Hiring a new employee is one of the biggest challenges organizations face regularly. According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it takes an average of 42 days to fill an open position at the sizable cost of $4,129 per hire. With the average turnover rate around 19 percent, developing strategies that streamline and improve the hiring process and reduce the turnover rate could translate into a sizeable competitive advantage.
That’s why many companies are turning to pre-employment testing. By improving the quality of information available to hiring managers, these assessments can help them make better hiring decisions driven by data and ensure that the leading candidates are aligned with their organizational needs.
A pre-employment test or pre-employment assessment can refer to any evaluation administered to a job candidate during the hiring process. These tests' purpose is to gain additional information that may not be apparent from a resume or interview. When used in conjunction with traditional evaluation criteria, they can help organizations make much more informed selection decisions when hiring candidates.
Depending upon an organization’s needs, pre-employment tests could take several forms that generate very different results, measuring areas like personality traits, cognitive ability, job knowledge, and technical proficiencies. The best assessments are developed by experienced testing professionals and independently validated to ensure both accuracy and replicability.
The insights drawn from pre-employment testing can benefit organizations in several ways. Not only does this information help to make better decisions about specific candidates, but it can also be used to streamline and enrich the entire hiring process. Implemented properly, pre-employment assessment can also significantly reduce costs, improve the candidate pool, and boost retention rates. Some of the key benefits of pre-employment testing include:
Sometimes a candidate looks right on paper but lacks key behavioral or cognitive qualities necessary to excel in the position they’re applying for. While a 30-minute interview might reveal these deficiencies, by the time the candidate reaches that point, they’ve already taken up a large portion of time and potentially taken the place of another candidate better suited for the job.
With pre-employment testing, hiring managers can screen the candidate pool to ensure that they’re spending most of their valuable time with only the most high-potential candidates. This pre-screening not only generates a stronger candidate pool but also allows people who aren’t an ideal fit for a position to quickly move on to other opportunities rather than waiting around for a decision.
Certain types of pre-employment testing can generate insightful information about a candidate, revealing characteristics and tendencies that may not be evident just from reviewing their resume. This data is invaluable for interviewers, who can use it to create better, more targeted questions that really get at key issues related to the candidate’s potential to effectively do the job.
While a good interviewer can certainly develop effective questions based on a resume, having another source of information to draw upon helps them to identify inconsistencies or unique characteristics that are not evident on paper. The pre-employment assessment also saves interviewers time because it allows them to home in on specific topics they want to discuss rather than asking several probing or exploratory questions beforehand.
Bias is always a challenging problem when it comes to the hiring process. Are you sure that you favor a candidate because they’re the most qualified and most likely to excel, or are they your preferred choice? After all, you like them personally? By contrast, you don’t want to miss out on an excellent candidate simply because they vaguely remind you of someone you don’t like. Unconscious bias, in particular, shows up in a variety of unexpected places.
One of the best benefits of well-designed pre-employment tests is that they provide an objective means of evaluating a candidate. That’s because the assessment only focuses on measuring specific skills or characteristics. Since technology makes it possible to administer tests anonymously, hiring managers can review candidates' results in a vacuum before meeting them or even reading their resume. This ensures that they won’t be influenced by any number of unconscious biases that often undermine the hiring process and discriminate against many minority applicants.
Every employee is different. Each person learns in their own way and responds differently to various environments, organizational cultures, and management styles. Someone who seems like they would be an ideal fit based on their resume and a handful of interviews may lack the personality traits or skills needed to thrive in their new role. Since it takes time to adjust to a new position, it can often take months or even years before it becomes evident that a poor hire has been made. But by that point, the employee is likely so frustrated and disengaged that they’re ready to move on anyway.
By investing in pre-employment testing, it’s possible to gain a more comprehensive view of what motivates a candidate and what competencies they possess. These insights make it easier to select people who will be a good fit for a role in personality and skill. Better alignment means better retention rates over time, translating into significant savings, and minimizing organizational disruption.
Organizations utilize a wide variety of pre-employment tests and often use different names for them, even though they might be assessing the same basic criteria. Generally speaking; however, pre-employment assessments fall into one of three broad categories.
Often referred to as cognitive assessments, these tests measure General Mental Ability (GMA), which has been strongly correlated with job performance. Some of the characteristics evaluated in these tests include the candidate’s ability to think abstractly, comprehend new concepts, learn from experience, apply new skills, adapt to new environments and situations, and find the most effective solutions to problems.
