Using pre-employment testing to evaluate skills, knowledge and personality during the hiring process

Melissa Hulsey, President and CEO, Ashton

Pre-employment testing, or talent evaluation, is continuing to expand as a general practice as companies strive to find the best candidates for job openings. Turnover reduction, improved success of new hires and saving time during the interview process are just a few reasons to implement this in your organization.
“By having data available before meeting with a person face to face it can maximize the interview time and confirm that what is being said by the candidate is genuine,” says Melissa Hulsey, president and CEO of Ashton.
Smart Business spoke to Hulsey to learn more about how businesses can use these tools to their advantage.
Why use testing when making a hire?
Verification of skills and job knowledge, cultural fit, behavioral predictions and values can all be assessed by utilizing the correct type of pre-employment tests. Knowledge is power and assessment tools are one more power tool to add to the box.
Hard skills account for a critical percentage that varies from company to company and position by position. It is imperative to determine if that candidate can perform the skills for that position. With unemployment at an all-time high it is paramount to be able to rely on a vetting process that is proven and unbiased to enable you to be more efficient in your search and hiring process. It is also vital to establish key benchmarks for each position within your organization and define a way to validate the results.
What kinds of test do companies normally use?
There are as many different types of pre-employment tests as there are different jobs available. Most tests will measure skills, behavior/values or knowledge. It is also important to point out the difference between screening and testing. Examples of screening would include drug testing, background checks, credit checks or medical exams. These results will mostly be definitive or pass/fail. Testing is much more in depth and provides greater information on the applicant. Personality tests assess the degree to which a person has certain traits or dispositions. It can also predict the likelihood of conduct. Cognitive or skills tests can measure memory, speed and accuracy or specific functions necessary for a job. Talent assessment tests can help predict a new hire’s success and potential for promotion. Some important points employers should keep in mind:

  • Tests can vary based on company size and organizational culture.
  • Tests can vary based on the core competencies of each position.
  • There are off-the-shelf products that can perform validated assessments.
  • The pre-employment evaluation process can range from an entry-level basic skill validation to testing that involves several hours spent with an industry/organizational psychologist.

The important point is to have a formal talent evaluation process and tailor it specifically to your organization’s needs through proper benchmarking
Are there certain kinds of testing that employers cannot conduct?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the intentional discrimination of people based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. If a company tested the math ability of all its female applicants but not its male applicants this would be called ‘disparate treatment’ and is not legal. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act) say that those over 40 also are now a protected class with regard to disparate treatment.
In 1978, the EEOC adopted the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) under title VII, providing employers with uniform guidelines on test validation. As long as tests meet the requirements stated above they should be safe to use in employment selection. One exception to this is the lie detector test; the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) prohibits most private employers from using lie detector tests during the course of employment.
How should tests be conducted?
Tests can be conducted at any time in the interview process. They can be online or in person, written or hands-on demonstrations of a particular skill. The key is to be consistent in how they are administered and evaluated. Update tests often to keep up with changing job descriptions.
Skill evaluation should be conducted in the initial stages of the screening process to validate the candidate’s claims of skill proficiencies and save you the time of going further in the entire process if it is not necessary. Behavioral interviews are beneficial when conducted face to face — this will be a critical opportunity for you to measure soft skills.
It is also beneficial to conduct the talent evaluation process in a ‘real world’ environment. This will provide you a more realistic view of how candidates will perform once they are in a paid seat in your company
How can companies decide what kinds of tests to use? And where can they find them?
When beginning the process of deciding what test is best for your organization, you must first define what you want to measure. Update all job descriptions and have metrics in place to measure performance. Look for the traits your best employees possess and benchmark those qualities and screen for those traits in new hires. There are many assessment vendors that have pre-packaged job assessments from manufacturing to medical. Talk with assessment vendors, staffing professionals and HR professional organizations, or spend some time on the Internet looking at your options.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pre-employment testing, but there are plenty of resources available to guide you through the process. Enlisting the service of an expert consultant would be well worth the investment.
Melissa Hulsey is the president and CEO of Ashton. Reach her at (770) 419-1776 or [email protected]