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Your Guide to the Best Practices for Pre-Employment Testing

Selecting, developing, and incorporating pre-employment skills tests into your hiring process can be a significant undertaking. However, these tests are invaluable tools that allow employers to assess candidates thoroughly to determine whether they’re qualified for open positions.

But what is pre-employment testing? How does it make hiring more efficient? How do you choose which type of test to use? What benefits does it offer, and what challenges does it present? These questions, along with many others, will be answered in this post.

Section I: What Is Pre-Employment Testing and What Are Its Benefits?

Pre-employment testing can take many forms. Generally speaking, it is the process of evaluating applicants’ knowledge, skills, or abilities as they relate to an open position. A skills-based assessment typically replicates a critical component of the job (e.g., typing, multitasking, specific computer skills, etc.); it is a real-time method of determining whether applicants have the skills needed to perform those tasks.

Beyond that, what are the benefits of pre-employment testing?

1. It allows employers to focus on qualified applicants.

When pre-employment assessments are used early in the hiring process, they make it possible for employers to narrow the pool of applicants to those who are most highly qualified. Considering that research has shown that as many as 52% of applicants are underqualified for a position, these assessments can be useful in identifying and selecting the best candidates.

Recruitment and candidate selection are typically long and expensive processes, and testing allows resources to be used wisely and efficiently to determine who has the critical skills to perform the job. With an influx of applicants on the market, the last thing an employer wants is to waste recruiter time on unqualified applicants or, worse yet, to hire one of these candidates only to find out later they were unqualified!

2. It helps employers verify résumés.

Résumés are designed to showcase the best qualities of a candidate, but applicants sometimes exaggerate those qualities. In fact, 75% of HR managers report seeing inaccurate claims on applicants’ résumés. Because people tend to claim they’re capable of more than they are — or boast about skills they don’t have — assessments can help recruiters either verify or refute these claims.

3. It reduces turnover and increases retention.

The average employer in the U.S. spends about $4,000 and 52 days when hiring a new employee. Because hiring is so expensive and time-consuming, it’s critical that employers hire the right talent for the right job — and that potential hires have a good idea of what each job entails. After all, retention suffers when new employees feel uncomfortable with job expectations and can’t perform properly or complete training.

Pre-employment testing, like skills-based assessments,offers applicants a realistic preview of the job. And when you know that new hires are capable of performing their duties, it’s more likely they will thrive in the role — and stay with the company.

4. It reduces time to hire.

Employers open positions based on current needs, and they need to fill those positions as quickly as they can. That said, “time to hire” is an incredibly valuable metric for identifying where hiring processes aren’t as efficient as they need to be and how those processes might hurt the candidate experience.

In HireRight’s “2019 Employment Screening Benchmark Report” 56% of respondents said that reducing time to hire was their most significant challenge related to screening prospective employees. Whether the application review process takes too long or getting feedback from hiring managers is too complicated, pre-employment testing helps to reduce time to hire. It narrows the pool down to the only qualified applicants, ensuring that hiring managers spend their valuable time and effort vetting candidates who are most likely to succeed.

Section II: What Are the Types of Pre-Employment Testing?

Before implementing skills-based testing into hiring processes, employers have to understand the different types of pre-employment tests. Companies commonly use these three types of pre-employment testing:

1. Aptitude and Cognitive Testing

Cognitive testing can be valuable, but it’s also quite complicated. Legally, these tests can become the grounds for cases built on adverse impact and assertions of unfair discrimination or bias against an individual belonging to a protected class of people — the first step to activating an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case. When done well, however, cognitive and aptitude testing can gauge an applicant’s behaviors, mental intuition, potential to learn, and problem-solving skills. Cognitive testing is not inherently bad, but employers should be mindful of how it can negatively impact the organization and job candidates.

2. Work Skills Simulation Testing

Work simulation tests are viewed favorably because they are fair by their very nature. They are designed to replicate the skills necessary to handle the day-to-day duties of open positions. These tests are helpful because they can examine specific skills, like whether a candidate knows how to use a particular software program; they can also measure broader skills, such as whether a candidate can accurately complete general math calculations. And because these tests are viewed as fair, they typically can avoid legal challenges based on the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.

3. Personality Testing

Some businesses use personality tests to build their teams, valuing employees who fit seamlessly into their company culture or environment. While these tests typically don’t measure hard skills, they can indicate a candidate’s potential or enthusiasm for the work. It’s important to note, however, that these tests don’t always yield accurate results because candidates can give false or exaggerated answers to appear as though they’re a fit — even if they aren’t. As a result, personality testing is often best used in the last phase of the hiring process as a way to narrow down the final applicants who have already been tested for technical skills.

