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Which Pre-Employment Assessments Are Most Important for Hiring? - HRDQ

Which Pre-Employment Assessments Are Most Important for Hiring?

Any time your company needs to hire someone to fill an empty role, it's critical that you find the right person for the job. This situation holds whether you're filling seasonal retail workers or entry-level clerks, all the way up to senior-level executives and C-level management. 

It's not enough to take a resume at face value, nor is it good enough to rely on an interview. All too often, people will embellish their skills, leave out critical information, or lie. Thus, one of the best ways to ensure you're hiring the right people is to present them with an assessment or two beforehand. 

The only question is, what assessments are most important? After all, you can't expect a typical applicant to spend hours taking tests for a position they're not sure to get. A wall of pre-screening assessments is just as likely to drive away talented individuals as it is to identify them. It's essential to narrow down the assessments you use to avoid turning away the best talent.

To that end, we've identified some essential assessments you should use for your pre-employment screening. Remember, though, that these recommendations vary depending on the level and role of your new hire. The tests you give a mid-level developer will be quite different from the tests you give a would-be management leader or an entry-level cashier. 

Cognitive Aptitude Assessments

Cognitive aptitude tests are a kind of assessment meant to measure overall cognitive ability and intelligence. They test for critical thinking, problem-solving, thinking outside the box or laterally, learning and applying new information, and general brainpower. These can range from mostly-debunked IQ tests to highly-targeted and accurate learning assessments. 

Cognitive Aptitude Tests

These are among the most common kinds of assessments that both employers and recruiters use to test their applicants. They are, however, often a "bare minimum" kind of assessment. They tend to ask the same sorts of questions repeatedly, and they're relatively easy to memorize. Sometimes, one candidate will have taken the same or a similar test multiple times across different applications for different companies. 

That said, a cognitive aptitude test sets a low bar but is a relatively accurate predictor of job performance.

"Research demonstrates that cognitive aptitude tests are far better at predicting job performance than other common hiring criteria – aptitude tests are twice as predictive as job interviews, three times as predictive as experience, and four times as predictive as education level." – Criteria Corp.

It's no wonder that these are among the most common assessments across all levels of the role and most industries. If your company were to pick a single kind of assessment to apply to most or all potential employees, this would be the kind of assessment to pick.

Personality Assessments

Personality assessments seem, at first glance, to be a good idea for a company where fitting in with the company culture is an important part of a hiring decision. You can assess whether an individual is more introverted or extroverted, type A or type B, or how they stand within the "Big Five" (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Openness to Experience, and Stress Tolerance). It can be an excellent way to see if they would mesh with the rest of your staff, or at least their team.

Personality Assessments

The trouble here is that there are a lot of different personality assessments, and some of the most common assessments are at best surface-level. Many of them have elementary questions with mostly-obvious answers, such that it's not assessing anything more than some basic reading comprehension and situational awareness.

That said, modern personality assessments can be very nuanced and well-designed, often by cognitive psychologists and HR thought leaders. The modern model uses a traits list rather than a dichotomy between type A and type B, as older tests used. In this way, these assessments can better place an individual within a broad spectrum of personality traits and form a more nuanced picture of how they will mesh with the rest of your team. Choose the right personality assessment for your organization from the HRDQ Style Suite of assessments. 

Emotional Intelligence Assessments

Emotional intelligence is a relatively new concept in pre-employment assessments.

Emotional Intelligence Tests

The idea of emotional intelligence was first popularized in the 1990s and has only recently become a core part of an assessment. 

"Research has shown that emotional intelligence is associated with important work outcomes such as interpersonal effectiveness, collaboration and teamwork, motivation, and decision-making. Strong emotional intelligence has also been associated with good leadership and strong management skills. As a result, organizations are increasingly interested in assessing EI in the hiring process." - Criteria.

Emotional intelligence assessments are valuable but are not for everyone. They are best used for roles that require a lot of leadership and interpersonal relationships, such as high-value teams and teamwork, middle and upper management roles, and customer-facing management. It's often not worth testing for in entry-level hires or isolated workers.

Skills Assessments

Among the most common and most valuable assessments for nearly any role are the skills and job knowledge assessments. However, these tests are specifically designed for the part you're hiring to fill, which means that they need to be custom-made for a position as often as not. While there are large platforms for skills assessments in areas like tech, development, and IT, there are fewer in other fields. 

Skills Assessments

Skills assessments primarily focus on "hard" skills rather than "soft" skills; that is, they test how well you know how to do the job. For a coder, for example, an assessment would test their knowledge of the frameworks in use by the company, the core features of a given application, the ins and outs of a programming language used, or other tangible skills. These skill tests are more likely to have right and wrong answers than emotional intelligence or cognitive ability tests and have a pass/fail threshold. Potential hires who fail the assessments have been unable to prove that they could handle working in that role, eliminating themselves from the running as a hire.

