Should You Test Potential Hires?

Dec 9, 2011
5 Min Read

Pre-employment cognitive, skills and personality assessments can be valuable additions to your arsenal of hiring tools.  Not only do they assist you in finding the most appropriate candidate, but they also help you avoid the biases inherent in in-person interviewing, and better predict on-the-job success and whether a person will assimilate well into your organization.  However, there are a few “rules of the road” you’ll want to follow as you navigate this territory.

Use Tests Appropriately

First, assessments should be used as directed and in their entirety.  You should also make sure you use them consistently rather than selectively, meaning that all candidates who apply for the same job take the same test.

Second, pre-employment tests are subject to anti-discrimination regulations, and the federal agencies responsible for overseeing these regulations are increasingly interested in examining skills and personality assessments.

In order to be legally defensible, assessments must be designed for the hiring process, and all questions contained within them must have predictive validity, which means that they must accurately measure the traits they seek to measure and accurately predict behavior in the position in question.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The test vendor should also conduct either a validity study specific to your organization to justify the test’s use in this organization and for these specific jobs, or a transportability study to show that the jobs in question are sufficiently similar to jobs that have been included in other validity studies.

With respect to developing valid assessments, David Hyatt, an organizational consultant with the Center for Creative Leadership, suggests these tips:

  • Be sure that a representative sample is used to validate the assessment. All groups should be represented in validation studies in order to truly understand the real-world consequences of using the tools.
  • Ensure that assessments are culturally sensitive. Some words convey different meanings within different cultures. Be sure to remove all language barriers and culturally insensitive content areas. Cultural differences can impact the use of assessments in the hiring process. For example, some cultures (e.g., China, Japan) emphasize group outcomes while others tend to emphasize individual outcomes (e.g., United States, Europe).
  • Personality is more closely related to the motivational aspects of work than to the technical aspects. Personality-based assessments are better for getting at what a person “will do” as opposed to what he or she “can do.”  Skills-based assessments are better suited to this latter purpose.
  • Personality assessments are more predictive of performance in jobs where employees have a great amount of control as opposed to jobs where an employee has little or no control.

For questions or concerns on test validity, you can also check out The U.S. Department of Labor’s Uniform Guide on Employee Selection Procedures.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

If you’re thinking of rolling out pre-employment cognitive, skills and personality testing, you shouldn’t attempt to go it alone.  Talk to other human resources or hiring managers in other companies, or get advice from a third-party company or consulting psychologist specializing in these types of tests.  While outsourcing may require a significant upfront investment and a consulting psychologist can cost to $2000 per candidate, experts suggest that assessments are an aspect of hiring that you should either do well or not at all.  If you take shortcuts, you could end up worse off than when you started.

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