Using Recruitment Tests
Hiring With Better Results
Getting the right person for the right job is the goal of most recruiters. But it's not easy.
Hiring the candidate who seems to have all the "right" answers may not be best, especially if you don't ask the right questions in the first place (read Hiring People: Questions to Ask). Choosing the candidate with the best reference isn't a guarantee either – what if the person giving the reference will say anything just to be nice? And hiring someone because you "feel good" about them is probably as reliable as buying a used car after kicking the tires.
To recruit effectively, it's best to take the guesswork out of the process. The more reliable information you can gather about a person, the better. You want as complete a picture as possible of the candidate's skills, experience, competencies, personality, and aptitudes.
Given the costs, the pain and the lost opportunity that comes from a poor hiring decision, would you like to remove as much guesswork as possible when you hire? One method that companies use to do this is pre-employment testing. These tests are designed to give you reliable and valid information about a candidate – information that a résumé, interview, and reference may not provide.
Recruitment tests are not a substitute for other traditional assessment tools, but they can add to and improve hiring practices. When you combine information from these tests with properly thought-through structured interviews, you add considerable predictive power to your selection process.
Why Use Tests in Recruitment?
The most common reasons for introducing pre-employment testing into the candidate selection process include:
- Current selection or placement procedures result in poor hiring decisions.
- Staff errors have had serious financial, health, or safety consequences.
- Staff turnover or absenteeism is high.
- Current candidate assessment procedures don't meet legal and professional standards.
In essence, managers use these tests to address rigorously the most significant situations where recruitment has failed in the past, or the highest risk areas where it could fail in the future.
However, as with all business activities, use of tests takes time and has a cost, so they should only be used where the benefits gained more than compensate for these costs.
Types of Test
The key to using the right test – and making best use of everyone's time and resources – is to know what problems you're trying to address with the test. Here are some common types of test, and the typical reasons for using them.
Ability and Aptitude Tests
These are used to predict success across a wide variety of occupations, typically in people who have not yet received much training in the skills needed for that occupation. In essence, what you're trying to do is identify "natural talent" for the work, which you can then develop.
Mental ability tests generally measure a person's ability to learn and perform particular job responsibilities; they focus on things such as verbal, quantitative, and spatial abilities.
Physical ability tests usually cover things such as strength, endurance, and flexibility.
When you use ability and aptitude testing, it's important to consider potential discrimination factors – such as language, race, culture, and age.
Specific examples of ability and aptitude tests are as follows:
- General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB): Used to assess verbal, numerical, and spatial aptitude as well as provide a basic reference for general intelligence.
- Differential Aptitude Test (DAT): Used for assessing aptitudes in eight specific areas (as opposed to the general areas of the GATB): Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Ability, Abstract Reasoning, Mechanical Reasoning, Space Relations, Spelling, Language Usage, and Perceptual Speed and Accuracy.
- Personnel Test for Industry (PTI): Used to test basic verbal and numerical competence, and typically used for placement in industries such as transportation, manufacturing and mechanics.
The International Test Commission (ITC) released the International Guidelines for Test Use in 2000. This was in response to the increased use of tests in countries and cultures outside of the test population used to standardize the instrument. You should refer to these guides to ensure uniformity in test application across different linguistic and cultural contexts.
These tests are used when you're looking for skilled people, and you want to ensure that the people you hire are sufficiently skilled to do a good job. These are often called proficiency tests, and they're typically used to measure knowledge and skills that are relevant to a specific position. There are two basic types:
- Knowledge tests usually have specific questions that determine how much the person knows about particular job tasks and responsibilities. Here are some examples:
- Clerical Abilities Battery: Used for assessing commonly needed administrative skills including clerical speed and accuracy.
- Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal: Used for determining how well a person applies analytical thinking, by assessing the ability to infer, recognize assumptions, deduce, interpret and evaluate arguments.
- Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test: Used to assess how well a person understands how things work by evaluating mechanical comprehension in three main areas: mechanical information, spatial visualization, and mechanical reasoning.
