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Pre-employment tests: Everything you need to know

Deepti Chopra

May 31, 2023

With a huge influx of applicants in recent years owing to ease of applying, post-application screening can have a dramatic impact on a company’s overall recruitment strategy.

Hiring managers who utilize pre-employment assessment tests report 36% more satisfaction with their final decision than those who don’t.

Companies that make a strategic investment in recruitment tools, assessments, and tactics can expand their reach locally and globally, improve the candidate experience, strengthen their talent brand, and improve the overall quality of hires. Using the wrong test can hurt candidate experience and in the long term, the talent brand. A well thought out pre-employment test can help companies save time and money by helping gather useful insights about the candidate pool.

What is pre-employment testing?

With an increased focus on making the hiring process data-driven, recruiters and employers ask potential candidates to take pre-employment assessment tests as part of the interview process to identify candidates who have the highest potential and filter out those who are not qualified for the role.

Pre-employment tests are used for pre-screening job applicants for employment and can include testing of technical skills, cognitive abilities, specific knowledge, physical and motor abilities, personality, emotional intelligence, language proficiency, and even integrity.

Types of pre-employment skills assessment

As skills become more technical and roles become more specialised, it is no longer sufficient for employers to rely on resumes, cover letters, and interviews to make an informed decision on who is the right candidate to hire.

Studies have shown that multi-measure tests have proven to be most directly correlated with positive job performance.

Some researchers argue that these tests are perhaps even more effective than in-person interviews. Other assessments that have proven to be beneficial include cognitive tests, integrity tests, and reference checks. Although there have been fluctuations in the type of assessments used by employers over the years, measuring job-specific skills is still No. 1.

Here are the main types of pre-employment assessment tests that companies use:

Coding Tests

A coding test is used to evaluate a candidate's ability to write code. It is usually done as part of the interview process for programming jobs.

Coding tests can vary in difficulty, but they typically involve solving a problem by writing code in a programming language. The code may need to meet certain criteria, such as being able to compile without errors, or run without errors on a given input.

Aptitude Tests

Pre-employment aptitude tests assess abilities involved in thinking (e.g., reasoning, perception, memory, verbal and mathematical ability, and problem-solving). Such tests pose questions designed to estimate applicants' potential to use mental processes to solve work-related problems or to acquire new job knowledge.

  • Unlike work sample tests that measure how applicants would perform in expected, everyday situations, cognitive ability tests assess how candidates would perform in more unexpected scenarios.
  • Game-based assessments are commonly used to measure cognitive ability.
  • It is accepted that people with high levels of cognition have the ability to come up with better solutions that can be effectively applied in a rapidly-changing environment.

Psychometric Tests

A psychometric test is an assessment used to measure an individual's cognitive abilities and personality traits. The tests are usually administered by psychologists and help to provide insights into an individual's mental abilities and potential.

They can be used to assess an individual's ability to perform certain tasks, to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to select individuals for specific roles.

Personality tests

Personality tests are designed to systematically elicit information about a person's motivations, preferences, interests, emotional make-up, and style of interacting with people and situations.

  • Personality self-report inventories typically ask applicants to rate their level of agreement with a series of statements designed to measure their standing on relatively stable personality traits. This information is then used to generate a profile used to predict job performance or satisfaction with certain aspects of the work.
  • The personality traits most frequently assessed in work situations include Extroversion, Emotional Stability, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to Experience. These big five personality traits are often referred to collectively as the Big Five Model.
  • Personality tests have been shown to be valid predictors of job performance (i.e., they have an acceptable level of criterion-related validity) in numerous settings and for a wide range of criterion types (e.g., overall performance, customer service, teamwork), but tend to be less valid than other types of predictors such as cognitive ability tests, skills assessments, and work simulations.
  • Limitation: Personality or and culture-fit assessment tests are often debated as to their relevance in determining the success of a candidate in a certain job – not everyone agrees that a Myers-Brigg assessment test is a relevant measure of a candidate's suitability for a role. In fact, many academic research studies have found that MBTI is no more reliable than a Tarot card reading or horoscope.
Catbert personality test

Emotional intelligence tests

Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) refers to one’s ability to recognize and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others. Pre-employment emotional intelligence tests help employers identify which candidates have better relationship management skills and who can be aware of and in control of their emotions.

