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Types of pre-employment testing

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There are various types of pre-employment tests wherein each one is associated with a particular need. Some tests are designed to test a person’s physical abilities. Others can be used to measure an individual’s mental prowess. For some tests, the intent is to identify if the person is harmless, whereas, for some tests, the goal is to determine if the person is capable of conforming to a set of behavioral expectations. But when it comes to it, in the end, all these tests can be typically clubbed into three major categories:

iMocha Hiring Trends Report 2022

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Background Check:

Background checks are indirect tests conducted by companies to verify the candidates’ backgrounds. These tests are conducted by a third party to check the candidate’s record. Companies typically look for criminal records and employability history through these checks.

Drug Screening & Physical Tests:

These tests determine the presence or absence of specified drugs in candidates. They help identify evidence of recent use of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs. Urine and saliva testing are common methods of conducting these tests. Physical Ability tests measure the physical fitness of a candidate to do certain types of jobs.

Job-Knowledge Tests:

Assesses levels of skill-based technical competency, cognitive abilities, and mental attitudes toward performance. Technical skills, Cognitive skills, and job-sample tests are the best examples of Job-knowledge tests.

Pre-employment testing can be further classified into various other types, such as -

  1. Skill Tests
  2. Cognitive Tests
  3. Personality Tests
  4. Integrity Tests
  5. Emotional intelligence tests
  6. Background Checks
  7. Drug Tests
  8. Language Tests
  9. Physical Ability tests
  10. Job Sample Tests

Each test type can further be classified into various categories depending on the need & nature of the job requirement. Such as Technical Skills Tests, Cognitive Skills Tests, Job-simulation Tests, Language & Communication Tests, Personality Tests, etc. Click here to check if you are using the right type of pre-employment assessment

Let us look at these types of pre-employment tests in more detail -

1. Skill Tests-

Resume fraud costs employers approximately $600 Billion annually, and 57% of candidates lie about their skill set. Source.

Skill testing is the objective process of assessing the job-related skills of the candidate. Skill tests measure a candidate’s ability to apply skills while working on a particular job.

Skills can be measured by presenting a series of scenarios to the candidates and evaluating their responses in those scenarios. Employers can use job-specific skill tests to assess skills that are highly related to the given job role.

1.1 Job-specific skill test:

Job-specific skill tests are very specific to a particular job role or description. A job-specific skill test can have any of the following types of tests included in a single test.

i. Technical

ii. Cognitive

iii. Job-simulation

iv. Language & Communication

v. Personality

vi. Business Domain Knowledge

To create such test expertise knowledge, the science of assessments and the quality of questions is given due importance. Job-specific skill tests can be created in 2 different ways. You won’t find every pre-employment testing vendor providing this bifurcation, so you will have to check.

ADP cuts down time-to-hire by 50%

“Our HR team would forward resumes after basic keyword filtration. I would conduct a telephonic interview and, if found suitable, would get the candidates for a personal interview. When I was hiring a Release Engineer, many candidates looked good on paper but performed poorly during telephonic/personal interviews. It was tough and frustrating to interview many candidates and not find the right job fit. Telephonic interviews, personal interviews, and discussions with HR about every candidate were eating up my valuable time. This impacted us significantly.”

“To solve this issue, I researched online and zeroed in on pre-employment testing and iMocha. I loved the extensive skills library and created a Release Engineer assessment with Numerical Reasoning, System Administration, Shell Programming, English Proficiency, and Verbal Reasoning. Candidates were sent the assessment links, they appeared for it, and I immediately received the reports. Assessments provided us the head start to assess skills, evaluate candidates, and incorporate them in the interview funnel. It reduced our time to hire by half.”

Sohan Kabra (Senior Engineering Manager, ADP)


2. Cognitive Ability Tests-

Wikipedia defines cognitive ability as “the ability of an individual to perform the various mental activities most closely associated with learning and problem-solving.”

The cognitive ability tests assess the candidates’ thinking process, problem-solving abilities, and verbal abilities.

“Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well. They are among the most accurate (in technical terms, reliable, and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments.”- Wall Street Journal in 1994 –A letter by 50 Research Psychologists.

Schmidt, Hunter, and Outerbridge’s (1986) causal model of job performance suggest that cognitive ability is the most important cause of job performance and that the relationship between ability and performance is stable over time.

