.e., performing more competently with less and less oversight from you), then it’s a safe bet she’s a good hire, just as your testing indicated she would be.

If you’re responsible for creating and developing a team, you’ll want to review (test) each candidate carefully for suitability on that team. Each employees’ temperament, skills, and level of experience should enhance team cohesion and not fight against it.

Testing candidates is important to help determine whether the way he likes to be managed is the way you like to manage.

For example, if you’re more of a laissez-faire manager, you won’t be happy if your employee requires regular supervision. Similarly, if your employee likes to work independently, she won’t appreciate your “hands-on” style. When you test well, your pre-hire expectations in this regard will pretty much match your reality—and the reality will be pleasing to both you and your employee.

Pre-employment assessments can also help you determine a candidate’s technical competency and personality fit for the job and your organization.

And when administered correctly, these tests will provide good information you wouldn’t have gotten any other way and lead to improved hiring decisions as evidenced by more productive and better well-adjusted employees.

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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