"Employers give job knowledge tests to identify your knowledge about the job you're applying for. For instance, if your prospective employer is hiring a managerial accountant, you might receive a job knowledge test on the employer's internal accounting processes. Getting tested on specific job elements helps determine if you can apply the expertise you earned from previous accounting positions. Ask the hiring manager about the subject matter of the test and read the questions thoroughly to improve your chances of passing it." - Indeed.

In addition to this knowledge, the skill assessment tests need to be well-designed. Companies will often pick a test from somewhere online when they don't have someone to review it for relevance. Job candidates may then find themselves being tested on skills that aren't relevant to the job or extremely far above or below the skill level necessary for the job. A customer service agent wouldn't need skills in product development or in coding to fix bugs directly, nor would they necessarily need to prove their proficiency with the act of using a word processor.

Skills assessments can also help categorize a potential employee based on how many of the "nice to have" qualities they meet. Again, to use development as an example, the ability to learn a programming language is good, but experience with it already is better.

Leadership and Communication Assessments

Where skills assessments test the hard skills an employee might need, leadership and communication assessments test soft skills.

Leadership and Communication Assessments

These skills include things like:

  • Motivational speaking.
  • Decision-making.
  • Problem analysis.
  • Empathy and compassion.
  • Delegation and organization.

Many of these skills are critical for leadership and management positions because they must guide and manage a team appropriately. 

Assessments for these qualities tend to come in two forms. The first is a yes/no assessment; does the candidate possess these skills? If so, are they trained in using them, capable of applying them appropriately, and experienced in using them in real situations?

The second form of assessment is more of a learning tool. Assessments such as the "What's My Leadership Style" test help potential leaders and managers to identify their style. They know they already have soft leadership skills but may not know which ones are most prominent and which types of pre-employment tests they prefer. These assessments are better used as training materials and means to improve leadership, however. They're not as good as pre-employment screeners unless you know you're looking for a specific style of leader.

Personal Integrity Assessments

Integrity and ethics tests are personal personality tests that overlap with cognitive, emotional, and leadership tests. They are most commonly used in entry- and mid-level roles. However, you can also use them for any critical role within an organization where an unethical individual has the potential to do a lot of damage. 

Personality Assessment

These tests are difficult to create because they usually have explicit yes/no situations. "Is it okay to steal from the company?" is not a very useful question to ask; no one is going to answer "yes" to it if they're seriously pursuing a job.

To that end, many modern integrity tests have carefully-designed questions that test overall ethics and ethics through masking and in varying situations.  Some sample questions from Indeed include:

  • "Do you have the same core values inside and outside of the workplace?
  • How would you act if a manager or a coworker gave you a task that violates company policy?
  • Have you lied to your manager in a previous role?"

For example, some employers may not care about an individual's ethics outside of work, so long as they're ethical on the job. Others might view their employees as representatives of company values both on and off the clock and want to ensure that their employees meet specific ethical and behavioral standards.

Physical Ability Assessments

Physical ability tests are some of the least-used tests, but they are vital when necessary.

Physical Tests

Physical ability tests include a range of different assessments, including:

  • Balance tests.
  • Flexibility tests.
  • Endurance tests.
  • Strength tests.

These assessments allow a company to determine the physical fitness of a candidate. They are indispensable for specific roles where physical activity is expected, such as construction, trucking, warehouse workers, police officers, and other "low-skilled" manual labor jobs. These jobs often have physical requirements as part of their duties.

That said, it needs to be contextual. An employer cannot require a physical ability test for a role in trucking logistics when that role is a desk job as dispatch; the same goes for a supervisor on a construction site who is not expected to do any of the actual labor. 

Indeed, requiring a physical assessment for a role that does not have physical demands can be discriminatory and violate laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and various Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations. Employers using these tests without a valid reason can be subject to severe penalties.

Additionally, these assessments are not the same as a medical examination or physical, which are more personally invasive and considered an invasion of privacy in most situations. 

Which Assessments are Right for Your Company?

The specific set of assessments you use for your hiring process depends heavily on the roles you're hiring to fill. Different positions will benefit from various assessments. Do you need to test for hard skills or soft skills more? Do you need to worry about ethics, or are you more likely concerned with company culture and values? These are questions you will need to answer before you can pick the right assessments for your pre-employment screening process.

Which Assessment is Right

Bear in mind, as well, that the more assessments you include as part of the hiring process, the process as a whole may turn off the more skilled job applicants. Many very skilled applicants believe their past experiences prove their skills and will not want to "prove themselves" with an assessment. While this in itself may be a worthwhile filter, it again depends on your company and your process. It's vital to pick the relevant assessments and only use the assessments that are most important to your organization.

Which assessments are you considering using for your organization? Are there any that you'd recommend to others? Do you have any questions for us? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below - we'd love to hear your thoughts.

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.