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Pre-Employment Assessments: Everything you need to know
1. What is a pre-employment assessment?
Pre-employment assessments are just that, an assessment given to a job candidate prior to them being hired. They come in all shapes and sizes and they can occur during any step of the hiring process. They can be the first step in the hiring process (yes even before the application) or they can be the last step before making an offer. However, typically they are used somewhere in the middle. Employers use pre-employment assessments to try and ensure the candidates they hire have the very best chance of being successful on the job. As you can imagine, there are a number of different types of assessments that can be used.
2. What are the different types of pre-employment assessments?
Pre employment assessments can be categorized into a few different types based on what they are trying to measure. At a broad level, all jobs have requirements that fall into 4 basic categories: Academic requirements, Technical skills/requirements, Soft Skills requirements, and person – job/organization fit. Within each of these categories there are numerous types of pre employment tests as well. Traditionally companies have an easy time measuring the academic and technical skills required for a position, while having a very difficult time measuring soft skills.
3. Is there a difference between a pre-employment assessment and a pre-employment test?
Not really. Many companies use the term assessment because the term “test” has negative connotations for a lot of individuals. Many people have bad feelings towards “tests” dating back to their education experiences. Tests conjure up visions of having to study, pressure, and ill feelings. The term assessment has many more different, and softer, connotations. Essentially, both terms are defined by collection of data that is used in the employment decision-making process.
4. What do pre-employment assessments measure?
As mentioned, what pre employment assessments measure can fall into many different categories. Below is a list of some of the more common types of assessments used for hiring, broken down by what they measure.
Reading, Writing, Math, etc.
Typing, data entry, technical knowledge (i.e., coding, mechanics, etc.), product knowledge, etc.
Responsibility, customer service, time management, sales ability, conflict resolution, teamwork and many others.
Emotional resilience, Introversion/Extroversion, need for achievement, etc.
5. What do pre employment assessments commonly measure?
Specific Job-related Skills:
These types of assessments are meant to answer the question, CAN the person do the job? These assessments focus in on measuring the skills and abilities specifically related to the job of the individual. For example, for a customer service job the call center assessment would measure specific customer service skills and abilities (i.e., can they explain policies to customers, can they deal effectively with angry or irate customers)?
Many organizations feel cognitive ability or general intelligence is a factor that makes people successful or unsuccessful in a job. These types of pre employment assessments are generic across all jobs and don’t measure specific skills related to the job. These types of assessments have traditionally had an inherent bias against certain sub-groups in the population.
These pre employment assessments focus on the behavioral tendencies of individuals. At a basic level this information will provide insight into the types of situations the candidate will enjoy and which ones they may not enjoy. For example, if someone prefers to stay at home and read books versus go out to parties, we may say they are more of an introvert. Some therefore make an assumption that this individual cannot be an effective sales person (because all sales people should be extroverts). In fact, just because someone prefers a bit more to stay home doesn’t mean they can’t be equally effective and happy at a party (i.e., in sales situations).
Skills alone do not predict success. The person also has to be motivated to do the job, and stay in the job.
These assessments checks the candidate’s behaviors against the culture of the company to predict fit at the organization level. Again, this does not say anything about the person’s ability to do the job, rather it helps predict who may turn over based on not “liking” the organization’s culture.
Some jobs require specific physical abilities to be successful. For example, firefighters have to be able to carry a body out of burning building, so therefore a pre employment assessment may ask them to lift a 100-pound weight. These types of pre employment assessments must be proven to be a bona fide requirement of the job because they could tend to discriminate against certain groups. In this example, traditionally females are not as strong as males so the number of females “failing” the assessment would be greater than the proportion of males “failing.”
Yes, the interview is technically a pre employment assessment, and thus are held up to the same quality standards that all other pre employment assessments are held to. Typically, the interview focuses on person-manager fit issues, and gathering information on past performance. However, other assessments do a much better job at measuring skills, motivation, interest, and other job qualifications. For example, should you ask someone in an interview if they can lift 100 pounds, or should you actually have them show you that they can lift 100 pounds? There are many people that might exaggerate their capabilities and past experience during the interview.
