Human resources professionals and business leaders need to put a great deal of time and care into their candidate selection processes. Recruiting and onboarding a new hire is a time-consuming and costly endeavor, so you want to make sure you’re picking a great match who will excel in the role.

Making a bad hire often means repeating the process just a few months later while suffering lost productivity. That’s why many employers are searching beyond the standard resume review and interview and incorporating pre-employment tests in hopes of improving hiring decision-making.

Pre-employment assessment tests are becoming an increasingly common part of the job application or interview process. But do these tests actually help you choose the right candidate? We’ve broken down the most common forms of pre-employment testing, and laid out the pros and cons of adding pre-employment assessments to your recruitment process.

What is pre-employment testing?

Pre-employment assessment tests are skills assessments or projects that employers use to screen candidates. They can be used to assess a variety of skills and attributes to help employers find a strong fit for their needs.

Some pre-employment screening tests focus on measuring soft skills such as critical thinking and teamwork, while others assess hard skills such as role-specific technical knowledge. These tests can be administered alongside the initial job application, as a follow-up step following the application, or after a candidate has interviewed.

Types of pre-employment tests

There are a wide range of assessment types tailored to different roles and selection criteria.

Job knowledge tests

One common form of pre-employment skills assessment is a job knowledge test. This form of testing often includes multiple choice or short answer questions focused on industry terms and specialized knowledge. These tests can be useful if you need to hire an experienced candidate or someone with specialized knowledge about a specific industry or subset of an industry.

Premade tests from job boards

If you want a quick and easy pre-employment assessment option, consider using pre-made skills tests such as Indeed Assessments. You can choose from a variety of assessments that test skills such as problem-solving, proofreading, or specific industry knowledge. These are quick, relatively generic assessments that employers can use as an add-on to the online application process.

If you expect a high volume of applicants, for example, if you’re hiring an entry-level or remote role, these assessments can help you break through the large volume of candidates to find the most qualified applicants.

Project-based pre-employment assessment tests

Instead of a standard test assessment, many employers use more project-based assessments to get a practical, first-hand look at a candidate’s abilities. This may include a short coding project, a writing sample, a sample sales presentation, or any related tasks that can be used to evaluate a candidate’s skills.

Project-based assessments can vary in length, but it’s best to keep them short. Sample projects that require a large time commitment should generally be paid assignments and only sent out to a couple of top candidates before making a final offer decision.

Cognitive ability tests

Cognitive ability tests or cognitive assessments are meant to analyze and measure the candidate’s mental capacity to predict future job performance. These tests typically focus on logical, verbal, and numerical reasoning. The most common pre-employment cognitive ability test is the General Aptitude Test (GAT).

Emotional intelligence tests

Having a high level of emotional intelligence often corresponds with having better work performance and having positive workplace relationships. As such, it makes sense that employers would want to use an assessment tool to help them hire emotionally intelligent employees.

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to effectively manage your own emotions and recognize the emotions of those around you. Emotional intelligence tests such as the Berke assessment aim to measure candidates’ emotional intelligence to assess their teamwork skills, empathy, ability to manage stress, and overall emotion management.

Personality tests

Personality tests or personality assessments are focused more on the candidate’s personality traits and potential culture fit for the role rather than testing their skills. The idea is that having a better personality fit for the job role and organization will lead to better engagement and productivity if hired.

While you could technically make a customized personality quiz based on your company’s culture and the job role, most hiring managers use one of the well-known personality assessment tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Hogan Personality Inventory, the DiSC Behavioral Inventory, the Caliper Profile, or the SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire.

Ethics and integrity tests

Ethics and integrity tests are used for roles or industries that require strong ethics and decision-making. These tests present candidates with situations that may present some ethical concerns and gauge their responses to analyze their integrity. These tests can identify whether the candidate will fit well within the company’s culture and values, their degree of adherence to company policies, and how they respond when a client or coworker pushes their ethical boundaries.

Physical ability tests

Physical ability tests are a fairly uncommon pre-employment assessment tool, but they are used in some industries or roles. These assessments test a candidate’s physical fitness and abilities through exercises like running, strength tests, and stamina tests. They are typically used for jobs like firefighters or police officers, where a certain degree of physical ability is an essential part of the role.

Benefits of using pre-employment assessment tests

Here are the top benefits of adding pre-employment assessment tests to your talent acquisition strategy.

They facilitate more efficient candidate screening

Sorting through all the applications that come in can be a challenge. If you need to hire quickly and don’t have a large recruiting team ready to sort through hundreds of applications, quick assessment tests can be a helpful way to speed up the selection process and find the best fits to interview right away.

