What are pre-employment tests? Pre-employment tests are used to screen job applicants and can include testing of cognitive abilities, knowledge, work skills, physical and motor abilities, personality, emotional intelligence, language proficiency, and even integrity. Drug testing can also be utilized as part of the pre-employment process. Companies use testing to find the candidates most likely to succeed in the open positions and to screen out those who are unqualified.
Why are they used? By helping companies identify the candidates most likely to perform well on the job, pre-employment testing can lead to additional company benefits, such as saving time and cost in the selection process, decreasing turnover, and even improving morale. According to a survey by the American Management Association, “Almost 90 percent of firms that test job applicants say they will not hire job seekers when pre-employment testing finds them to be deficient in basic skills” (Greenberg, 1996, p. 24).
What are the key issues in using pre-employment tests? While there can be dramatic benefits gained from using testing in the employee selection process, there are potential issues companies need to understand prior to implementing any tests.
The first issue is validity; whether or not the test measures the specific criterion it is supposed to measure and can predict future job performance or success. An employer should be able to demonstrate that those who do well on the test do well in performing the job and those who score poorly on the test perform poorly on the job. For example, if an employer can demonstrate that a typing test and skills tests using Microsoft Office software products constitute a fair sample of the content of an administrative assistant job, then the tests will probably be considered content valid.
The second issue is reliability, the consistency with which a test measures an item. “For a test to be reliable, an individual’s score should be about the same every time the individual takes it (allowing for the effects of practice)” (Stanley, 2004, p. 12). If someone takes the test on one day and scores high, then takes the test a week later and receives a low score, the test is probably not very reliable. A test should consistently measure traits; otherwise it will be of little value in predicting a candidate’s future job performance. Similarly with validation, test reliability should be proven prior to the test being implemented.
The third issue focuses on the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) aspects of pre-employment testing. Because employment tests are periodically challenged in court, employers must make sure tests do not violate federal, state, or local EEO laws, including Title VII.
Tips for using pre-employment tests: Here are five tips to help ensure pre-employment testing delivers the desired business outcomes and is legally defensible: 1. Choose the right tests and certify validity and reliability 2. Ensure tests meet all EEO laws 3. Conduct thorough research if purchasing tests from outside companies 4. Avoid test questions of an overly personal nature or that are considered offensive 5. Do not rely solely on test results to choose candidates
Employers can increase the likelihood of hiring high-quality candidates by using pre-employment tests to help screen and select the best candidates for jobs. Administered correctly, pre-employment testing can help companies save time and cost in the selection process, decrease turnover, increase productivity, and improve morale. Even though screening tests are occasionally challenged in court, companies can reduce their legal risk by ensuring test validity and reliability, by making sure tests do not cause disparate impact on minorities or protected groups, and by consistently applying tests to all candidates.
Q. Does your company use pre-employment tests? Tell us how well you believe the tests are working in the “Comments” section, below.
References: Greenberg, E. (1996, October). One-third of applicants lack job skills. HR Focus, 73(10), 24. Stanley, T. (2004). The wisdom of employment testing. SuperVision, 65(2), 11-13.
Editor’s Note: Lisa Quast’s article was published in Forbes on 13 September 2011