  • Emotional intelligent people can learn from constructive criticism, are motivated by their ambition, and are often resilient in the face of adversity. People who are more emotionally intelligent avoid workplace drama like power struggles and are more empathetic toward the concerns of others.
  • Companies that hire salespeople, real estate agents, customer service associates, teachers, or counselors often use EQ tests to screen candidates.

Language proficiency tests

The language proficiency test is an evaluation of how well a person can use language to communicate in real life.

  • They aim to evaluate a candidate’s knowledge of the structure, vocabulary, grammar, typically across reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities.
  • Some corporations that use proficiency tests to assess the language skills of their candidates include Progressive, Nielsen, and Disney.

Integrity tests

An integrity test is a specific type of personality test designed to assess an applicant's tendency to be honest, trustworthy, and dependable.

A lack of integrity is associated with such counterproductive behaviors as theft, violence, sabotage, disciplinary problems, and absenteeism.

  • Overt integrity tests (also referred to as clear-purpose tests) are designed to directly measure attitudes relating to dishonest behavior. They are distinguished from personality-based tests in that they make no attempt to disguise the purpose of the assessment.
  • Limitation: Overt employee integrity tests make it fairly easy for candidates to tell employers what they want to hear. For example, an integrity test might include questions like “I would lie to my boss to stay out of trouble” or “I would steal from work if I could get away with it.” and ask candidates to answer. Most candidates would know which answers are acceptable.
Lying by omission

Pre-employment testing statistics

The usage of pre-employment testing has grown dramatically in the last few years. With candidate pools getting bigger due to the ease of applying online leading to more resume-spam, hiring managers and recruiters are starting to rely more on data-driven talent acquisition practices that streamline the hiring process.

According to surveys conducted by the American Management Association (AMA), 70% of employers do some sort of job skill testing, 46% of employers use personality and/or psychological tests on applicants or current employees, and 41% of employers test applicants for basic literacy and math skills.

Why companies use pre-employment assessment tests

The hiring process is just one big test to find out who the most suitable person is for the role is, and pre-employment screening tests play a major role.

Pre-employment assessment tests help companies filter out unqualified candidates early on in the process to make sure they're investing time and money only to engage and interview qualified candidates with the validated ability to do the job.

A new hire is a huge investment

It is widely known that bad hiring decisions are the most expensive mistake you can make. According to a CareerBuilder study:

74% of companies admitted they've hired the wrong person for a position and lost an average of $14,900 for each bad hire.

It is clear that the cost of a bad hire is huge, and so are the implications. Making a bad hire not only costs companies a lot of money but can also have a significant negative impact on team productivity and morale.

Candidates misrepresent themselves on resumes

According to a study:

87% of employers believe that candidates misrepresent themselves on job applications and resumes.

To avoid the risks associated, companies need to find a way to measure a candidate's suitability for the role accurately for the hundreds (or thousands) of candidates who apply for every role. Pre-employment screening assessments are a scalable and evidence-based way to help you find the most qualified candidates and avoid a bad hiring decision.

High-quality skill assessment tests are the only completely standardized, formal, and scientific method for evaluating the skills of employees and job candidates.

The benefits of using pre-employment tests

Pre-employment screening is used at the beginning of the hiring process to assess applicants’ skills, knowledge, and general suitability for the role.

