What is a Pre-Employment Test?

two women interviewing a candidate

Pre-employment screening is common. Depending on the job, some employees are required to take a physical. Many employers conduct background checks on applicants. But do you conduct any other pre-employment testing? 

There are several types of pre-hire tests, and they each have advantages and limitations. Learn more about pre-employment testing so that you can make sure that you’re using the right one for your hiring process.

What Is a Pre-Employment Test?

It makes sense to measure performance in ways that are aligned with the job description and company culture. A pre-employment test is a standardized way of screening new employees that you hope to bring on board. It allows you to get an objective view of the candidate’s skills, aptitude or personality and helps ensure that the new hire is a good fit for your company. A new hire survey is another analytical tool for ensuring a strong employee experience.

What You Should Know About Pre-Employment Testing

When administering pre-employment testing, you have to make sure that the questions are not discriminatory. You could risk getting sued if the screening violates regulations. Therefore, you have to make sure that you use lawful, equitable and legitimate procedures for assessing applicants in this manner.

Look for professionally developed pre-employment tests. However, not all of these screenings are objective. Make sure that the tests you use are well-validated. This means that they:

  • Assess what they are intended to measure
  • Are fair
  • Are reliable
  • Provide consistent results over time

In other words, you can’t give a pre-employment test that appears to be measuring a candidate’s Microsoft Word proficiency but secretly evaluates their personality. Also, the test must be relevant for the job. 

Types of Pre-Employment Tests

There are several types of pre-employment tests, and some are used more frequently than others. Additionally, there has long been controversy as to whether certain types of tests are ethical or effective.

Cognitive Ability Tests

Tests that measure cognitive abilities or intellect help you assess whether a candidate has the capacity to be successful in the role. These screenings are usually applicable to many types of jobs. Therefore, you can use one test to screen candidates for multiple positions. 

The most common cognitive ability tests that are used for employment are IQ tests. These assess general intelligence. Specific screenings can evaluate an applicant’s verbal, reasoning and mathematical abilities. 

Some examples of cognitive ability tests include:

  • Numerical reasoning
  • Verbal comprehension 
  • Perception
  • Logical reasoning
  • Learning agility 

These screenings tend to be reliable. It’s difficult for a candidate to use their personal bias to answer the questions.

Skills Aptitude Tests

There is some overlap between cognitive ability and skills aptitude tests. In some cases, specialty tests, such as those that assess mathematical reasoning, are considered to be skills aptitude tests. 

The top skills that employers value are:

  • Written communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Technical and computer skills

Skills aptitude tests are some of the most reliable methods of pre-employment screening. They’re more effective than interviews, experience and education level at predicting job performance. 

You might use general skills tests to place mid and high-level candidates in roles with advanced skills requirements. Micro-skills tests are better suited for predicting short-term performance, such as placing a temp in a receptionist role that requires fast typing skills.

Personality Tests

About 22% of employers use personality tests to evaluate job applicants. Personality tests might help you discover whether someone is compassionate and empathetic enough to work in customer care or extroverted enough to work in sales. 

Some of the traits that personality tests look at include:

  • Attitudes
  • Motivation
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Stress tolerance

Although these tests are not uncommon, they’re also not the most reliable. They’re the most subjective tests. There are no wrong answers; it’s up to you as the employer to decide which characteristics will serve the role best.

For example, top salespeople tend to be modest and competitive. However, successful salespeople often score low on cooperativeness. Therefore, you might not want to use that as a criterion for evaluating candidates for this type of position.

Some research shows that personality traits can predict job performance and engagement in certain fields. However, critics suggest that personality tests don’t forecast job success effectively and may be an invasion of applicants’ privacy.

Risk Tests

Managing risk is vital to hiring a reliable employee that is likely to perform well and stay with your company. Integrity and honesty tests are the most common type of pre-employment test to help you reduce the risk of an applicant taking part in counterproductive behaviors on the job.

Some of the factors that risk tests try to predict include:

  • Absenteeism and tardiness
  • Theft
  • Drug use
  • Fraud
  • Safety violations

These tests can reduce the risk of theft and keep employees safer. Background checks can also be performed to minimize risk. However, they typically only pull up information related to criminal activity. 

Integrity and honesty tests can also give you confidence that your new remote or traveling employee will perform well even when they’re not supervised. Please note that these are different from polygraph tests, which are generally illegal to administer as pre-employment testing.

Psychological Tests

Psychological tests are permitted for use as pre-employment screening in most states. Like personality and integrity tests, these evaluations can assess:

  • Resilience
  • Stress management skills
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Business judgment
  • Ability to work as a team

These types of tests are especially helpful when you’re hiring for a high-pressure role. The ability to handle intense emotions and regulate stress are essential for positions in fast-paced, high-risk environments.

When administering psychological pre-employment tests, you have to be careful that the test isn’t geared toward uncovering a disability or mental health condition. The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from basing hiring decisions on mental or physical disabilities.

Physical Exams

You can ask candidates to participate in a physical examination if health, fitness and agility are vital to the job responsibilities. However, you can’t ask for the screening before you make a job offer.

Still, you can withdraw the offer if the applicant doesn’t pass the physical examination. But you must follow the legal requirements for selecting criteria to avoid discrimination. You may be required to make accommodations for candidates with certain disabilities. Therefore, physical exams can provide you with helpful information that you can use to optimize the environment for new hires.

Pros and Cons of Pre-Employment Tests

Pre-employment tests refine the hiring process. Some benefits of pre-employment testing include:

  • Improving the quality of your hires
  • Following a more objective approach than individual, unstructured interviews
  • Standardization provides equitable opportunities for every candidate
  • Reducing time spent interviewing
  • Providing quantifiable insight
  • Reducing unconscious bias

Some of the downsides of using pre-employment tests include:

  • They don’t provide a comprehensive assessment of the candidate
  • The results may not be accurate because candidates will answer dishonestly to present themselves in the best light
  • They don’t capture the unique variation among candidates
  • They reduce the applicant pool, potentially barring otherwise qualified candidates

Remember that a pre-employment test helps you analyze a candidate’s potential. These screenings are not meant to be used in isolation and cannot be used as a substitute for a hands-on, personalized hiring process. They can, however, help you compare several candidates who are in the running and weed out applicants that aren’t a good match for the position.