A study by Hunter & Hunter shows cognitive tests are more effective in predicting job performance as compared to other job performance predictors like interviews and work experience. The below graph indicates job performance predictors and their percentage of variance accounted for in job performance.

3. Personality Tests-

Personality assessments help companies evaluate whether a candidate is a cultural fit and if a candidate’s personality is suitable for job success.

In today’s changing business scenarios and digital disruption, companies look for employees who possess the knowledge and intelligence and can also apply specific traits to perform a challenging job. In such situations, assessing the candidates’ personality traits has become important for companies.

U.S. employers are testing as many as 70 percent of applicants’ personalities (Source)

According to a survey conducted by the Center for Executive Succession at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, the major reason for the failure of executives at work performance is behavioral compatibility or personality types like ego, selfishness, etc., and their failure to fit with other team members.

Several tests are used for personality testing. Some of the most commonly used tests include Myers-BriggsDISCThe Caliper profileSHL occupational personality, and Hogan personality inventory.

Let us understand these in more detail -

  • 3.1 Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator:

This test helps to find out if an employee’s personality falls into one of two tendencies from various groups “Extraversion vs. Introversion,” “Intuition vs. sensing,” “Thinking vs. Feelings,” and “Judging vs. Perceiving.” In the Myers-Briggs questionnaire, a candidate is presented with two options, A or B, and the selected options help companies find out which tendencies the candidates lean toward.

  • 3.2 DISC Personality Assessment:

This test assesses the observable behavior of a candidate rather than skills. It focuses on how candidates behave rather than how they think about something. DISC personality assessment divides behaviors into four quadrants: dominance (D), influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Consciousness (C).

  • 3.3 The Caliper Profile:

This test measures how an individual's personality traits correlate to job performance. The questionnaire in this assessment includes a few statements, and the candidate has to select the statement that best suits their viewpoint.

  • 3.4 SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire:

SHL occupational personality questionnaire measures 32 personality characteristics relevant to performance. Candidates are given a few statements, and the candidate has to choose which statement best describes them. Candidates are evaluated in three main domains ‘emotions’, ‘relationship with people, and ‘thinking style and feeling.’

  • 3.5 Hogan Personality Inventory:

HPI is based on the five-factor model and evaluates seven primary scales and six occupational scales, which are ‘service orientation, stress tolerance, reliability, clerical potential, sales potential, and managerial potential.

  • 3.6 Big Five Personality Theory:

A group of independent scientists has defined five broad traits of a human personality based on research. These big five personalities are ‘Openness,’ ‘Consciousness,’ ‘Extraversion,’ ‘Agreeableness,’ and ‘Neuroticism.’

How reliable are these personality tests?

Correlations between personality and job success fall in the .03 to .15 range- 2007 review of academic literature published inPersonnel Psychology

Don't rely solely on personality tests to predict how candidates will respond to certain situations on the job. It is better to use personality tests alongside other assessment tools to make a more informed decision.

4. Integrity tests-

Integrity tests fall under personality tests and are useful to assess candidates’ ethical views. If a job profile requires this particular persona because of the nature of the job involved, one should give for the integrity test of candidates.

The questions are framed so that they help identify if a candidate will lie, follow unethical practices, rob the company for monetary gains, face disciplinary problems, and even get into violent activities.

However, the challenge with integrity tests is that it is easy to fake the answers. It is hard to evaluate whether the candidate has made up or is telling the truth.

5. Emotional intelligence tests-

Emotional intelligence, in simple terms, is a person’s ability to understand and control their own emotions and the emotions of other people. It has become a hot topic of discussion these days and is regarded as a key component of success in the workplace.

Various studies from Harvard and Stanford have found that 85–87% of a person’s success is attributed to soft skills, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills.

Yet, traditionally, only a fraction of companies have been paying attention to this vital aspect. However, emotional intelligence has now become one of the most sought-after skills by companies after job-specific skills.

Emotional intelligence tests help companies evaluate candidates’ behavior in various aspects, such as - response to stressful situations, working with a diversified team, handling challenges, self-awareness, managing emotions, and empathy. Just like integrity tests, emotional intelligence tests can also be faked. That apart, company culture can change a candidate’s personality if the candidate has a knack for keeping things right and has the right attitude.