Tests are objective

By definition, tests are objective. Properly developed and well-validated tests are a reliable and objective means of gathering job-related information on candidates. For example, interviewers sometimes judge candidates subconsciously based on demographic or background factors that aren’t essential to the job. Studies have shown that many employers end up dismissing qualified candidates because they went to a certain school, dressed a particular way, or simply gave off “bad vibes.” Also, sometimes interviewers push forward less-than-qualified individuals because they have something in common.

Tests help save time and money

Pre-employment assessment tests offer the most time-saving value when administered at the top of the hiring funnel. By requiring that applicants take the tests early on, companies can weed out a lot of the "resume spammers" who send out their resumes with minimal thought or effort.

Tests help compare candidates

Pre-employment tests attach a score to each candidate making it easy to compare candidates with each other and against the benchmark for that role.

Tests help reach a bigger candidate pool

With 250+ candidates applying for each role, companies often need to screen candidates out based on a quick look on the resume and picking candidates with a high pedigree. Using a test filter at the top allows companies to widen the net, and still be able to identify the top candidates accurately.

Tests help employers ask the right questions

Tests can be very useful when hiring for new skills. When no one on the team has the skill they are hiring for, tests can provide a reliable way to test for technical skills.

Reservations against pre-employment testing

Here are some of the top concerns employers have when considering online pre-employment screening for employment in their organization.

Tests reveal only one side of the story

A test is usually designed to test a specific trait/ skill or a handful of them. Since it would be impossible to encompass everything about a candidate in a score, a test reflects only one or a few facets. E.g. a coding test is good for testing domain-specific knowledge but might not take into account a candidate's willingness to learn.

Pre-employment screening tests are meant to be used as a screening or elimination mechanism and not as a selection mechanism.

E.g. a coding test isn't going (and isn't designed) to take into account a candidate's willingness to learn, but it will help understand which candidates aren't even remotely qualified for the job without spending expensive engineering time.

Candidates can cheat on remotely administered tests

Many employers believe that the results from remotely administered tests are not very reliable since candidates can cheat on these tests. The question that employers often raise is, “How can I trust test results from remote tests when I can’t verify the identity of the applicant?”

Advanced proctoring features make it harder for candidates to cheat on tests:

The best assessment tools on the market come with advanced proctoring/ anti-cheating features so you don't have to worry about candidates cheating.

Tests can intimidate and drive away candidates

Tests can intimidate candidates, and if a company uses a test that takes over an hour to complete, a lot of candidates might drop out.

That being said, you can ensure high test taking rates with short tests. Candidates are open to ~40-minute assessments as long the purpose and timelines are clearly communicated, they are confident that their scores and reports are not going to end up in a black hole, and recruitment teams are actively following up (can be easily automated).

Using candidate friendly assessments

As the market becomes more candidate-driven and more companies are looking to make their hiring processes more candidate-friendly, assessment tools have worked to create more applicant-friendly tests. Top vendors understand the importance of advancing desirable candidates quickly through the hiring funnel while preserving the validity and reliability of their tests.

The best talent is off the market within 10 to 15 days for roles in many industries.

Many companies continue to have high candidate drop-out rates during their hiring processes, and pre-hire assessments can add to the problem if the screening process is not candidate friendly.

The rise of AI and conversational bots offers a unique opportunity to give candidates the best screening process they've experienced.

While the screening process is about getting more insights into the candidate's skill set, it is also an opportunity to tell them more about the company, role, and work culture. Setting up a candidate friendly assessment leads to happy candidates.

Choosing a pre-employment assessment vendor

Choosing the right assessment tool is one of the most critical parts of setting up a successful screening strategy. With 100+ assessment tools on the market, this is not an easy task. Inappropriate test selection can result in ineffective selection.

Here are the top things to keep in mind while selecting a pre-employment assessment vendor:

Validity of test/ Relevance of questions

The most important factor to consider when choosing a vendor is the quality and relevance of questions.

Make sure the questions library has high-quality, non-googleable relevant questions.