6. Is the Interview considered a pre-employment assessment?
Absolutely, interviews are held up to the same standards as all other pre employment assessments. In the eyes of the courts, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the OFCCP, and others legal entities, the interview is just another type of pre employment assessment and therefore must meet certain criteria as it relates to fairness, validation, and other standards. Most companies do not realize this and therefore have implemented very poor interviews, or worse left it up to each individual hiring manager to create their own.
7. Why do employers use pre-employment assessments?
The whole idea behind a pre employment assessment given to job candidates is to gauge how successful the candidate will be once he/she is on-the-job. The definition of success can vary but basically means that the person will be a “good performer” (however that is defined by the company) and stay with the company for “long” period of time. In the absence of either of these two factors the company has made a poor hire and the pre employment assessments used did not do a good job with its prediction.
8. What’s the difference between a pre-screener and a pre-employment assessment?
While this is a matter of semantics, typically a pre-screener is used to eliminate people from a job using hard facts. For example, asking if someone is at least 18, are they legally eligible in the US, did they pass the drug screen, do they have a high school degree or equivalent, are all types of pre-screening questions that eliminate people based on a specific factor. These are simply tests that are required for employment at the organizational level but they don’t provide any indication of on-the-job success. In other words, passing the screenings by no means implies or predicts how well someone will actually perform on the job. Pre employment assessments are geared more toward measuring job related skills and abilities that will predict performance.
9. What job seekers need to know about pre-employment assessments:
Job applicants should be excited about the process of assessment. It provides them with a way to objectively showcase their strengths. Remember, the hiring process is a two-way street, the fit must be there for both parties to ensure success. As an applicant, take the assessments seriously and know it is just as much for you as it is for the employer. Trying to “second guess” the assessment and answering questions as if you think you know what the company wants to hear is the worst way to take an assessment. Good assessments are built to find out whether the candidate is “faking” their answers. There is no use starting a position that isn’t a good fit and assessments can be a good way of finding out if the particular job is a good match for you.
10. What role should the pre-employment assessment take in the hiring process?
The goal is to make the best hire possible for your organization. It is near impossible to do that without good data to make those decisions. How many times have you hired someone who absolutely aced their interview and when it came time for them to start working, you wondered where that person went? The pre-employment assessment should play a significant role in the hiring process. We recommend using a good filtering tool first and then using assessment normally right before an interview or right after a successful first interview. The role of the assessment is becoming ever more prominent with companies for several reasons: 1) Good assessments don’t see race, gender or any other possible bias issues that come with interviews. 2. Making hiring decisions based on good data about the applicant is simply a better way to make a hiring decision. 3. People are normally the largest expense a company has. Investing in ways to find better performers only makes sense.
11. What is the best way to use pre-employment assessments?
The best way to use a pre employment assessment is to line up a validated assessment with a specific job function that in turn gives you good data points that will help you make a better hiring decision. For example, if you are hiring for multiple call center positions, choose an assessment that best embodies the position requirements to be successful. In this case, a call center job simulator would work really well in assessing soft skills in customer service, sales, conflict resolution, etc. It would also assess hard skills in data entry, math and so on. Good call center representatives typically would be good in most call center companies and situationally good performers. Remember to use assessments that are relevant and give you good valid data. Once you have that, you can make a better hiring decision.
12. How valid are pre-employment assessments?
This is a very important question to ask when considering pre employment assessments for your organization. The old saying of garbage in means garbage out is certainly true when it comes to these types of assessments. You want to be sure that you get good data that helps you make the best hiring decision. When it comes to pre employment assessments, they are most definitely not all created equally. Always be careful when vendors proclaim a statistically valid assessment. Today, many companies touting their own tests do not have the statistical backup that would be favorably viewed by the court system. Many marketing materials claim validity that is actually reliability, and those two concepts/metrics are not the same. Always ask to see a test manual, validation study, or similar documentation, and have that reviewed by someone with a background in statistics and Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
13. How do you measure validity?
Validity is the extent to which a pre employment assessment measures what it claims to measure. And it is vital for a pre employment assessment to be valid in order for a company to use the results in making any kind of selection decision. There are three different acceptable validation methodologies that can be used with pre employment assessments: Content Validity, Criterion-oriented Validity, and Construct Validity. Each of these validation methodologies have their own processes and procedures for completing, and over the years all have been accepted by the courts and other Federal Agencies. For specifics on evaluating the procedures used to validate any assessment consult with knowledgeable individuals in this field (i.e., Industrial/Organizational Psychologists).
