17 min read
Jul 24, 2017
Pre-employment Testing

What Is Pre-Employment Testing and Will It Transform or Destroy Your Hiring Process?

When running a startup, one bad hire can ruin your business. So what is pre-employment testing and is it creepy or helpful when it comes to hiring employees?

Karen McCandlessAnalyst

Hiring any candidate is a big risk. Even if they are your best friend, who you've known for 20 years, and your families spend summer vacation together; you can never be totally certain about the candidate you're going to hire.

They could be hiding a dark criminal past or, more realistically, they might not have the same skills they claim on their resume, or they have completely different ideas about how to run your business.

If you're running a startup, one bad hire can ruin your business. So how do you protect yourself against these bad decisions?

Pre-employment testing claims to be the answer. But is it creepy, invasive, unfair, and a waste of time, or is it a useful tool that will help you quickly hire the best candidates who will help grow your company?

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What is pre-employment testing?

Pre-employment testing means different things to different people and the reality is that there just isn't one model for pre-employment testing and one set of assessments available.

"According to the US Department of Labor, a "pre-employment test" is really any tool used to screen applicants," says Ira S. Wolfe, president, of pre-employment testing provider Success Performance Solutions. "That includes the application, interview, references, and of course, "psychological" testing. If it's used to screen out and select a candidate, it's a test and therefore must comply with EEO standards. It must be valid, reliable, and job relevant."

These tests may cover but are not limited to:

  • Cognitive

  • Personality

  • Physical/medical examination

  • Aptitude

  • Honesty and integrity

  • Polygraphs

  • Background checks

  • Substance abuse tests.

Apart from some of these tests sounding like Big Brother, what do they claim to measure?

"Some of the most common are behavioral assessments, which measure emotional competency, attitude, integrity, personality, and preferences of a person," says Stephanie Troiano, executive recruiter of talent assessment company The Hire Talent. "What does this person like doing, what do they shy away from? What are their strengths and interests and how will this translate to on-the-job performance? The other most common are ability and competency assessments, or hard skills. IQ and knowledge tests are also popular."

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Why use pre-employment testing?

Other than trying to avoid hiring the wrong candidate for your business (which is, obviously, a big deal), what other quantifiable reasons are there for using pre-employment testing?

Troiano likens pre-employment testing to checking references or looking at reviews on TripAdvisor.

She says: "Just as you would check someone's references when hiring a babysitter, read a review of a restaurant before dining out, or ask someone for a referral to a good mechanic, pre-employment assessments offer employers the opportunity to glean 'insider information' about their potential candidate before committing to hiring them."

Troiano explains that pre-hire tests can reveal insight about a candidate's strengths, personality, competencies, soft skills, etc., that aren't always so readily available in an in-person interview.

She says: "Half the time, and especially with those candidates who have poor attitudes, they can be so skilled at interviewing, you think you've got an A+ team player only to find out in a couple months that your new hire is really a nightmare. Now you're left dealing with the aftermath of their unethical ways, damage control with your customers, and mending any burned bridges they've created among your team."

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Pre-employment testing will not fix poor hiring processes or immediately find you the ideal candidates, but there are certain advantages.

Speeds up the hiring process

Often hiring managers and recruiters are measured on the speed in which they get a candidate on board, which can actually lead to bias. Pre-employment testing can accelerate the process by better assessing candidates' skills and more quickly filtering out unsuitable candidates.

"The HR department can make new hires in literally a few days, or maybe a week," says Stelios Lambropoulos, CEO of e-course provider TEST4U. "The candidates will match the hard-skills profile, because they will have scored as expected to the assessment and the soft-skills matching will be much easier, because the applicant's pool will have been narrowed down to a manageable size."

Pre-employment testing also speeds up the hiring process by helping weed out candidates that aren't serious about working at your company.

"Pre-employment assessment makes it easier to understand who is interested and waste no time interviewing people who just wouldn't take the job," says Lambropoulos.

Helps to find better cultural fits

Recruiting candidates used to be all about making sure they fit the job role, but now it's just as important to make sure that both the candidate and the company will thrive together in the workplace. Pre-employment testing helps you gather more information about potential employees to understand

Alexandra Isenegger, CEO of UK Legal marketplace and LegalTech company, Linkilaw explains: "You learn more about the individual that you're interviewing. You can also predict how someone would behave in the company and whether their values match with those of the company. You also have recent results to work with - as qualifications may be outdated or irrelevant to how someone conducts themselves in your working environment."

Darrin Murriner, cofounder at HR platform Cloverleaf, agrees that pre-employment testing helps you move past the over-reliance on the information provided on a CV:

He says: "The benefits often include going beyond the surface of just the resume and getting a better sense for how the candidate might respond to certain business tasks or work interpersonally with the rest of the team he/she may be joining.The goal is to understand the candidate better than what is being demonstrated on the resume and to help identify fits with roles or teams within the organization."

Reduces some burden on HR

When you have to sift through a pile of CVs, even when you have software installed to help, it's a long and arduous process. There's also the possibility that you'll miss a gem among all the irrelevant and under-qualified candidates. Pre-employment testing aims to replace these manual methods in order to provide a better overview of a candidate's abilities.

