The traditional employment evaluation metrics — like experience, resume, interview — are falling short as predictors of employee performance. Pre-employment testing and assessments can help you close the gap.

Candidate assessment methods are changing.

Around half of the employers showed “little or no confidence” when it came to resume and application reviews to make hiring decisions, in a Mercer and the Society for Human Resource Management survey.

With the normalization of non-hierarchical work culture across all company sizes, the changing dynamic of talent acquisition calls for a change in employers’ pre-employment assessments too.

What Is Pre-Employment Testing?

In simple words, pre-employment testing is used to screen candidates before making hiring decisions.

Hiring managers and employers use different tests and assessments to identify specific candidate skills, characteristics, knowledge, and behavior. The results allow recruiters to make valid, data-driven projections about which candidates possess a higher potential to succeed in a new role.

Different types of pre-employment testing

Four Types of Pre-Employment Testing

1. Personality-based assessments

This testing evaluates the candidate’s personality traits and characteristics to ascertain behavioral compatibility for the given job. For instance, you can assess whether the candidate is driven, patient, detail-oriented, responsible, etc.

Available Tests:

DISC (dominance, influence, steadiness, conscientiousness)

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI).

Pro: These tests measure behavioral tendencies and traits to determine how employees can excel in their work based on their characteristics.

Con: Candidates can misrepresent themselves to score better. Plus, industry experts think these tests can promote social desirability bias and do not predict certain behavior.

2. Skill-based assessments

Through such testing, you can measure a candidate’s capability to perform specific tasks, knowledge of industry tools, subjects, software, and skills needed for everyday work.

According to Stacie Garland, Talent Solutions Consultant at Vervoe, skill-based assessments enable hiring managers to “simulate real-life job challenges and tasks to see how candidates will respond and determine if they have relevant skills and experience to succeed in the role.”

Pro: These assessments let you evaluate both soft and hard skills with an objective mindset.

Con: Such tests are time-intensive for both candidates and recruiters.

3. Integrity-based assessments

Recruiters use integrity testing to determine certain candidate behaviors and thought-process which may affect your business. The tests cover areas like honesty, alcohol and drug use, integrity, or propensity toward anger, lying, or violence.

There are two types of integrity testing, overt and covert. The former asks explicit questions to spot patterns in candidate behavior and attitude when it comes to things like theft. The latter, on the other hand, tries to assess psychological concepts involving respect for authority, dependability, accountability.

Pro: These assessments do not favor gender, age, or ethnicity and may promote discipline and accountability in employees.

Con: Integrity tests may lead to invasion of privacy and self-incrimination. Plus, some integrity tests may violate state regulations.

4. Cognitive-based assessments

These tests measure intelligence and mental capability, correlating to a candidate’s job.

Common areas of focus are verbal skills, math skills, IQ, critical thinking, spatial perception, and reasoning abilities. Workable, an applicant tracking platform, gives a general aptitude test (GAT) to candidates to evaluate their numeric, logical, and verbal reasoning.

Pro: These tests are better predictors of future performance than interviews or experience. And close to 62% of companies are using them to hire candidates, according to Talent Board’s Candidate Experience Research Report.

Con: Candidates can get better at such tests with more practice. Moreover, without proper execution, cognitive tests can become vulnerable to ethnic, social, and racial discrimination.

Pre-employment testing to screen candidates

Mere 20% of Hiring Managers Believe in Their Employers’ Pre-employment Testing Capabilities

You cannot quantify a candidate’s soft skills, traits, capability, or potential to succeed by glancing over a resume or conducting a short interview.

With the unprecedented rise in globalization and distributed workforces, hiring the right candidate can give you a competitive edge. And pre-hire tests and assessments offer effective leverage to do just that.

Using these assessments, you can make informed, intentional hiring decisions — devoid of biases and discriminations — which give priority to the right candidate, irrespective of how strong she or he looks on paper.

For Garland, these tests go beyond just screening, enabling her to “tailor onboarding, training, and development initiatives before candidates start their role, ensuring they continuously develop and engage.”

Why should you use employment testing?

Here is a scenario. You hire a candidate based on his experience. Three months post his onboarding, his team manager starts to notice he does not have what it takes to succeed at his job.

What do you do then?

You restart the hiring cycle: Reviewing applications, interviewing chosen candidates, onboarding and training the new employee, and hoping this time you made the right decision. As you repeat this process, you lose time, money, but more importantly, damage employee productivity and morale.

This mishap is avoidable with pre-employment screening.

Pre-employment assessments are intentionally designed to capture specific patterns, behaviors, and skills in a standardized and scorable way to predict employee performance and potential.

Taking personality testing as an example, Garland describes it is "helpful in providing insight into how an individual perceives and interprets information, their unique learning style, and what drives them to perform. These insights can help managers train, motivate, and engage individuals in ways that align with their personal traits."

And with the rising adoption of advanced technologies in recruitment, like machine learning and AI, pre-employment testing has become easier for hiring managers and candidates.

Employers get access to a larger talent pool, increasing their ability to spot crucial skills, cultural fit, and knowledge in individuals.

Candidates get user-friendly assessments with gamification, quizzes, surveys.

Are Pre-hire Tests And Assessments Worth It?

In hiring processes that prioritize resumes and interviews, candidates can drive the narrative which may be questionable or customized to what you want to hear.

