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Pre Employment Testing – What to Expect

February 2nd, 2011 · 2 Comments

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pre-employment testingPre employment testing is commonly used by employers to screen out unsuitable job applicants. In the United States more than 30% of companies reportedly use pre-employment tests to help make hiring decisions. Used in conjunction with the interview process employment testing enables the employer to pin-point any areas of concern with regard to the applicant’s ability and suitability for the position. A valid and reliable pre employment evaluation is objective and a good tool for ensuring that the final employment selection is based on the applicant’s ability to successfully perform in the job and not on any prejudice, bias or assumption.

There are many different types of pre employment tests but the most frequently used tests fall into these five categories – personality tests, skills tests, aptitude tests, integrity tests and drug tests.

Personality Tests

Personality tests measure the personality characteristics of job applicants that are related to successful job performance. Typically they measure one or more of five personality dimensions: extroversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience. The test format can vary from a brief written test to a long psychological examination. Personality tests have no “right” answers and cannot be prepared for. Applicants should answer honestly and not attempt to manipulate their answers to fit what they think the employer wants for two reasons. Firstly the tests contain validity scales that are designed to detect inconsistent and fake answers. This will be viewed as dishonest by prospective employers. Secondly applicants are misleading both themselves and the employer about their suitability for the job and are unlikely to be either happy or successful in the position.

Skills Tests

This is perhaps the most common type of pre employment testing. Applicants are required to demonstrate the skills needed for the job and confirm the job-related skills they say they have. Skills tests can range from a simple typing test, writing a report, lifting a heavy object to a complicated mechanical design. Some skills tests can be prepared for. Know which skills you will require on the job and practice these. Practice tests for typing and computer skills are available online.
Skills tests are considered acceptable if they genuinely test a skill needed for the job.

Aptitude Tests

These employment tests explore an applicant’s abilities such as reasoning, numerical, wiring or verbal skills. They differ from skills tests in that they are used to determine an applicant’s ability to learn and be trained in the required skills for the job while a skills test assesses existing skill levels.

Aptitude tests will tell an employer how quickly an applicant may be expected to learn to do the job tasks to a satisfactory level. There are general aptitude test referred to as IQ or intelligence tests and also tests for specific aptitudes such as mechanical aptitude.

Integrity Tests

Dishonesty in the workplace is a business reality. An integrity test explores an applicant’s honesty and trustworthiness. Questions are designed to evaluate the applicant’s attitude to drug and alcohol abuse, abuse of company resources such as phones, internet, email and vehicles, the confidentiality of company information and data, the stealing of company property such as stationery, telling “white lies”, and the approach to work ethic criteria such as time keeping and taking breaks.

Pre Employment Drug Test

The US Department of Labor has estimated that drug use in the workplace costs employers up to $100 billion dollars annually in lost work time, accidents, health care costs and workers compensation costs. As a result a large number of employers require applicants to have a drug test as part of their pre employment testing process.

An employer can have a program for testing job applicants for drug usage as long as it is administered fairly and consistently and is in line with federal and state laws. The laws concerning employment drug screening vary from state to state and some states require that employers may only test applicants once they have been formally offered a position conditional on a negative drug test.

The most common drug tests involve applicants going to a collection site where a urine sample is obtained and then sent to a certified laboratory for analysis. The standard drug test is called a “Five-Screen” and tests for 5 types of street drugs – marijuana, cocaine, PCP (Phencylidine), opiates such as heroin and morphine, and amphetamines. Urine drug testing is popular with employers because it is reliable, inexpensive and non- intrusive. Test results are usually available within 24 to 48 hours. Other testing methods such as hair testing, blood tests, breath tests and saliva testing are also used.

Job applicants are likely to be required to undergo some form of pre employment testing. Although the amount of preparation that can be done for these tests is limited it will benefit applicants greatly to understand the type of tests they can expect.

For a comprehensive guide to the pre-employment test including tips and techniques for taking the tests go to Pre Employment Testing.

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  • Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D.

    Not bad, but contains some inaccurate terminology. Psychometricians call the first category “personality inventories” (not “tests”) for the obvious reason, as stated in the article, that there are no right/wrong answers (one cannot fail a personality inventory). It is also inaccurate to state that validity check items are common; the tendency in contemporary assessment is to avoid the use of such items, as they have come under increasing legal scrutiny. For instance, the 16PF does use these, but the NEO-PI does not. Some instruments, such as the MBTI, are not appropriate for use in pre-employment screening and should not be utilized as such. Finally, the article mentions the Big Five dimensions of McCrae and Costa (which are technical terms that the lay reader is unlikely to interpret correctly) without crediting the authors. Overall, however, this piece was a useful nontechnical overview of the topic.

    Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D.
    President/Founder, Kaleidoscope Consulting Services LLC