Validity is arguably the most important criterion for the quality of a test. The term validity refers to whether or not the test measures what it claims to measure. Make sure that the hiring managers agree that the questions asked are highly relevant to the role.

Ease of use

With so many feature-packed assessment tools out there, it can be difficult to find one with an easy onboarding and straight forward user experience to convince the recruitment team to use it.

Key questions to ask:

  • How easy is it to set up an assessment?
  • How straight forward is it to invite a candidate to take a particular assessment?
  • Are you able to share candidate reports with hiring managers quickly?

Coverage of skills

The skills covered by the assessment vendor is an important factor for selection. E.g. if you hire a lot of developers, you need an assessment tool that provides programming tests too. Even within programming tests, make sure that the assessment vendor has the ability to test for not just the programming languages, but also the frameworks your tech team uses.

Candidate feedback

While you want to look at the logos the assessment vendor boasts of on their website, you also want to spend time looking at the feedback of candidates who have given assessments on a particular tool. Since your candidates are going to associate the test-taking experience with your company, the candidate experience of the tool affects your talent brand over the long term.

Key questions to ask:

  • Is there a mechanism to collect candidate feedback?
  • What are candidates saying about the test-taking experience?
  • What is the average NPS?

Proctoring features

You want to make sure that the tool you're considering has all latest proctoring features: web proctoring, webcam proctoring, IP proctoring, secure browser and questions leak check so that you can be assured that the candidate's scores are reflective of their ability to do the job, and not their ability to use unfair means.

The top anti-cheating features include:

  • Web proctoring: The platform monitors candidate tab and window switching activities, warns them to not do it, and reports back to recruiters on how many times they navigated away from the test screen during the assessment.
  • Webcam proctoring: This feature explicitly asks for the candidate's webcam permission at the start and takes snapshots of the candidate at random intervals during the test. These get appended in the candidate's report. Any potentially fraudulent activity (2 faces in a shot) is also highlighted by advanced AI algorithms.
  • Secure browser: Advanced platforms also have the option of operating through a secure browser that must be installed on a desktop or tablet in order to access it. This prevents the candidate from navigating away from the test.
  • Non-googleable questions and online leak checks: A non-googleable question is one that cannot be easily found on Google and answered through a few clicks on a search engine. Top platforms have teams of expert subject matters who create original high-quality questions. They also have advanced online leak check capabilities to detect if a question has been leaked on the internet.
  • Session replay: The candidate's screen is recorded for the duration of the assessment, and the replay is available to the employer to check for any unexpected behaviour.
  • Randomized questions/ multiple versions: By setting up multiple versions of the assessment (questions of the same difficulty level and topic coverage), employers can make it more difficult for candidates to cheat on assessments.

While it is not impossible to cheat, we've seen that in practice less than 2% of candidates cheat, and these candidates are really easy to spot in in-person interviews. Even if a candidate manages to pass through a screening assessment, having a multi-hurdle selection process in place can prevent them from being hired into your organization.

Custom assessments

Every role is unique, and the assessment should be reflective of that. Using an off-the-shelf test that can be used across companies and seniority levels can affect the results of your screening process.

Key questions to ask:

  • Does the assessment provider help set up assessment custom-tailored to the job requirements?
  • Are the assessments customized by subject matter experts depending on the role, seniority level, and salary range?
  • Can you combine multiple skills into the same assessment?
  • Does the vendor help benchmark candidates?

Enterprise readiness

Depending on the size of your company, you might want a tool that is fully secure and compliant with GDPR, EEOC, and ATP guidelines.

Key questions to ask:

  • Is the tool GDPR compliant?
  • Is the tool EEOC compliant?
  • What security compliance guidelines does the tool follow?
  • Does the tool provide role-based access and audit logs?
  • Does the vendor provide priority support?

ATS Integration

Integrating your ATS with your assessment tool can make it easy to streamline your recruitment workflow and make it significantly easier for your recruiters to stay on top of the candidate pipeline.

