We just wrapped up our series on Personality/Career Assessments…we will now look at pre-employment testing over the next several weeks and how you can prepare yourself.
If you are a new graduate entering the workforce — or an experienced professional who is considering a job change — you might be surprised when you’re asked to take a test as part of the application and/or interview process. Although you may have been out of school for years, feelings of “test anxiety” can unexpectedly resurface.
Pre-employment testing has been around for more than 50 years, and can take on many forms. Some tests — such as drug screenings and background checks — protect companies from hiring an applicant who may be a legal or security risk. Other tests help companies identify candidates who are the right fit for the job based on their skills, personality, values, and motivations.
Some tests are administered as part of the “screening” process — narrowing down the pool of applicants to those who meet the basic requirements. Others are used as part of the “hiring” process — once a pool of candidates has been identified (or perhaps even initially interviewed), pre-employment tests can be used to further narrow the number of candidates being considered.
Research estimates that nearly 65 percent of employers use some sort of pre-employment skills test that is designed to confirm that applicants have the skills they say they have. And, according to a survey by the American Management Association, “Almost 90 percent of firms that test job applicants say they will not hire jobseekers when pre-employment testing finds them to be deficient in basic skills.”
With the average length of job tenure at 2.8 years for employees age 25 to 34 — according to a 2016 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — more and more hiring managers are turning to objective pre-employment tests to evaluate whether a candidate can do the job, or learn it quickly.
To the jobseeker’s benefit, tests are more objective than résumé reviews, pre-interview screening calls, and unstructured interviews. Effective assessments are closely tied to the performance of a particular job. Ideally, there would be a correlation: candidates who do well on the test would do well in performing the job, and conversely, those who score poorly on the test would likely perform poorly on the job.
Types of Pre-Employment Tests
The type of testing discussed here does not include drug and physical exams/ability tests and is distinct from the testing required to earn professional certifications and licenses (requirements established by law or by industry standards). The most commonly used assessments included in the pre-employment process fall into two broad categories.
Some tests are closely focused on job-related skills and abilities (hard skills). For example, a software proficiency test, language proficiency exam, or a test that assesses physical and motor abilities). Others assess more personal information, such as personality traits, emotional intelligence, and personal values (soft skills).
Job Knowledge Tests & Employment Aptitude Tests
Job knowledge tests measure a candidate’s technical or theoretical expertise in a field. These kinds of tests are most useful for jobs that require specialized knowledge or high levels of expertise. For example, an accountant may be asked about basic accounting principles. Some companies invest in custom assessments for major categories of employees (like cable technicians), based on scores of high-performing employees. The results are predictive of performance, especially for low scorers.
While job knowledge tests determine the applicant’s current level of knowledge or skill, cognitive or aptitude tests determine an applicant’s potential ability to perform the job functions once trained — in other words, an applicant’s capacity for learning the required skills to be successful if hired. These tests are usually written or oral and are used to measure a candidate’s reasoning (verbal, numerical, and inductive), memory, perceptual speed and accuracy, as well as skills in arithmetic and reading comprehension.
Cognitive ability tests measure a candidate’s general mental capacity — what most people mean by “intelligence,” although true intelligence has many other aspects as well. These kinds of tests are much more accurate predictors of job performance than interviews or experience.
All jobs require some degree of “people skills.” According to a Harvard Study, 15 percent of the reason a person is hired is based on hard skills, while 85 percent of the reason people excel on the job and are successful is based on their people skills. With this in mind, the most widely used assessments measure soft skills. There are three general categories of tests that assess soft skills: personality tests, integrity tests, and emotional intelligence tests.