What are pre-employment assessments and tests?

January 22nd, 2018
Erica Hill
Video Interviewing
What Are Pre-Employment Assessments and Tests?

Recruiting uses many methods to try and predict a candidate’s ability to perform on the job. Job assessments are tools that usually profile a person’s behavior, personality, and capabilities.

What are pre-employment and job assessments?

Pre-employment, or job assessments, are any tool or method used to evaluate job candidates with consistency. They range from hard skills tests, such as on demand assessments, that consist of typing and math skills tests, to “softer” tests, like personality batteries.

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The benefits of using pre-employment candidate testing

Candidate tests are beneficial for employers, candidates, and the company as a whole. By utilizing pre-employment testing, hiring is faster, fairer, and there is a higher likelihood that new employees will be successful in their role.

The main benefits of candidate testing include:

  • Improving the quality of hire
  • Reducing bias with standardized, validated measures
  • Increasing diversity by casting a wider net
  • Decreasing time to hire
  • Eliminating the barriers of scheduling and availability
  • Keeping candidates engaged
  • Increasing retention

Traditional job assessment design

With the exception of the interview, most job assessments take the form of a formal test with closed-ended questions. Assessment questions are designed to act as a proxy for certain aspects of a job. According to the 2018 Talent Board Candidate Experience Research Report, 91% of the companies use these sorts of formal tests during their hiring process.

To illustrate, personality tests that assess extroversion often ask: “Agree or Disagree: I enjoy attending large social gatherings.” While the job may not require attending many cocktail parties, a certain degree of extroversion is useful for roles that frequently involve interpersonal communication.

During assessment design, questions that elicit responses most predictive of job success are used to build the final test. Traditional pre-hire and job assessments usually need at least 60 questions to establish a useful level of validity.

Leading-edge assessments: Combining assessment science with artificial intelligence

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LinkedIn recently named “artificial intelligence” one of its four most important recruiting ideas. With the way AI is transforming the pre-employment assessment space, it’s easy to see why. It’s becoming increasingly more common to see AI in job assessments.

Recent advances in artificial intelligence are opening up new avenues for pre-employment assessments. A traditional 60+ question job assessment requires a substantial time commitment from the candidate: the longer the job assessment, the less likely a candidate is to complete it.

Artificial intelligence enables job assessment creators to apply tried-and-true science to more candidate-friendly delivery mediums, like games and video interviews. These types of on demand assessments help recruiters determine a candidate’s hard skills.

See how Unilever uses AI to assess its candidates and decreased its hiring time from 4 months to 2 weeks.

Building an assessment on a candidate-friendly medium addresses a classic problem with pre-employment tests: getting candidates to take them.

Delta Air Lines’ VP of Talent Acquisition, Jennifer Carpenter, explains the impact of AI on pre-employment assessments.

What are the types of pre-employment assessments?

Pre-employment assessments can be grouped into five categories, based on where they fall on the hard skills-soft skills spectrum.

  • Hard skills tests
  • Work sample tests
  • The interview assessment
  • Cognitive ability tests
  • Personality tests

Hard skills tests

Hard skill testing is used to measure proficiency in specific skills like typing, math, or software development. These tests provide useful supplementary information to recruiters and hiring managers, particularly if the job frequently mandates the use of those skills. Hard skills testing only provides insight into the extreme end of the hard skills:soft skills spectrum.

Work sample tests

Work sample tests require an applicant to mimic the activities they would be expected to perform on the job. These range from technical coding tests, to “case-study” style presentations, to situational judgment tests. Since work sample tests are designed to mirror actual job duties, the results are typically indicative of actual job performance. These may also be called “realistic job previews.”

The interview assessment

If executed correctly, the interview can evenly evaluate both hard and soft skills. The interview’s flexibility makes it the perfect complement to other assessments. There are two main types of interview: structured and unstructured.

Structured interview

A structured interview consists of a set of questions determined in advance and ensures that each applicant is presented with exactly the same questions in the same order.

Structured interviews: 

  • Must retain their rigidity in order to foster fairness and objectivity in the hiring process.
  • Produce consistent data that can be used to evaluate candidates against the same criteria and can reduce bias and uncover the best candidates.
  • Are ideal when the interviewing organization deems it vital that they hire based on merit as opposed to any other variable.

According to the US Office of Personnel Management, structured interviews don’t just work well for the employer: job candidates think they work well too.

Structured interviews may also employ behavioral interviewing techniques. Behavioral interviewing is an approach that looks at past behavior as the best predictor of future performance.  

Past behavior in past situations will more accurately indicate a candidate’s attitudes and behaviors. This approach is useful because it goes beyond whether the candidate can do the job, but helps determine if the candidates will do a good job. A person may have the knowledge to do the job, but not the inclination or desire to do it to the standard necessary in a particular organization or team.

Unstructured interview

An unstructured interview or non-directive interview is considered to be the opposite of a structured interview because the questions are not prearranged. These rely on rapport and relationship building between the interviewer and candidate. They can be useful to explore emerging areas of understanding.  

It is often suggested that these types of interviews are recorded so that the answers and results can be analyzed later and the interviewer can focus on the interaction. It is important to point out that an unstructured interview is not the same as an unorganized or disorganized interview.

Predictive outcomes rely on using the right assessment

In order to get the most predictive data out of an interview, determining the right format, questions and answers, will result in the best hiring decisions, rather than relying on gut instinct and limited ability to compare candidates. If your interviews are structured correctly, they can even double as a realistic job preview.

Cognitive ability tests

Cognitive ability tests assess candidates’ verbal and numerical reasoning skills and their aptitude for thinking abstractly. Think of them as the flip-side of work-sample tests. While work sample tests measure how candidates would perform in expected situations, cognitive ability tests evaluate how they might perform in unexpected situations.

Game-based assessments can also measure cognitive ability, and typically do so faster, and in a more candidate-friendly way, than traditional cognitive skills testing. Typically, these are on demand assessments, allowing the candidate to complete them during a time that works conveniently.

Personality tests

Personality tests are designed to measure the intensity or lack of specific aspects of personality, like openness to experience, tenacity, extroversion, and tolerance. One of the most famous personality tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, though it is not recommended to use this for hiring. 

Measuring certain personality traits is useful when trying to identify the candidates most likely to turnover, and when matching those traits to specific duties or job requirements (for example, high extroversion may be beneficial for a customer-facing role).

A combined approach

Using a combination of job assessment tests is almost always more predictive than a single test by itself. Combining different assessment types helps cover for the relative strengths and weaknesses of a single job assessment. That said, a business that chooses to use a combination approach should always prioritize the candidate’s time, since the approach loses its value if a candidate opts out.

Here’s a look at how HireVue approaches pre-employment assessments.

Learn How To Prevent Candidate Drop Out With A Great Assessment Experience