Key questions to ask:

  • Is the assessment tool already integrated with your ATS of choice?
  • How easy is it to integrate with the ATS you use?
  • Does the platform provide custom API access?
  • Is it possible to invite candidates and check reports from within the ATS?

Custom branding/ white labelling

Candidates associate the test-taking experience with your talent brand. You can use this opportunity to create a delightful experience while making sure that it stands out in the candidate's memory. For staffing companies, it might also be interesting to white-label a friendly candidate assessment tool to create a strong brand.

By using pre-employment testing software that has customization features enables you to create a friendly assessment experience that is consistent with your brand and website. You can also use the opportunity to give the candidates a feel for your work culture by adding photos and videos, making it a more interactive experience.

Pro-tips to implement pre-employment tests in your hiring process

Here are some tips to help ensure pre-employment testing delivers the desired business outcomes:

  • Communication is key:

    Explain clearly to candidates the scope and purpose of the assessment, so they understand fully why you’re doing it. You don’t want to make them feel like you’re asking free work of them. Not providing your candidates information on what’s going on is one of the main reasons candidates have a poor experience.
  • Make sure the assessments are 40 minutes or shorter:

    Studies have shown that tests conducted in 40 minutes or less have a 75% completion rate. Tests that take between 41 minutes to an hour have only a 66% completion rate by comparison. By limiting tests to 40 minutes or less, you can decrease the number of candidates who fail to complete the process due to time restrictions.

  • Test during the right part of the recruitment process:

    Once you have a test prepared, you’ll have to decide at which stage of the hiring funnel you’ll test applicants. Testing candidates early on in the process is an efficient way to gather objective data before making any important hiring decisions. While it varies from company to company, a study revealed that 40% of employers conducted testing after the initial resume screening. If you have a large volume of candidates, you might even want to make the pre-employment testing a part of your application process itself. While some companies are hesitant to test early on in the hiring process (especially since most testing tools charge on a per-test basis), there are a lot of benefits to taking that approach. It allows recruiters to shortlist candidates early on in the process before they have spent a single minute on a candidate and also figure out which candidates are the most motivated to work for their organization. Using this approach efficiently however requires that the company communicate clearly to candidates about the process, and assure them that their application will be considered.
  • Track your pre-employment testing completion rates:

    It’s also a good idea to track your testing completion rates to assess when and where candidates drop off. This will allow you to think about what steps you can take to improve on the process, like changing the order of your pre-hire assessments or making them shorter. By tracking completion rates, you can optimize the process and improve it to make your pre-employment testing even more useful over time.
  • Use the assessments as an elimination tool, not as a selection tool:

    Keep in mind that pre-hire assessments are not meant to be an ultimate decision-making tool; they’re only meant to help guide you when making your decision. Don’t rely solely on candidate test results to make the choice for you. Instead, use your pre-employment testing for elimination along with candidate selection methods such as job interviews, test assignments, or paid work trial days to make sure you’re making a fully informed, objective decision.
  • Actively seek candidate feedback on your screening process:

    How can you figure out what to improve about your candidate experience if you don’t ask your candidates for feedback? To learn what needs improvement, just ask the candidates that have gone through your screening process about what they liked, and what they didn't.
  • Take feedback from the hiring manager on the new hires:

    Once you're hired a few candidates that were selected from the pre-employment screening process, ask your hiring managers for feedback. Are they doing better than the previous candidates? Are they doing worse? Since the goal of the hiring process is to hire the best-fit candidates, this is the single most important feedback to feed back into your process. Recruiters should evaluate assessments for how well they've proven to correlate with actual job skills and job performance over time.

Administered correctly, pre-employment testing can help companies save a lot of time and cost in the screening process and avoid bad hiring decisions.

Deepti Chopra

Deepti is a co-founder at Adaface. Her online persona is extroverted, but in real life she is terribly introverted and you can startle her just by calling out her name.

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