Lambropoulos says: "The main idea behind pre-employment testing is to minimize the HR department engagement, so, pre-employment testing is the ideal tool when it comes to incorporating a fixed skill-test on the corporate website and ask for candidates to take it, instead of filling in resume on-line forms as a first step in the hiring process. It can take the form of a competition (on-time event), or a more permanent solution."

Minimizes risk of human error

Pre-employment testing can also be used to eliminate human error in the recruitment process. Maybe you are so charmed by a candidate that you're prepared to overlook their questionable marketing skills, or maybe you get on so well with one candidate that you can overlook that they dodged the programming questions in the interview.

Wolfe points to the fact that research (Schmidt and Hunter, for example) has consistently shown that humans aren't very good at screening out or selecting candidates.

"With advancements in technology and science, the predictability and reliability of software driven assessments has just exploded," says Wolfe. "New studies consistently prove that software, and more accurately the algorithms that drive the software, are consistently more reliable than humans."

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Challenges of pre-employment testing

However, pre-employment testing does have its drawbacks, many of which will make you question its use.

Introduces bias

No test is perfect and it's almost impossible not to have some sort of bias (unconscious or otherwise), so pre-employment testing can actually exacerbate the very problem you were trying to solve.

"The tests may be biased towards people of certain backgrounds as they may ask questions that only people of a certain class or ethnic background may be able to understand," says Isenegger.

Can lead to inaccuracy

Depending on the type of test, you may end up building up an incorrect picture of a candidate - this could be down to a flaw in the test, the candidate trying to second guess it, or even sheer dishonesty.

"To what degree does the test show an accurate finding of someone's personality - may be completely unrepresentative of who they are," says Isenegger. "People may also be able to cheat or could have an unfair advantage if they know the answers already."

Consumes time

Pre-employment testing also adds in another step to what may already be a long and convoluted recruitment process.

Karen Bender, HR consultant at Hausmann-Johnson Insurance, says: "In addition to the expense of having the test administered, there is the expense of the time involved to interpret the results and apply them to the organization."

Bender suggests that these tests will throw up more (or even just exactly the same) questions that need to be considered before hiring someone.

She says: "Do these results indicate the candidate is a good enough match to be hired? If they are hired, in what areas will they need coaching? Do we have the skills to coach them? Are we hiring people that will challenge us and help us grow or are we hiring more of what we already have?"

Raises compliance issues

With tests springing up online all the time, aside from the inaccuracy of these assessments, there are also a raft of compliance issues that companies need to be aware of. For example, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),

"Challenges include using them exclusively for hiring, which can present employment law problems," Murriner says.

Disagreements with the test results

This isn't a challenge facing the test itself, but rather the recruiter or hiring manager. This comes from trusting what the tests says rather than your own natural instinct.

Troiano says: "Some challenges I've witnessed in our business with clients is that the client ends up really liking a candidate whom they've already interviewed. They test the person and find that he/she doesn't have the right skill-sets, has poor communication or sales knowledge, or scored extremely high for having a poor attitude. The challenge with that is letting go of preconceived notions you have about the candidate based on you 'falling in love' during the interview, only to find out their assessments aren't a match with what you're really needing and looking for in a new hire. We've seen clients hire people like this anyway, and learn the hard way after a few months.

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Finding the right pre-employment testing software

According to Lambropoulos the biggest challenge when it comes to successfully harnessing pre-employment testing is to find the right assessment software.

He says: "The important factor is the way of testing: Actual working conditions assessment can make the difference when it comes to skills testing. No assessment can guarantee that the candidate knows how to perform a task, unless the candidate actually performs it. So, multiple choice type of assessments or on-the job questions during interviews are not suitable, because they do not cultivate actual working conditions."

Jackson Kelley, Software Development Engineer at Amazon, underwent pre-employment testing at various tech companies (IBM, Twitter, Amazon, Google etc). These tests involved coding tests, logic tests, video recorded Q/A, and even a VR culture fit test.

He says: "Amazon used a suite called ProctorU. IBM used a suite called Hirevue. Twitter, Goldman Sachs, etc. used HackRank. Google used their own proprietary software, but it was similar to the code jam website."

Bender has used Predictive Index and Caliper and reports that both were very good instruments that assisted with hiring decisions.

Predictive Index

Bender says, "I was certified in Predictive Index, so could administer the tests and interpret the results. It was very time consuming, but very effective. Over time, the amount of time needed to interpret the results would have been reduced as I became more comfortable with the process."


Bender says, "Caliper was used at a startup where I worked, trying to identify some highly educated people who would fit in with the culture. We were assigned a professional "interpreter" who not only read the test for us, but would help us develop additional interview questions to probe areas where we felt we needed more information. For example, if the testing had indicated a potential weakness that was important to us."

Wolfe also has some tests that he regularly deploys and recommends:

"We recommend Psymetrics Elite Assessment and PeopleClues for most associate (hourly) level positions and entry-level management and sales. For key positions such as leadership, management, sales, and finance (or even a very important person in a small business), we recommend ASSESS."

And Murriner recommends: "There are many types of assessments on the market that can provide this assistance. Common ones include DISC, MBTI, StrengthsFinder, Hogan and Birkman."

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Next steps

We'd love to know what you think of pre-employment testing and whether you already use it, would consider using, or would never use it. Leave us a comment below or email me at karen@getapp.com.

If you're interested in investing in pre-employment testing, check out:

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