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The Truth About Pre-Employment Assessments

Three years in the human resources field with one full year of experience specializing in recruitment and selection.

Have you ever had to do a background check, credit check, or skills test for your current or past employer? If you answered yes, then you have undergone what is called a pre-employment assessment/screening test. Pre-employment screening is a tool used to further determine the eligibility of a potential candidate, beyond what's on the resume and cover letter. Most companies with an HR department use these frequently when hiring.

the-truth-about-pre-employment-assessments

As an employer, you want to make sure you get the best person for all positions in the company. Often, businesses are seeking educated, honest people who fit well with the team they've already established. The perfect candidate with the right skill set who can help bring success and most importantly, profit. That's where the pre-employment screening process comes into play. A system that narrows down potential candidates based on the company's chosen criteria. That way, the employer knows that the candidate is a good fit and the candidates get evaluated fairly. Win-win right?

But not everyone agrees. There are a lot of arguments online against pre-employment screenings. Let's take a look at these points of view below and briefly break down why, with my experience in recruitment and selection, I completely disagree.

From the article "Pre-employment testing: pros and cons":

They don’t take into account how willing (or able) someone is to learn and improve. Candidates might have never used CRM systems before but they could learn quickly. Other candidates might have deep knowledge of such systems but could be unwilling to try new technologies. Test results alone won’t necessarily tell you who’d be the best candidate for your company.

Okay, I'm going to briefly explain why I disagree. First I should mention that one test alone will NEVER tell an employer whether that candidate is the best person for the job. Surely, if you have never used a CRM system before the employer or hiring manager would already know that from your experience on your resume and more than likely, have not invited you for pre-employment screening in the first place. But for argument sake, let’s say the company did ask this person with no previous experience to come in and do the screening. The test would more than likely be set up to see the person’s degree of knowledge, and perhaps, the willingness to adapt and learn on the spot.

From the article "Pre-employment testing: pros and cons":

Tests invite lies. If you ask candidates to complete integrity and work ethics test, then you can expect candidates to occasionally fake their answers. If a personality test for a sales position asks candidates to rate their social skills, you can expect that few candidates, if any, will rate themselves as anti-social.

Although it is always possible that you will get people lying on a test, I have to say, It is not very likely that a person who is antisocial would seek out a job in sales. Most people know full well that sales involve high levels of communication, outgoingness and the ability to talk comfortably in front of others. As for the ethics test, and this is only coming from experience, this is more so a test to be able to fall back on should the candidate get the position and perhaps behave unethically in the future. It’s the company sort of covering their behinds, while showcasing that they value someone with a strong work ethic.

From the article "No, I won’t take your pre-employment assessment. Here’s why:"

It’s insulting. Congratulations! We’ve reviewed your resume and work history but despite these things, we’re going to assume that you’re a moron. We’re going to need you to go ahead and fill out this intelligence test now. Thaaanks.

So this argument is slightly aggressive but important to look at. I understand that this person feels insulted by having to take an intelligence test and to be completely honest with you, I do not feel that intelligence test was the right term to use. But I want to explain why these sorts of tests normally become part of the pre-employment screening. What sometimes happens, especially in larger corporations and organizations is that they get an influx of resumes when a position opens up and even after eliminating those that don’t fit the basic criteria still have a large number of potential candidates. What ends up happening is that they administer a second test, to further eliminate candidates. There may not be enough time to do 65 interviews that year, for example. So they decide on a test that will allow them to separate the stronger candidates. As I said before, I would have used a different term like cognitive testing or aptitude or something along those lines but I very strongly feel that employers do not intentionally wish to make you feel less than. Taking these tests is simply part of the process.

Let’s now look at the reasons why pre-employment screening works.

The first and most important reason that pre-employment screenings work is that they systematically and ethically narrow the list of potential candidates down to, theoretically, the strongest candidate on the list. There are many different tests and screening methods to use and each one helps to prove that the hiring process is to ensure the best candidate. As an employer, you have to ensure that your hiring procedures are done in a way that minimizes the risk of discrimination.

Secondly, pre-employment screening works because it gives you a high-quality hire. What that means is more than likely the employer ends up with a candidate that not only fits well but also stays at the company for a longer period of time. Low turn-overs are important. It can be extremely costly to a business to frequently hire and train employees.

Thirdly, these screening tests work because they add security and safety. Background and credit checks highlight incidents in the past that may pose a threat to the business or it’s valued employees in the future. Imagine hiring someone with a very low credit score to handle large amounts of cash at a bank. Or someone who has been violent in the past as a school teacher.

Pre-employment screenings are put in place for good reason. Twenty years ago these tests were conducted only for high-level executive positions. Company's are realizing the benefits of these screenings and now they are being done on middle management and even entry-level positions too. A study done in 2015 by the Aberdeen Group concluded that “Organizations who use pre-hire assessments are 24% more likely to have employees who exceed performance goals.” And isn't that the overall goal?

Sources

Bika, Nikoletta. (No Date Available) Pre-employment testing: pros and cons. Resources.Workable. Retrieved September 2, 2020.

Lahey, Zach. (2015, July 10). The Pros and Cons of Pre-Employment Screenings. The Aberdeen Group. Retrieved September 2, 2020.

MacDuff, Alex. (2018, August 16). No, I won’t take your pre-employment assessment. Here’s why. Noteworthy, The Journal Bog. Retrieved September 2, 2020.

Comments

Summer Rees (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 08, 2020:

Thanks Eric. Glad you liked the article. I couldn’t believe the criticism that existed online about these! I had to write my thoughts coming from a strong recruiting background

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 08, 2020:

Well that was interesting. Someone who finds an "intelligence" test insulting is already scratched off my list. What an employer wants someone with limited cognitive aptitude?