Pre-employment tests are a great way to learn more about your candidates throughout the hiring process. You can leverage pre-employment assessments to get unbiased and easily comparable measures of ability to help you find person most likely to succeed with your organization. There are a number of different types of pre-employment tests you can use while hiring. These tests and assessments differ based on the qualities or attributes they measure, from cognitive ability to personality to hard skills. Keep in mind – pre-employment tests are not the same as pre-employment “screenings,” like background screenings or drug tests.
Pre-employment tests are objective assessments designed to evaluate your candidates on job-related abilities, traits, and skills that ultimately predict the likelihood of whether or not they will be successful on the job. Some tests are more predictive than others, and any types of pre-employment tests you choose to use in the hiring process should be carefully selected to ensure compliance with EEOC and your local employment guidelines. The easiest way to make sure you fall within those guidelines is by choosing tests that are job-related.
What are the different types of pre-employment tests that are commonly used?
1. Cognitive Aptitude Tests
Cognitive aptitude tests measure general intelligence, which provides an indication of a candidate’s ability to think critically, solve problems, learn new skills, and digest and apply new information. Do these seem like qualities you’d want to have in just about every job candidate? Then it should come as no surprise that cognitive aptitude is one of the best ways to predict job performance with a pre-employment test. In fact, cognitive aptitude is significantly more predictive of future job performance than many of the traditional hiring criteria, such as unstructured interviews, work experience, and education level.
Why are cognitive aptitude tests used in hiring?
Cognitive aptitude (sometimes also called cognitive ability tests) can be useful for nearly every job type and job level. They’re used because they measure a range of abilities that are valuable to just about every position: attention to detail, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities. Because of this, it is one of the most effective types of pre-employment testing for learning more about a candidate’s potential. Cognitive aptitude can even help you identify candidates who you may have overlooked based on their resume alone, but who demonstrate high capacity to succeed in the long-term.
And although they measure general intelligence, cognitive aptitude tests are not the same as an IQ test. This is because cognitive aptitude tests typically measure job-related qualities like attention to detail that are not typically a part of traditional IQ tests.
2. Personality Tests
Personality tests are one of the most commonly used types of pre-employment tests. Within the realm of personality testing, you’ll also find the greatest variety of pre-employment tests on the market (though their accuracy and job relevancy vary greatly from one type to another).
Different types of personality tests
Personality tests that are specifically designed for use in the hiring process typically measure candidates based on specific personality traits that are relevant to job performance. Many of these tests are based on the Big Five personality traits, the most widely accepted taxonomy of personality among industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists. These five traits are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (which in this use, represents reactivity to stress). These traits are relatively stable over a person’s lifetime, and they tell you how likely a person is to “fit” with a job based on his or her personality. People who “fit” with their jobs are more likely to excel in the role and to stay long-term.
Other types of pre-employment tests assign individuals to certain personality “types.” While these type-based personality tests can be interesting from a team building perspective, they are typically not as scientifically established. It is less advisable to use these tests to make hiring decisions unless they are specifically validated for use in the hiring process. (In fact, test providers of common assessments like the DISC and the Myers-Briggs both explicitly state that their tests should not be used in the pre-employment process because they are not validated for this purpose.) These type-based tests are more useful once employees have already been hired, as a way to explore team dynamics or to define career development tracks.
Why are personality tests used in hiring?
Personality testing can help employers identify which candidates have a natural inclination to traits that are correlated with success in the role. For example, a sales person who does a lot of cold-calling and prospect outreach is more likely to succeed if they are highly extroverted than if they are introverted. By understanding each candidate’s personality, employers can make a more informed decision on who is likely to find comfort – and success – on the job with their organization.
One final note on personality testing: traditional personality tests should also not be confused with psychological tests, which can function as a mental health screening. The vast majority of employers should not be using psychological tests that assess mental health because these tests are not legally compliant with the ADA, with very few exceptions.
3. Risk Tests
Risk tests technically fall under the personality test umbrella, but they measure a more specific set of behavioral tendencies. Risk tests include integrity, productive behaviors, and workplace safety tests. Risk assessments that focus on integrity help evaluate candidate reliability, honesty, and other qualities like rule adherence. They are also designed to identify candidates who are less likely to be engaged in counterproductive work behaviors, such as theft, fraud, tardiness, or absenteeism.
Other risk assessments types focus on understanding a candidate’s view of safety in the workplace. These workplace safety tests are designed to help employers hire people who take safety seriously to help reduce the risk of workplace injury, job-related accidents, retail shrinkage, and other safety-related incidents.
Why do companies use risk tests when hiring?
Risk tests are most commonly used to hire for entry-level jobs where rule-adherence is critical, or for jobs that have stringent safety policies (i.e. roles in manufacturing, medical, etc.) These tests are typically able to get honest answers out of candidates through covert questions that indirectly measure integrity, making it harder for candidates to manipulate their answers to look better to a hiring manager. Employers use these tests to hire people who are less likely to cause problems that result in costly and dangerous workplace accidents, counterproductive work behavior, and to increase the likelihood of hiring reliable, conscientious workers.
4. Skills Tests
Skills can be broad (just about anything can be a skill after all, from juggling to changing oil!), but in the case of pre-employment testing, skills tests evaluate a candidate’s proficiency with an acquired skill that they picked up from prior experience or education. Skills differ from cognitive aptitude and personality because skills are learned, while cognitive aptitude and personality are innate and relatively constant throughout a person’s lifetime.
Why are skills tests used in hiring?
Skills tests can help you evaluate whether a candidate has the prior knowledge to settle right into the role on day one. This is really valuable for knowing how much training a candidate needs and reducing the amount of time it takes to get them up to speed on the job. Skills testing can help vet the skills a candidate lists on their resume to confirm their abilities prior to hiring.
While skills are a helpful indicator of what a candidate can walk in the door doing on Day 1, the skills someone has right now aren’t a great indicator of their long-term ability to succeed on the job. This is apparent when you compare the lower predictiveness of skills tests with the very high predictiveness of cognitive aptitude tests when it comes to predicting future job performance. However, skills tests are still good at confirming hard skills, like knowledge of programing languages and familiarity with crucial software, like Microsoft Office programs.
5. Emotional Intelligence Tests
A bit of a newcomer to the testing sphere, emotional intelligence (EI) has emerged as a top quality that organizations are looking for in today’s applicants. Emotional intelligence refers to a person’s ability to recognize, understand, and react appropriately to both their own emotions and the emotions of others. It’s an ability that has been researched extensively in the last few decades by I/O psychologists, who have found a strong positive correlation between high EI and valuable workplace behaviors, like leadership ability, commitment, and effective teamwork.
Why are companies using emotional intelligence tests during hiring?
Emotional intelligence tests help employers understand a candidate’s capacity to perceive and manage emotions of those around them. It is an incredibly valuable skill at all levels. For senior roles, EI is tied with more effective leadership. In mid-career and individual contributor roles, emotional intelligence helps identify strong managers and collaborators. And for entry-level roles, it can help identify candidates who have the potential to be strong future leaders for the organization. Any job that requires a high level of interpersonal communication and teamwork benefits from using emotional intelligence testing in the hiring process.
Pre-Employment Testing in the Hiring Process
At the end of the day, the type of pre-employment tests you choose to include in your hiring process should be based on how relevant the things they measure are to the role. Remember that more testing isn’t better testing – but including some amount of job-related assessments in your hiring process can help you quickly identify which of your candidate are most likely to succeed with your organization.
If you'd like to learn more about incorporating highly validated and predictive testing into your hiring process, check out Criteria's full suite of pre-employment assessments or start a free trial to experience them for yourself.