Fact #1: Bad hiring decisions cost a lot of money – not to mention all the intangibles, such as disruptive work environment, management’s and HR’s time dealing with the “bad” hire, etc.

Fact #2: Incorporating pre-employment tests/assessments into a company’s selection process can help minimize erroneous hires and improve quality of hires and retention rates … but only if:

The pre-employment assessment tool is:

  • Appropriate for the job you are hiring
  • Properly incorporated in your employee testing and selection process
  • Used in the spirit in which the developer(s) intended it

Being a team of Industrial/Organizational psychologists, we are obviously huge proponents of incorporating structured pre-employment assessment methodologies beyond the typical interview (which, as a side note, is still considered a pre-employment test from a legal perspective in the U.S., as is the resume review) in the employee selection process.  As consultants working with corporate clients, however, we oftentimes have to caution them about using such tools, particularly, off-the-shelf (or, nowadays, off-the-web or on-demand) tests. Such advice has nothing to do with the quality of the pre-employment assessments available in the marketplace but everything to do with the clients’ willingness to do the right thing by doing it right.

With increased availability and easy access to these off-the shelf/web pre-employment assessments, comes increased responsibility on the part of employers to make sure they are using the appropriate tools and using them correctly. It’s not enough to simply identify a pre-employment test that appears to be assessing the desired skills or competencies; you need to dig deeper.

To start, you need to ensure:

  1. the reliability of the pre-employment assessment
  2. the validity of the test
  3. that it assesses the skills or competencies you really want to measure

Ensuring that the pre-employment assessment you are considering was developed using a solid methodology (speaking to its content validity) and has robust psychometric properties (e.g., good reliability, reasonable item-level statistics) can get a bit tricky, especially if you are trying to decide among two or more tests.

The testing industry does not use a standardized way of communicating this type of information. What and how much information you can get about a pre-employment assessment depends solely on the vendor – and beware of vendors that don’t have substantive information readily available for your review. When it comes to evaluating the psychometric properties of an assessment tool, our recommendation is to always get an independent expert opinion. If you do not have someone available on staff, spend the few extra dollars and use an independent consultant – it will pay off in the end.

We recently reviewed a multiple-choice pre-employment assessment that one of our clients was considering using in their employee selection process. The test was titled “Written English” and was described as a test evaluating individuals’ reading comprehension and grammar knowledge of the English language. If our client wanted to ensure that candidates could comprehend written language and identify grammatical errors in written passages, then this test would have definitely been one of the pre-employment assessments to consider. However, when we dug a bit deeper, we uncovered that what they really wanted was to ensure that candidates could write comprehensible English. Thus, this test did not measure the specific skill or competency the client was ultimately targeting.

Now if you did your homework and found a pre-employment assessment that accurately measures skills or competencies you need and you determined it does well from a psychometric perspective … are you ready to put it to work for you? Not quite. You still need to establish policies and procedures governing the use of the selected pre-employment test.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • At what point in the employee selection process will the test be administered?
  • How will the test be administered (e.g., paper and pencil vs. online, off- vs. on-site, supervised vs. unsupervised)?
  • What, if any, will be the “retake” policy?

And most importantly:

  • How will the scores be utilized in the employee selection process?

This last consideration should be taken very seriously, especially if you want to ensure the “legality” of your employee selection process. Your answer to this last question dictates the final step necessary prior to using the pre-employment assessment. If the test scores will be used for screening purposes (i.e., determining whether candidates move on in the selection process or not), then you will need to conduct a cut-score study. The purpose of the cut-score study is to establish the “minimum acceptable” amount of information a candidate needs to know in order to be considered “qualified” for the specific position.

Alternatively, if you will use the test to rank candidates in making employee selection decisions, you should first make sure that, indeed, a higher test score is likely to result in better job performance; i.e., the test has criterion-related validity.

It is a fact of work life that pre-employment selection tests are here to stay, and for good reason – they help us identify the “most qualified” and screen out the “unqualified,” while saving time and expense, especially in cases where you are lucky enough to have large pools of candidates applying to your openings.

However, with the proliferation of pre-employment assessments in the marketplace, the ease of acquiring them, and their relative low cost, there is also an increased propensity to quickly adopt them without giving it much thought.

A pre-employment assessment can yield substantial benefits but only if it is the “right tool for the right job.” If it only minimally contributes to the ”quality” of your hires, then it is a tool you can do without.

For more information about choosing, implementing and administrating pre-employment tests in your recruitment, selection and hiring process, please contact a WorkPlace Group® associate.

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