They help verify a candidate’s competencies

It’s no secret that job seekers occasionally stretch the truth on their resumes. Even if a candidate has something listed in the skills section of their resume, that doesn’t ensure that they really have a mastery of that skill. It may be something they’ve done at a beginner level or a skill that they used in a past role five years ago and haven’t brushed up on since. Incorporating a skill assessment in your hiring process can help verify candidates’ skill levels in key areas.

They give candidates time to answer questions

Not everyone can think on their feet and give the perfect answer during a job interview. Candidates get nervous. Most of us have had a great response come to mind after the fact, leaving us wishing we thought of it in the moment.

With pre-hire assessments, candidates can take their time and showcase their knowledge and abilities in a different manner. Those who communicate better in writing or in lower-pressure situations may find that they’re able to showcase their abilities better on an assessment test or with a sample project than they would in an interview. Of course, an interview should still be a part of the hiring process. But it’s nice to give candidates multiple opportunities to demonstrate their competencies through different channels.

Drawbacks of using pre-employment assessment tests

While pre-employment assessment tests offer a wide range of benefits for employers, they also come with several potential drawbacks.

They can deter top talent

Cumbersome application processes can deter candidates. Adding talent assessments to the job application or as an added step in the recruitment process can feel arduous for candidates.

This is particularly true for the most competitive and highly sought-after candidates. The best candidates out there may be currently employed passive candidates or those who are being considered by several companies. These candidates may not be willing to jump through extra hoops and take lengthy aptitude tests or complete sample projects.

Assessments aren’t always representative of the candidate’s full skills or abilities

Skills assessment tests aren’t always able to accurately represent someone’s full abilities or knowledge. Some people simply don’t test well. Others may struggle due to unclear directions or time limitations. Scale your expectations appropriately and don’t expect a perfect score.

In the case of project-based assessments, keep in mind that the candidate hasn’t had company-specific training. You’ll likely find that even the best work samples or assessment projects won’t be representative of the work that they would do if hired. They may give a great sample sales presentation, but miss the mark a bit in how they talk about your product. Or you may get a great writing sample that doesn’t quite fit your company’s style and voice.

These pre-hire assessments are just an extra screening tool. The test results can help you narrow down your candidate list to find the best potential fits to interview, but in most cases, they shouldn’t be the primary factor in your hiring decisions as they can’t fully represent a candidate’s potential.

It’s often easy for candidates to game the system

While tests can sometimes undervalue a candidate’s potential, they can also often overestimate a candidate’s skills. In many cases, candidates can game the system a bit to improve their results. That may include using AI or searching the web for answers to assessment questions, or answering personality test questions based on what the candidate expects employers to be looking for rather than their honest response.

For example, job knowledge tests are a common method of assessing how well a candidate understands key terms and concepts related to the job role. Asking a candidate to fill out a worksheet or online quiz may seem like a great way to test their knowledge, but realistically these are essentially open-book tests where job candidates can just Google the answers.

Employers may have better luck retooling the most pertinent assessment questions into job interview questions. When you wait to test their knowledge verbally during the interview, potential employees will have to answer on the spot based on their existing knowledge and past experience rather than searching for answers.

How to get the most out of pre-employment assessment tests

If you do decide to use pre-employment assessment tests, here are some tips for getting the best hiring results from them.

Provide clear instructions

If the wording of the test questions or the instructions on any portion of the assessment are unclear, you won’t be able to get accurate test results that properly represent candidates’ knowledge or skills. You should be aiming to create a test that is easy-to-read and understandable, even to a person with little to no knowledge of your company.

Be considerate of the candidate’s time

Applying for a job shouldn’t take hours. If you’re using pre-employment assessments in the early stages of the application process, aim for the assessment to take 15 minutes or less. That means you should also avoid piling on multiple assessments. Later-stage assessments or paid trial projects can be a bit lengthier if needed to make a final decision, but aim for short and sweet when it comes to broad screening tests.

Make the assessments relevant to the role

It’s important to be intentional about the assessment that you choose to administer. Make sure that the skill assessment requested matches the skills required in the job description.

You’ll also want to consider what the most important skill or attribute is when making your next hire. Do you need someone with lots of prior industry experience? A job knowledge test may be the right choice. Do you need someone who stays calm under pressure and will be a great team player? An emotional intelligence test may be a better fit. Again, you don’t want to overload candidates with numerous assessments. Therefore narrowing in on what’s most pertinent for each specific role is important.

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