Comparing 4 of Your Options

The process of making a good hiring decision is a blend of art and science.

The art of making a hiring decision involves experience, perception, and insight on the part of hiring managers.

The science part of the equation can be precise and can offer both objective and subjective data. Pre-employment tests, though not perfect, can paint a picture about a candidate’s potential to fit into a certain role.

But with the different types of pre-employment tests available, what should employers use? Cognitive ability? Personality traits? Physical abilities? Or maybe a job sample to see how a candidate does with a mix of tasks and responsibilities?

Pre-employment tests come in a variety of formats and measure a wide range of candidate qualities. Generally, pre-employment assessments measure either a candidate’s aptitude or achievement or give insight on a candidate’s personality.

Deciding which test – or, as we recommend, tests – to use for candidates applying to various jobs is just the start. All tests provide at least some evidence to help in your hiring decision.

Below, we look at four common types of pre-employment tests and examine their strengths and weaknesses.

Assessing the Assessments

Test Type #1: Cognitive Ability

Cognitive Ability tests are designed to measure general intelligence, verbal fluency, numerical ability and reasoning ability. A variety of tests are available on the market, and can be administered on computer or on paper (which are becoming very rare and hard-to-find). Examples of these kinds of tests include Resource Associates own General Cognitive Aptitude Test, the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB), and the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test.

PRO: Cognitive ability tests assess a candidate’s general intelligence, as opposed to specific areas of intelligence such as reading and spatial relations. Strong general mental abilities are one of the best predictors of future performance, career success and job satisfaction.

CON: Aptitude tests should never be the sole piece of data used to determine a candidate’s fit. In general, it is recommended to avoid relying on a single piece of data to hire a candidate. The more you rely on aptitude alone, the more you will need data to prove that a test’s use does not cause adverse impact. In addition, pre-employment tests should be closely related to the job for which they are used to assess candidates, and aptitude tests used alone won’t give you enough job-related data to help you properly determine the fit of the person to the role you are hiring for.

Test Type #2: Personality

Personality tests focus less on mental capacity and more on personal traits such as extroversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience. Assessing these traits can be useful when considering candidates for various roles and environments, including management, working with others or working alone.

PRO: Testing for a candidate’s personality traits can help predict how well that person will fit into the company culture and as a tool for career or leadership development. They also can help enhance productivity in a team-based environment or autonomous roles where teamwork is not a strong requirement.

CON: Personality tests can be problematic if they are poorly-designed, for instance if they are not designed specifically to evaluate fit for the workplace, or evaluate the wrong traits for the role in question.

Test Type #3: Physical Ability

For some jobs, employers may need to assess a person’s physical abilities. This is especially true for jobs in physically demanding workplaces or in risky jobs such as firefighter, police officer and truck driver.

Strength and endurance tend to be good predictors of job performance and reducing on-the-job injuries.

PRO: For some professions, a physical ability test may be the best indicator of job performance, particularly in professions where the difference between meeting and failing the physical standard could result in injury or death.

CON: Determining a standard to which candidates must adhere can be difficult. The standard must have a strong relationship to the job description. Employers also must take care to avoid discriminating against certain groups, a particular gender for example.

Test Type #4: Job Sample

If you want to evaluate how an applicant will perform tasks that are going to be part of the job they’d potentially be hired to do, job sample or work sample tests are a good fit.

These assessments use carefully developed outlines and must be reflective of the job’s major functions. They usually apply to jobs that require secretarial or clerical skills—although there are many exceptions.

Examples include a map-reading test for traffic control officers, a lathe test for machine operators, a complex coordination test for pilots, a group discussion test for supervisors and a judgment and decision-making test for administrators.

PRO: These assessments are a great way for candidates to prove their ability to perform well on the job.

CON: Work sample are costly, taking a good amount of resources to develop and execute. These tests need to line up closely with job functions directly related to the job description. Otherwise, implementing this employee test is a waste of time and resources, as the results won’t give you evidence about the candidate’s ability to perform in the role they are being considered for.

The Right Test for the Right Job

Pre-employment testing can be a great tool for hiring managers who seek to merge art and science when filling job openings. It is important to match the proper tests with the proper jobs to avoid expense and wasting time.

Every part of the hiring process has its strengths and weaknesses. While well-designed pre-employment tests help employers zero in on the right candidates, they are not perfect and work best as an important component of the hiring process.