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Flunking the Test: Demystifying Pre-Employment Testing

by Sep 5, 2013, 1:37 am ET

The sad truth is, in the pursuit of money, needing a job and fear of failure, people create false resumes and falsify information when they go to an interview. To help ensure candidates are who they say they are, many companies do pre-employment testing before even doing an interview, let alone making an offer.

Questions to consider when choosing a testing or assessment program include:

  • Why should we do pre-employment testing in the first place?
  • What type of testing/assessments should we administer?
  • How do you address testing with our candidates?

Let’s take a look at these.

Why should we do pre-employment testing in the first place?

The point of testing is to make sure that you hire the best possible applicants. In general, if the benefits from the information gathered from the interview process outweigh the cost.

  • We have high turnover: Testing can help prevent some hiring mistakes. In the article “Pre Employment Test Myths”, “The costs associated with a bad hire that leads to turnover are significant. When you factor in additional recruitment costs, training costs, management costs, low productivity, and poor morale, most HR professionals would agree that these costs would run at least twice that person’s yearly salary.”
  • We can’t make a decision: Do you have enough applicants to justify a test to choose the best one? If you have 100 applicants, testing could be helpful in narrowing the field.
  • We have to by law: Certain industries like childcare, cosmetologists, public workers education, healthcare, etc. require testing in order to operate.

What Type of Testing Should We Administer?

While the laws detailing what types of testing should be administered, common pre-employment testing and assessments include:

  • Cognitive
  • Physical ability
  • Sample job tasks
  • Medical inquiries and physical examinations, including psychological tests, assess physical or mental health
  • Personality and integrity tests
  • Criminal background
  • Credit checks
  • Performance appraisals English proficiency tests determine English fluency.

But remember to put the human in human resources. Starting or changing jobs is ranked in the top 40 of life’s most stressful events (Spurgeon, Jackson & Beach, 2001), and the process of getting the right job can be very stressful.

Ensuring that candidates have a positive experience when completing assessments is not only an ethical issue; it can influence individuals’ perceptions of your organization and the job.

Studies have shown that perceptions of fairness influence attractiveness of the position and intention to accept the job offer. What can we do to ensure candidates not only actually go through a fair recruitment process, but they feel that they have been through a fair process too?

Here are five tips for how you can increase candidate perceptions of justice and fairness in the selection process:

  1. Selection procedures that are related to the job — candidates want to be assessed on criteria related to the job they will be performing. An easy way to ensure this is to provide accurate information about what they can expect during the recruitment process
  2. Opportunity to perform — candidates want to be able to display their skills, knowledge, and abilities to their employer. If candidates feel that they are assessed on irrelevant criteria they feel they have missed the opportunity to show what they can really do.
  3. Consistency of administration — similar to employers, candidates want a level playing field to ensure fairness. Assessments are one way to ensure this, as all candidates for a position are assessed using a standard, non-discriminatory test. This level playing field can be contrasted to a recruitment process based solely on interviews, which are subjective and leave the candidates wondering whether the process was consistent.
  4. Honest, timely, and informative feedback – feedback is important in making the candidate’s experience positive and helps candidates feel like recruitment is a two way process. Provide assessment feedback to candidates in addition to whether or not they got the job. Providing timely feedback or an accurate estimate of when a candidate can expect to hear about the progression of their application is a low-cost but effective way to create a perception of fairness and provide a positive candidate experience

Not only should you choose a fair selection process, but it pays to take this a step further by conveying this to the candidates to ensure your future employees have a great start in your business.

You could be interviewing your future boss, reference, or client when you go through any part of the interview process. Dr. Charles Handler put it best when he wrote:

“If companies are actually serious about treating candidates as customers, they need to give serious consideration to extending the following rights to their job applicants.”  –A Pre-Employment Assessment Candidate Bill of Rights.”

Right #1: Candidates have the right to a proper introduction to the assessment and why they are being asked to take it.

Right #2: Candidates have the right to an assessment experience that is of a reasonable length.

Right #3: Candidates have the right to know where the assessment fits within the overall hiring process, and what they can expect next.

Right #4: Candidates have the right to a good user experience.

Right #5: Candidates have the right to technical support, no matter when they are applying.

Right #6: Candidates have the right to assessment content that appears job related.

Right #7: Candidates have the right to an enjoyable assessment experience.