6. Background Check Tests-

Nearly 72% of employers run a background check for every person they hire.

Background checks consist of investigating a candidate’s background to verify that a candidate is who they claim to be. Background checks may include employment checks, education history checks, criminal record checks, credit history, and more. Special care should be taken while performing background tests as you need to inform the candidate which tests you are conducting. In case of rejection based on the background checks, you need to show the candidate the certificate of the background checks.

6.1 Employment Background Check:

85% of employers report finding misrepresentations on a resume or job application.

An employment background check may include checking past work history, medical history, social media, criminal record, driving record, credit card history, & drug screening. An employer may outsource this task to a third party to get accurate information.

6.2 Criminal Background Check:

The criminal background check involves checking state & national-level criminal records of candidates. The records include if a candidate is involved in any type of arrest, conviction, sexual offenses, warrants, etc.

6.3 Credit Background Check:

A credit background check is performed by employers for job roles that directly deal with managing money. This includes checking the credit to debt ratio to see how employees have managed past credit and bill payments. Employers may also check bankruptcy information.

6.4 Driving Record Background Check:

Employers may check the driving records of the candidate to confirm any record of breaking traffic violations and major accidents.

6.5 Social Security:

Social Security Number Trace is performed to trace the candidate’s residential history. This information helps to create a list of jurisdictions that should be checked for the criminal record check.

7. Drug Testing-

As a part of the background check, verification companies also ask candidates to take a drug test. Candidates are not notified in advance about the drug test so that the tests can provide more accurate results. Candidates are directed to a laboratory to submit a sample for drug screening.

At the laboratory, the applicant has to submit a sample of any of the following - hair, sweat, urine, saliva, or blood drug test. As there can be legal concerns in the future, strict procedures are followed to document and prevent the adulteration of the sample.

Drug testing is used to check if the candidate has recently used illegal drugs. This is performed to avoid hiring a drug-addicted candidate and protect employees from possible drug or alcohol abuse.

The latest update in drug testing was the removal of the ban on Marijuana drug testing. Nevada becomes the first state in the US to ban pre-employment Marijuana drug testing.

8. Language Test-

Communication is a critical part of any team, and it’s essential for team collaboration. Clear and effective communication among team members is helpful for the achievement of team goals.

Language proficiency tests include the evaluation of candidates’ communication skills in a particular language. This may include basic vocabulary checks related to the role and checking the candidates’ written communication skills.

9. Physical Ability Tests: 

Physical ability tests measure the candidates’ ability to perform certain job-related tasks. These tasks measure physical abilities, such as strength, endurance, and stamina.

Examples of a few physical ability tests include:

i. Balance Test: Tasks in which stability of body position is difficult to maintain

ii. Flexibility Test: Tasks including bending or stretching are involved

iii. Cardiovascular Endurance Test: Task assessing aerobic capacity

iv. Muscular Tension Test: Tasks that involve pushing, lifting, and pulling

Why should you perform PAT?

If the job involves physical activities, then it is advisable to conduct a physical ability test (PAT) before you select a candidate. Conducting PAT can give you the benefit of reducing the time and cost caused by possible accidents. The other benefits include the following:

  • i. Improved productivity
  • ii. Lower worker replacement cost
  • iii. Improved job performance & employee satisfaction
  • iv. Reduction in medical costs

EEOC guidelines mandate that whenever you use PAT, it should be validated, and the candidates should be tested only for tasks that are needed for accomplishing the job. Employers may face severe punishment if EEOC finds out that tests are discriminatory.

10. Work Sample Test-

Work sample testing requires the candidate to go through a similar type of task as that of the actual job. These types of tests are considered to have high content validity. There are different types of work sample tests, such as:

i. Work sample test (with training):

Here, the candidates are expected to learn the tasks through instructions and then perform those. This type of testing is suitable for candidates with minimum or no experience.

ii. Low-Fidelity Simulation:

Here, the candidates are given a description of work situations and five options. They need to select responses that they are most likely and least likely to make.

iii. Work Simulation Tests:

The candidate is given a real-time work-life situation and asked a series of questions so that they can describe decisions they would make in each situation.