14. Do pre-employment assessments need to be legally defensible in court?
Any instrument used to evaluate employees/candidates can come under the scrutiny of the legal system in terms of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) considerations. What is critical when such scrutiny occurs are the merits of the particular instrument and the credibility of the test developer. The credibility of the test developer entails their academic credentials, experience in the field, and most critically, their personal success in defending instruments previously challenged in court. Be sure you evaluate these things when choosing any pre employment assessment.
15. Do any pre-employment assessments use video?
Yes, using video in assessments provides numerous advantages when measuring certain skills and abilities. Text only pre employment assessments have some inherent problems. First, not all people read at equal levels, and in less we are trying to measure someone’s reading ability this can create an unfair disadvantage for some sub-groups in the population (i.e., learning disabilities, disadvantaged groups, etc.). For example, if someone is reading a question about how they would handle a particular customer service situation and they answer the question incorrectly is it because they couldn’t read effectively enough to understand the question or that they truly don’t have the customer service skill? The use of video is also a closer simulation of how people actually interact on the job – people do not read about a customer, they actually see and hear the customer. The use of video in assessments has been researched and proven to increase the validity (i.e., accuracy) and fairness of the assessment.
16. Are pre-employment assessments the same as screening tools?
The short answer is no. The long answer is no but they can be used in conjunction with screening tools. Typical screening tools can start the process of finding the right candidates but normally to take it to the next level you need to add some assessment into the screening application. Think of it as the screening tool is the 1st date and the assessment is the 2nd date. The information you receive from the assessment will be much more specific and therefore more valuable than the initial screen. However, the screening function can save a lot of time for hiring managers.
17. What are the best types of pre-employment assessments?
The definition of a good assessment is that it provides accurate data on an individual which in turn is used to predict a job-related skills, ability, knowledge, or other characteristic. Different types of assessments have been researched extensively as to their predictive value and accuracy. The best pre-employment assessments really depend on the need. The following assessments are listed in order of their generalized predictive ability from worst to best.
Typical Unstructured Interviews:
Hiring managers vary in their interviewing skills greatly. They are good at being a manager and don’t get to practice their interviewing skills. Therefore, interviews are typically not good at predicting the skills and abilities of an individual.
These are assessments that ask the candidate to tell a story about what they see in a picture (i.e., Rorschach Tests, Handwriting Analysis, etc.). These need to be administered by a trained Psychologist and while good for certain applications, are definitely not an effective tool as a pre employment assessment.
There are numerous personality assessments in the marketplace. Personality assessments are great for measuring team dynamics, team interactions, and provide good data after people are hired. Since they don’t focus on the effectiveness of a person they are not as strong for use as a pre employment assessment. However, many companies like to use them because the are relatively short and brief in their administration.
These are typical IQ types of tests. They do not have a lot of face validity, which means they rarely look like they are evaluating the skills needed for a job. For example, how does being able to answer what time is it when a 6-foot tree casts a 3-foot shadow have anything to do with the customer service ability of an individual?
The job simulation assessment puts the candidate in on-the-job situations and measures the candidate’s ability to handle certain situations required by the job. These assessments provide a great way to discover the job applicant’s probability of success.
Combined Battery of Assessments:
No one assessment predicts all aspects of an individual’s probability of success. Each type of assessment provides a piece of the puzzle so to speak. The more data collected that is unique the more accurate the assessment will be.
18. Can pre-employment assessments be used for shortlisting?
Absolutely! Shortlisting using a good pre-employment test can be a great way to narrow down the candidate pool. This will make the hiring managers more effective and is a much better use of their time.