Pre-employment Testing: What You Need to Know

Pre-employment TestingAssessments

The “assessments” industry is growing by 10 – 15% per year. The word is a euphemism for testing and increasing numbers of US employers are including pre-employment assessments in their decision-making processes. 30% of US companies now use some form of pre-employment assessment test, and the number may exceed 70% among Fortune 500 companies. If you’re making a career move, taking a test is likely to be part of your experience. Here’s some information that Careerproplus thinks job seekers should know . . .

Pre-employment assessments typically fall into two categories. The first area is skills assessments. These are tests that measure cognitive capabilities. They determine if candidates possess the basic aptitudes required to accomplish the job – mechanical ability, mathematical skill, or specific operational requirements like typing or the ability to construct a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

The second area of testing is potentially more problematic. Psychometric assessments, commonly called personality tests by nervous applicants, are indicators of behavioral tendencies in an employment context. Many of these tests use a personality model (called the five factor model) that analyzes major personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. You’re not alone if you think that this kind of pre-employment assessment test is just a little creepy.

Should You Be Concerned?

Frantic JobseekerMaybe. An honest job seeker can’t really object to the cognitive assessments. They’re objective tests of capability and either the skills are there or they aren’t. There are no right and wrong answers in the psychometric tests.  Typically, applicants express the strength of their agreement or disagreement with a series of statements. Answers are compared with a norm or benchmark group to correlate strengths and weaknesses with top, average, and poor performers. The results require expert interpretation, and subjective errors are grounds for criticism. Other detractors assert that norms may be questionable and assert that applicants should be compared to benchmark groups of employees within the recruiting company for more accurate validation. There’s also a concern that test results may vary significantly with multiple retests.

The biggest argument revolves around how the tests are used. Some industry professionals state that psychometric tests weren’t intended to be used as a pass/fail determinant. They point out that the tests were designed to give employers additional insights to help evaluate the candidates they interviewed. In the past, it was more likely that a personality test would be used to confirm a prospective employee’s fit than to eliminate them from consideration.

That’s changing. Many HR departments now employ behavioral screening to reduce the pool of applicants before they ever look at a resume. The tests are a pass/fail indicator and employers may also compare results to a data set that filters out the top and bottom extremes to match the attributes of the existing team. You see the problem – theoretically, you could be a top performer who isn’t considered because the benchmark group is just average.

Is it possible to game the test?

The scandalous 2013 failure of the UK’s Co-operative Bank has been attributed to risk-taking CEO Paul Flowers, an ex-Methodist minister with no previous banking experience. According to a board member, Flowers landed the position by “doing very well at psychometric tests.”  Ostensibly, Flowers gamed the test, with disastrous results for his company.

Despite this alarming story, there’s little indication that most candidates will be successful using planned misrepresentation as a test-taking strategy. Most of the psychometric tests include internal fail-safe mechanisms. Questions are asked repeatedly in slightly different formats, and analysis algorithms identify the inconsistencies and outliers. Both HR and assessment industry professionals advise that test-takers simply provide honest and open answers, reasoning that a direct approach to these kinds of employment tests ultimately benefits both the employer and the candidate by creating the best fit for both parties.

Is there a test-taking strategy?

Psychometric Tests for DummiesMisrepresentation is likely to backfire and psychometric tests really aren’t the kind of exam that you can prepare for, even if there is a Psychometric Tests for Dummies guide available from Amazon. Even if this article has you a little worried, itt’s better not to stress out. There are some practical steps you can take that may reduce your anxieties and make sure that you’re sharp for the assessments. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Get plenty of sleep and eat something. Make sure your mind is clear before taking the tests.
  2. Take a practice test online. PsychPress offers free tests that will help you get the feel of the kinds of pre-employment tests you might see.
  3. Read the instructions. Once again. Read the instructions.
  4. Many cognitive skills tests may have more questions that the average person can answer. Don’t sweat it. If possible, determine if you’re able to go back if time is remaining. Move along at a measured pace and don’t linger too long on difficult questions.
  5. Answer psychographic tests honestly and don’t try to overanalyze. Generally, your first inclination is the best answer.

Mind your 1’s and 5’s

As a last psychometric test preparation tip, it’s probably best to think about the “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree” boxes on the scale. Moderating your answers may not be the best strategy – to put it simply, too many answers in the middle numbers may place you among the average candidates. You should have some knowledge of the characteristics required for the position for which you’re applying. You’ll want to show strength and decisiveness in the areas that are important to success in the position – choosing “1s and 5s” when appropriate can put you in the top percentiles.

Navigating Your Career Path Can be Complicated

It’s evident that charting your career course requires a lot more insight and knowledge than it once did. Getting some expert assistance is a very good idea.  Whether you’re looking for a corporate position, transitioning from the military, or developing a SES application, there are details about the process that are critical to your success.

We hope you’ll get in touch if we can help you with your pre-employment assessments. With over 25 years of experience, the master resume writers and career coaches at CareerProPlus have helped over 55,000 candidates with resumes, interviews and new positions. We understand the details. Can we help you navigate your next career move?



Fletcher, Sarah, Does Psychometric Testing Work?

Dattner, Ben, How to Use Psychometric Testing in Hiring, Harvard Business Review

Nolan, Sinead, Are Psychometric tests effective?

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