Criteria's Employee Testing Blog

Pre-Employment Testing and the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law enacted by the United States Congress in 1990 that was designed to protect against discrimination based on disability. Among other things, the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against job candidates with mental or physical conditions, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees (or job applicants) with disabilities. As it pertains to pre-employment tests, there are two main types of questions we get from customers regarding the ADA:

  1. What types of testing are not permitted under the ADA?
  2. What kinds of “reasonable accommodations” are appropriate when it comes to administering pre-employment tests to candidates with disabilities?

We’ll address #2 in a subsequent blog post, but for now will focus on question #1. It’s important to realize first that the ADA’s rules pertain to all sorts of information-gathering done as part of the employee selection process, not just tests.  According to ADA regulations, it isn’t legal to subject candidates to any kind of medical exam pre-hire as a condition of employment. Medical exams extend to both mental and physical health. In practice, this means that employers can’t ask for information relating to, or administer tests that attempt to assess, for instance, whether or not a job candidate has bipolar disorder or rheumatoid arthritis.

There are, of course, job-related exceptions to these regulations. For some jobs that have high stakes implications for public safety, there is a public interest in assessing mental health, and these instances are admissible by the ADA. Police officers, for example, undergo psychological screenings during the application process.

For most jobs, however, assessing mental health in the hiring process is off limits. For example, employers have used the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) inappropriately in the past. The MMPI is a clinical personality test used primarily in the mental health field to aid in diagnosis. Because the test is clinical in nature, it should never be used as an employee selection device by a typical employer.

Professionally developed employment personality tests do not assess mental health. What they do measure are relatively stable personality traits that have an impact on work performance. Some of these traits include conscientiousness, extroversion, openness, and stability. Stability, one of the traits in the well-established Big Five Personality Traits model, is often mistaken for having clinical implications. The Stability trait does not measure how mentally “stable” or “sane” an individual is – rather, stability measures how applicants handle stress or how emotionally reactive they are.  It is not in any way related to clinical or diagnostic tests that assess depression or anxiety, for example.  As a provider of pre-employment tests, we are sometimes asked if our tests can help weed out “crazy” applicants. We respond that our tests don’t assess this type of information, and that if they did, they would probably be illegal to use in the hiring process!

Any time you’re wondering whether or not a pre-employment test violates an ADA or EEOC guideline, one rule to keep in mind is the rule of job relatedness. Is the test assessing a trait or skill that is job-related and consistent with business necessity? Testing job candidates for mental or physical health conditions is not allowed by the ADA save for a few exceptions where public safety comes into play. For this reason, employers should avoid using tests that are clinical or diagnostic in nature. Fortunately, most professionally developed aptitude, personality, and skills tests do not violate these guidelines, and they can be a great resource for identifying candidates with the abilities or personality traits most associated with success for a particular position.

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How Integrity Tests Help with Risk Management

All employers take a little bit of a risk when they hire a new employee. Will the employee excel in the job? Will the employee fit in with the company culture?  Will the employee be happy with the job responsibilities associated with the position? These are all normal concerns that any hiring manager may have. Pre-employment tests can help address these concerns by providing employers with data-driven insights that have been shown to predict performance, and thus reduce the risk of an unproductive hire.

However, one particular type of test, commonly called an “integrity test,” is designed not so much to predict overall productivity, but to help employers avoid more specific risks relating to what Industrial and Organizational psychologists classify as counterproductive work behaviors (CWB).  These relate to some questions you don’t want to have to worry about: Will the employee steal from the company? Will the employee reveal confidential information or trade secrets? Will the employee follow the general rules and ethics outlined by the company’s policies?

All of these questions drill down to an employee’s general reliability and rule-following tendencies. Employees who fail to follow rules or who engage in unethical behavior can impose great harm on their companies. Finding ways to minimize this risk is a wise step for employers to take.

Integrity tests that assess CWBs are most commonly used for entry-level positions for which trustworthiness and rule-following is especially important. CWBs are behaviors that undermine and potentially harm a company. Some examples include tardiness, absenteeism, substance abuse, sexual harassment, theft, fraud, and workplace bullying.

These sorts of behaviors can have serious consequences. For instance, a manufacturing company that hires employees who regularly operate machinery may want to use an integrity test to help avoid adverse safety-related incidents.  Even though the company provides employees with strict safety procedures for how to use the machinery, an employee who may be more averse to following rules might ignore safety protocol and become seriously injured, or even injure other employees. Reducing safety risks has obvious benefits in terms of ensuring employee well-being, protecting an employer’s brand, and saving costs related to workers’ compensation.