Whether or not a candidate is honest, mis-hires are costly and time-consuming for employers.

But, pre-employment assessments are time-consuming (and costly, in some cases) too. So, do you forgo pre-hire testing?

Garland reveals, "With the right pre-employment assessments, companies can employ these tools to hire and retain high-performing employees from the beginning of the recruitment process." She says these assessments “further improve retention right from the first engagement.”

“Pre-employment tests can give you a better sense of a candidate's skill set. For example, if you are looking to hire a content writer, it is beneficial to see them tackle the exact kind of task they would work on regularly if hired,” says Alexandra Bideaua, Senior Marketing Communications Consultant at CyberGhost VPN. She further explains, “This 'ability snapshot' can be very useful in choosing the right candidate for a job. Combined with interviews, I find it more telling than just browsing through portfolios or writing samples.”

What Are The Benefits Of Pre-Employment Tests?

  • Saves time, resources, and money

  • Identifies critical intellect, skills, behaviors (leadership, problem-solving, customer-centric, etc.)

  • Filters unsuitable applicants early on

  • Improves candidate and interview experience

  • Asks targeted, job-driven questions

  • Creates an accurate candidate profile

  • Tests cultural fit and temperament

  • Avoids mis-hires

  • Betters employee engagement

How Do You Validate And Conduct Pre-employment Testing?

Whether you buy off-the-shelf testing or build a custom one, it all comes down to how you validate and execute these pre-hire programs.

Here are the pre-validation steps you need to take to strengthen the reliability and authenticity of tests:

1. Identify your objective

Why are you conducting pre-employment assessments? Once you know your purpose, you can choose the open positions you want to fill using these tests.

2. Finalize the KSAO parameters

Acronym for knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (like attitude and accountability), you can ascertain ideal candidates who exhibit favorable KSAO parameters in role-specific evaluations. An effective way to narrow down your KSAOs is to identify what working knowledge, skill set, and ability they should have without any additional training. Based on your findings, you can move to the next step.

3. Create or buy a test

To complete this step, you can either go to market vendors or seek in-house resources. In-house custom-built solutions are expensive compared to the ones vendors provide, and they take more time too.

But accessibility and convenience should not impair your evaluation of whether the vendor’s tool operates exactly as they advertise. It is your responsibility to make sure the tool is subjected to stringent validation and reliability inspections.

For instance, your employment testing solution should not produce dissimilar results from the same set of answers. If it does, the reliability of your assessment can come under scrutiny. It also should not contain any bias-prone or disparate impact variables. The solution is to create tests with multiple correlations and analyze screening data, normed over a period of time, and verify that it finds comparable predictions and results. Only then, you can introduce the pre-hire testing in your hiring system.

To establish validity, Garland suggests the assessment should verify "the key skills required in a specific role, the questions measure what they are supposed to measure, and they have predictive capabilities, indicating those who perform well in the tests will perform well in the role."

Bideaua gives an example, “When I’m hiring for Localization Specialists, I send the candidates a live website page to translate and adapt to their region within a day since this is what they would be doing around 80% of their time when hired. I think this also helps set the candidate's expectations. If they do not like the pre-employment test, they will surely not like the job itself.”

You can use an online system to organize all pre-employment tests and data, review the applicants, and analyze their answers in one place for better selection. You can even take it further by leveraging machine learning and AI to extract valuable insights from unorthodox (videos) and traditional sources (resumes) to attract and nurture capable candidates from the get-go.

But Bideaua warns hiring managers to not "judge these tests quickly." She explains, "They can give you an idea of where a candidate is at right now, but do not underestimate their ability to grow."

The Legality Of Pre-employment Tests

Your tests and assessments, whether bought or built, need to be valid, legal, reliable, equitable and help predict success parameters for a specific job with a high probability. Otherwise, you can face legal or regulatory compliance complaints.

But according to the CriteriaCorp, a pre-employment testing provider, there is actually more legal action around interviews than tests.

To ensure there are no subjective or disparate themes in your employment testing:

  • Conduct continuous monitoring of HR industry and employment testing trends and regulations

  • Understand state and federal regulations and laws on employment

  • Track your pre-hire programs, candidates, and the associated results

  • Consult with your legal counsel for compliance before implementation

And in case you hire contingent workers (freelancers, independent contractors, etc.), who may not share the same zip code, you will need to adhere to different sets of regulations.

Like international laws and regulations, pre-hire testing constraints, individual privacy laws, cultural aversion or acceptance of employment screening, or administration of the program.

Note: According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), any employment requirement you set is a test. You can refer to EEOC’s Employment Tests and Selection Procedures fact sheet for a better understanding of issues surrounding selection tests and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Conclusion: Testing Identifies Ideal Candidates

Employers are racing to retain high-performing talent.

And pre-employment testing provides a validated foundation to identify and nurture ideal candidates who will prove a valuable resource in the long run.

But do not mistake results from one test as absolute. Conduct multiple assessments, in conjunction with traditional methods, to build a comprehensive, accurate candidate profile.

Confirm your program's capability to predict candidate qualification and success. Map what it is meant to identify to what information it collects, in the form of scores, categories, ratings, or descriptions.

And take advantage of technological advancements and mobile-driven, gamified assessments to establish, validate, and execute an objective employment testing program.

  • Which pre-employment tests are you using?

  • How do you ensure your assessments are bias-free and compliant?