Ultimately, the best approach to incorporating employment assessments in the hiring processes is to use a combination of different types of pre-employment testing to get a complete picture of each applicant. A multi-pronged testing approach offers the best results.

Section III: The Right Timing for Pre-Employment Testing

Whether a potential hire completes an assessment before or after an interview can make a tremendous difference in the hiring process.

For example, skills-based employment tests are most effective at the beginning of hiring processes because they ensure that applicants are vetted in a way that shows who is most qualified and, as a result, can dramatically reduce the pool of applicants. These tests can also prevent employers from choosing candidates solely because they connect with them on a personal level. Employees chosen purely because of appealing human characteristics aren’t necessarily the right fit if they fail to demonstrate the hard skills required on the job.

This is just one of the many examples that indicate the importance of how hiring decisions are made. Both the employee and organization suffer when someone is hired for a job that doesn’t fit his or her talents. Because of this, skills-based employment assessments are most helpful when administered upfront.

Section IV: How Are Employment Assessment Tests Created and Scored?

Using pre-employment testing as part of your hiring process is a smart investment. For those employers that are still considering how to fit these tests into their hiring processes, the natural next question is, “How are employment tests created and scored?” 

The answer starts with the knowledge that both subject matter experts and industrial-organizational psychologists are writing these skills tests for employment purposes specifically. These experts rely on a range of perspectives to create pre-employment tests based on current research, scientific best practices, and the law.

The goal of every pre-employment test is to create an assessment that best reflects the job duties in question; part of that is determining accurate and reliable pre-employment test scores. These scores will look different depending on the type of assessment involved. Often, skills-based tests are pass/fail to simplify the process. Although the majority of skills-based tests are scored this way, they are most effective when combined with the results from other forms of testing, like written tests and interviews.

Be aware of the weight of pre-employment test scores when using them as part of your hiring criteria. If your favorite candidate fails the skills test but still advances to the next hiring phase because of a stellar interview, it undermines the defensibility of and reason for testing — implying that candidates who fail can still perform the job. To harness the potential of skills-based employment tests, then, the scores must be taken seriously and used in the decision-making process.

Section V: Pre-Employment Testing Validity

When choosing a pre-employment test to administer during your hiring process, validity is the most important consideration. It shows how the test is related to the position in question and consistent with business necessity — or in some way significantly predictive of job success. In essence, validity gives test scores their meaning. Pre-employment testing validity establishes both the utility and defensibility of the test. Validity also lets employers know that an applicant who failed the skills test will likely not succeed in the role.

There are two primary types of validity to consider when testing skills:

1. Content Validity

Content validity is established when one makes a nexus between the job and the selection procedure. For instance, a test might require a specific skill or ability that would be necessary to perform essential functions on the job. Essentially, it affirms that the test is job-related in a significant way. This is critically important because the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures require pre-employment assessments to be related to the position for which they’re testing. Ensuring content validity in skills testing protects employers and establishes legal compliance.

2. Criterion Validity

While content validity is important, the most powerful way to ensure pre-employment testing validityis through criterion validity, which is a test’s correlation to measurable, concrete outcomes. It shows a relationship between an applicant’s test scores and actual business metrics, which could be anything from supervisor ratings to employee retention rates. Criterion validity is more difficult to gauge — and not always present — but it’s still worth measuring.

Section VI: Defensibility Issues Surrounding Pre-Employment Testing

One of the most important considerations when implementing skills-based assessments is to ensure that you’re implementing a defensible test. In large part, that involves mitigating any adverse impact.

The legal concept of adverse impact can become an issue with pre-employment skills tests that are not neutral in practice, procedure, or results. These tests should not yield a “substantially different” passing rate or affect protected groups.

While adverse impact itself is not illegalpre-employment testing discrimination is — and the adverse impact can be the grounds for that discrimination if the selection process cannot be shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

This concept applies to all procedures, practices, or tests an employer uses in the candidate selection process, whether it be skills tests, personality tests, or written tests. And when testing lacks validity, this precise issue can become the foundation for litigation.

Fortunately, there is a relatively easy solution to this potential problem: If you want to mitigate any adverse impact, the best thing to do is to ensure your testing is valid. Without content validity or criterion validity, your assessments aren’t job-related and consistent with business necessity — in other worse, they’re indefensible.

Any skills-based tests you administer should be developed by experts who have a history of creating them and should generate validation reports specific to the position at hand. Moreover, ensure that any assessment closely reflects the job for which it’s testing and is designed to help you hire the best fit for the role.

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