- Work sample or performance tests require the candidate to actually demonstrate or perform one or more job tasks that are related to a specific job. The tests are often designed for a specific organization, and they sometimes involve workplace simulations as well. A classic performance test is the Inbox/In-tray Assessment.
Used where attitude and fit within a team are of major importance, these are designed to evaluate characteristics such as motivation, conscientiousness, self-confidence, or how well a person might get along with co-workers.
There are usually no right or wrong answers to questions, so the recruiter may look for "desirable" responses. A weakness of these tests can be that people "cheat", by guessing what these desirable responses are. This is why sophisticated personality inventories often build in deception scales, which can sometimes detect if the test taker is trying to respond in a certain pattern.
Below are some popular personality tests:
- Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator (MBTI): Used to learn more about an individual's preferred style of working and interacting, so that this information can be used to enhance team and personal performance.
- Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness (DiSC®): Used to determine a person's preferred behavioral style, and then find ways to promote better communication and understanding within teams.
- California Psychological Inventory (CPI): One of the most standardized personality tests used to uncover personality characteristics and professional leadrship style, in an effort to identify people who best fit into the company and who will be the most effective and productive.
- NEO Personality Inventory-Revised (NEO PI-R): Based on the Five Factor Model of personality, this test is used to measure an individual's motivational, emotional and interpersonal style, as well as general attitude, in an attempt to identify people who fit into the culture of the company.
Honesty, Integrity, and Values Measures
Useful across almost any business setting and particularly where you have a strong business need for especially high ethical standards, these tests look at honesty characteristics as well as integrity, truthfulness, and personal values. They're used to assess company security as well as cultural fit. Some of these tests ask very obvious questions, and others use "disguised purpose" questions to identify undesirable traits such as insubordination and theft. The following are examples:
- Giotto: Used for investigating work-based behavior and attitudes related to carelessness, commitment level, violent tendencies, discipline, disrespect, theft, and change tolerance.
- Employee Reliability Inventory (ERI): Used for distinguishing between employees who will be assets versus those who will liabilities, by assessing a person's level of job commitment, respect for safety, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, courtesy, emotional maturity, and lack of disruptive on-the-job behavior.
If you use one of these integrity tests to hire people for a particular job, you should document the business case for such a test. Honesty and integrity tests are usually considered more intrusive and personal than typical pre-employment tests. Some national and local governments restrict their use, so check regulations in your area.
Considerations for Recruitment Testing
When used for the right purpose, professionally developed tests that are part of a planned assessment program should help you select and hire more qualified and productive workers. However, you must understand that all evaluation tools are subject to errors – both in measuring a characteristic, such as verbal ability, and in predicting performance criteria, such as success on the job. This is true for all tests, regardless of how objective or standardized they might be.
Be sure to consider the following:
- Don't expect any test to measure a personal trait or ability with perfect accuracy.
- Don't expect any test to be completely accurate in predicting performance.
Sometimes test scores may predict that people will be good workers – when, in fact, they are not. It's also possible for candidates to be rejected due to low scores – when, in fact, they would be very capable and loyal workers. Because of these selection errors, remember that testing is only one of several ways used to evaluate a candidate's abilities.
Use good judgment when you interpret and analyze test results, and review their use periodically to make sure that they're actually giving you the results you want, in terms of improved recruitment outcomes.
It's important to use reliable and valid testing tools. When using them, ask if they have they been through comprehensive standardization procedures? Were they developed by a qualified industrial/organizational psychologist?
Many quizzes for personality and work characteristics are available for free, however, these may not have years of research to back them up.
To hire effectively you need to focus on what the job is, get relevant information from a candidate, and provide a framework for making a rational and fair decision. Many companies use pre-employment testing as part of this.
When appropriate test results are combined with well-conducted structured interviews, these methods can add considerable power to a selection process.
As always, spending a bit more time and resources on up-front planning and analysis can save you a great deal of pain later. By adding recruitment tests to a well-constructed hiring process, you'll almost certainly improve worker satisfaction measures such as turnover, productivity, and morale.