While these tests are most often used for low to mid-level professional positions, some organizations believe so strongly in their effectiveness that they require them for even their most senior executives. A candidate who scores well on cognitive ability tests is more likely to complete their training and adapt to changing circumstances and job demands more effectively. Most jobs require people to confront challenges they’ve never encountered before, which is why the ability to think critically and solve problems quickly is so important when it comes to job performance.
Available in many different forms, personality tests perform a slightly different function than aptitude tests. While the cognitive assessments seek to measure innate ability quantitatively, personality tests aim to reveal a candidate’s unique personal qualities and characteristics. This could include motivations, preferences, and other behaviors that provide a sense of how someone will respond to being in a particular role.
The core traits revealed by a personality test do not typically change over time, which could be good information to have when planning to hire for a position that might conflict with a candidate’s behavioral tendencies (such as putting someone with an introverted, timid personality into a competitive and aggressive sales position).
Personality tests for jobs often take the form of behavioral assessments or emotional intelligence assessments. Based on psychometric research, these tests measure things like a candidate’s assertiveness, communication style, work pace, and need for structure through an adjective checklist or by asking a series of situational multiple-choice questions. Unlike cognitive tests, there are no right or wrong answers. Instead, the answers are used to gauge how much the candidate exhibits certain personality traits.
Distinct from aptitude tests, which measure innate cognitive abilities, skills tests measure a candidate’s existing knowledge and current job readiness. Since they do not measure inherent and largely unchanging qualities, they are typically used to screen candidates rather than predict future performance. For instance, if a software developer position requires expertise in a particular coding language, a skill test may be administered to ensure that the candidate possesses the necessary proficiency.
Whereas aptitude and personality tests must be carefully designed to avoid bias and produce independently verifiable results, skills tests tend to be much easier to design and implement. In this sense, they function much like a job assessment test. They are also very effective tools for determining future development needs. There may be some instances where a candidate possesses many of the ideal competencies for a position, scores well on other pre-employment tests, and interviews well, but needs to improve some of their technical skills to excel in their new role.
The effectiveness of pre-employment testing depends on quite a bit on the design quality of the assessments themselves. There are many testing options available on the market today, ranging from comprehensive and scientifically rigorous assessments to more simplistic tests that often weren’t even designed to be used for hiring purposes in the first place. For example, many companies still use the popular Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator Test, which was never intended to inform hiring decisions. Poorly designed tests are generally easier for people to manipulate, especially when it comes to personality tests. They will often not answer honestly, answering they “think” they should give. Well-designed assessments can account for this problem, so it’s important to ensure that a pre-employment test is created using best practices from a methodology standpoint before implementing it.
Pre-employment testing is not a perfect indicator of future performance. Still, it is often far more accurate than a hiring process that relies upon “gut instinct” or straightforward interviews and resume reviews. They are especially effective when different tests are used in conjunction with one another and integrated into the hiring process as a whole. By providing additional information and data points, they improve the likelihood that you will make a sound hiring decision in the end.
Employers always have to be careful when implementing pre-employment testing of any kind. While it is legal for companies to administer tests and perform background checks, they must ensure that the tests are non-discriminatory and properly administered. Test results may not be used to discriminate based on race, sex, religion, disability, nationality, or age. Any test administered must also relate to the job in question. One exception to these legal standards is a polygraph or “lie detector” test against the law thanks to the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) of 1988.
The first step in implementing pre-employment testing in the hiring process is determining which form of assessment to use. While any single test will provide helpful information, pairing cognitive and behavioral assessments together produces a much more comprehensive candidate view. Using more than one assessment is also recommended because it allows you to administer them at different points of the hiring cycle.
You will need to identify the minimum target score you need an ideal candidate to possess for cognitive assessments. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with the test reports to understand what you’re looking at when evaluating a candidate. There may be some aspects of the test, for instance, that are more important than others, so simply looking at a raw score may not tell you the entire story.
When it comes to behavioral assessments, you must select the most necessary traits for success in a particular role. This is usually determined by evaluating your existing top performers to establish a baseline of sorts. Testing multiple people will also give you an idea of how different personality traits can thrive in those positions, which will prevent you from honing in on a single personality archetype when evaluating candidates.
Pre-employment testing can be a valuable tool for an organization looking to make more intelligent hiring decisions driven by data. Given the high costs of onboarding and turnover, companies are under immense pressure to hire the ideal candidate, the first time. With the insights derived from cognitive and behavioral assessments administered throughout the hiring process, you can better identify which candidates will be the best fit for a position in skill, personality, and ability.