Right #8: Candidates have the right to know what to expect in terms of feedback from the assessment

It is not enough to rely in “gut instinct” or hire people you simply click with. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you don’t want to be so dependent on tests that you scare away the candidate. If you want to recruit hire and retain the right people every time, decide on the necessary job skills and educational level. Outline the soft skills and traits would boost employee performance. Once you know what you want, implement consistent, telling, and fair pre-employment testing to make smarter employment hiring decisions.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • https://skillmeter.com Cezar Floroiu

    This is a great article. I think pre-employment testing works great mainly in IT & technical domains. This is because a test can measure very clear the level of knowledge and skills. if you are able to measure the candidates, the entire recruiting process will be more efficient as recruiters/managers will not need to spend time with all candidates. This is why I built Skillmeter (https://skillmeter.com) as a employment testing platform that allows recruiters create their *own* custom test that fits best with the position & company. To make Skillmeter even more attractive for recruiters we do not charge per tests by a monthly (low) subscription which does not add almost any extra costs to your recruiting costs.

  • John Howard

    I like the article, but must disagree with Cezar: While pre-employment testing is, as he says, useful in IT and technical domains, it is equally useful in virtually every other employment domain, as well. The most skilled IT worker in the universe is not a great employee if he/she fails to show up for work, or leaves with your proprietary secrets or your client list!
    “In America, we hire for skills, and then fire for fit”…it’s trite, but it’s also true. We’re pretty good at measuring skills with a variety of tools, but (frankly) lousy at measuring fit, or honesty, or a whole range of other risk-producing attitudes or behaviors, without a valid and reliable assessment tools specific to the jobs we’re trying to fill.

  • Eric Eldredge

    I’m also going to have to disagree with Cezar on this issue. Pre-employment tests that are created by experts can easily cover a wide varity of fields. At http://www.testup.com we have hundreds of tests covering subjects like data entry, law, personality, ethics, and much more. Of course, you can also create your own test, and you can write video interview questions, too — so check us out if you’re interested in using any of the above tools to help make your hiring process more efficient. (We make sure that the eight candidate’s rights are all checked off, too.)

  • B Dizzle

    A famous Inventor once said, “Sometimes and idea should stay an idea.” When it comes to pre-employment testing, I solely agree 100%. He believed that not every idea for an invention is profitable investing time and effort. Therefore, the feasibility of pre-employment is in question.

    No data backs the efficiency of pre-employment testing. Only opinions. Administering a test to Physician’s will not lower malpractice rates. It will not reduce the risk of flight crashing for Pilots. Neither will it appropriately asses actual on-the-job conditions. Many times, this is more important for job, especially jobs for service.

    For example, I am an HVAC Tech. On a pre-employment test, I ws asked was are typical R-22 levels. Well shoot! When was the last time a Tech got a typical R-22 reading? Once gauges are placed, the levels of R-22 has little to do with the unit’s cooling capacity and it does not cover other factors, such as indoor and out door temperature. This is an insult to me and I am glad all companies do not do this. If they did, there would be consequential legal repercussions. The main problem is that it is insulting, to me. Sorta like the old saying, “You have book sense, but no common sense.”

    If someone is applying for a state regulated position, that position requires a license. Their competency was tested via the high standards of the state. So, when you walk into a job interview, present your license, along with verifiable work experience how demeaning would it be to give a test? To make matters worse, a person’s ability to pas a test could amount to discrimination, as well.

    Th company places a newspaper listing for an open position. You tell them a credit check, background check, and drug test is going to be given. When that potential employee gets there, “SURPRISE!!” “We’re giving you another test, today.” Is it fair for you to give that person absolutely no time to prepare for a test?

    Even college Instructors has been terminated for such acts. Common sense tells you, if you are gong to give a test, allow for a person chance to prepare and study important concepts related to our field. I know a Pharmacist has to know the process of the Kerbs Cycle, but that information was learned long time ago and hasn’t been used during his/her practice. I fell like I have been “Bamboozled,” as Malcolm X say’s. Now, when I am handed a test, I don’t even wait to be embarrassed by the interviewer. Especially, in the information age. What accountant do you know that doesn’t use reference material? Does this make that Accountant less qualified because they was to be accurate, rather than trying to recall information off the top of their heads? In the age of Spell Check, should we test a persons spelling? Geesh!!

    These pre-employment tests are just as useless as background checks. Their only purpose is to play upon the fears of employers so they can make money.

  • John Howard

    Sorry, B Dizzle, but you obviously have not done your research; there are, literally, thousands of studies confirming that valid, reliable pre-emplyment tests do precisely what they are supposed to do–reduce early hire failure, cut a variety of costs associated with employer risk, and increase productivity across a workforce. I’ve personally conducted over 100 case studies that further confirm their effectivenes.

    In fact, we’re so confident that they do what they’re supposed to do, that we offer a 100% money-back guarantee to our clients who use them according to our recommendations. If you, or anyone else has a question about this level of confidence, I’m at jwh@prol.ws