Preventing these types of incidents is clearly in a company’s best interests. While there’s no magic bullet for eliminating counterproductive workplace behaviors entirely, taking a risk management approach can help minimize potential liability. Integrity tests are useful tools for assessing the likelihood that an employee will act in a way that may harm the company. By using integrity tests in the hiring process, employers can narrow down their applicant pool to focus on the job candidates who demonstrate attitudes most associated with productivity, rule adherence, and honesty.

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Blind Hiring: A New Trend in the Quest for Fair Hiring Practices

With the recent push for companies to hire a more diverse workforce, many employers are opting to use what are known as “blind hiring” techniques. Blind hiring is a way to minimize unconscious bias in hiring decisions, making it easier for employers to evaluate a candidate’s abilities without being influenced by factors such as gender, ethnicity, age, and educational background. Blind hiring tactics can take many forms, from simply eliminating (or “blinding”) names and other identifying information on resumes, to postponing face-to-face interviews until as late in the hiring process as possible.  A recent Wall Street Journal article provides some other examples of innovative ways employers are implementing “blind hiring” techniques.

For decades, social psychologists have known that even people who deny holding any explicit stereotypes or prejudicial attitudes often demonstrate implicit bias in certain situations. Millions of people have been surprised to learn through their reactions in various experiments that they may hold negative unconscious associations about people of different races, sexual orientations, or genders.  (If you want to try testing yourself, you can take an implicit bias test created by Harvard researchers here.)

The potential for “unconscious bias” to influence hiring decisions is well-documented in research. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with traditionally white names were 50% more likely to receive a callback for an interview than applicants with African-American names, even though the resumes were statistically identical. Another study in PNAS showed that when academic scientists received nearly identical applications from male and female students applying for a lab manager position, they rated female applicants lower on the scales of competence and hireability, and assigned female applicants a lower average starting salary.

The findings from these types of studies have been replicated in a variety of different scenarios. Despite the best of intentions, employers tend to select candidates who they connect with socially or who they think they’d like to hang out with. And while cultural fit is an important consideration when hiring new employees, these factors can sometimes unintentionally eliminate well-qualified candidates from the running.

At its core, “blind hiring” is about making the hiring process more objective in order to lessen the effect of unconscious bias in hiring decisions.  This is also the goal of pre-employment tests, which are designed to provide objective, standardized data about job candidates to help employers find the best talent for their organizations. “Blind hiring” is a trend to keep an eye on as innovative companies look to make their talent discovery techniques more effective and more fair.

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New Study Affirms the Predictive Power of Pre-Employment Tests

For over half a century, psychological research has demonstrated that pre-employment tests provide relevant and objective data about job candidates that are ultimately predictive of employee success. Now, a compelling new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reaffirms the idea that the use of pre-employment tests leads to tangible improvements in hiring results.

The NBER partnered with researchers from Harvard, Yale, and the University of Toronto to investigate how the hiring decisions of (human) managers compared with the hiring decisions made by a pre-employment test’s algorithm. The study analyzed an enormous sample of 300,000 hires and 555 hiring managers within 15 firms.

What they found was that simply incorporating job tests into the hiring process lead to improvements in employee retention – employees who were hired with job testing stayed 15% longer in their positions than those hired without testing. They also found that the more a manager strayed from the test’s recommendation, the worse the hiring outcome. In other words, the test selected better job applicants than the hiring managers.

For a much more detailed look at the study and its relevance to employers, click here.

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Quality vs. Quantity – The HR Dilemma of Finding Qualified Applicants

Every week I speak to a lot of hiring managers and recruiters and repeatedly hear their frustrations at not finding enough qualified applicants. Similar sentiments were echoed in Elena Holodny’s Business Insider article The US economy is turning into a nightmare for recruiters. Finding quality employees is always at the top of the to-do list for those in HR, and while receiving a ton of applications may seem like a good thing in the hiring process, sometimes the “more-the-merrier” doesn’t quite apply when so few of the applicants are qualified.

With more and more businesses moving to online applications as the primary, if not the only method to apply, job applicants can sit at home and apply to dozens or more jobs in an hour.  Job board aggregators like Indeed and ZipRecruiter push the job postings out to multiple websites, making them visible to millions of candidates from a single platform. While this convenience certainly makes the application process more efficient, it can also dilute the overall quality of the candidate pool. Invariably, you will receive applications from people who don’t possess ANY of the minimum job requirements.

Online job applications also mean that the individual candidate may not be as invested in the application process – research indicates that applicants spend less than 2 minutes reading each job description, so it’s no surprise that employers are reporting a lack of qualified applicants. Lack of investment also diminishes the chances that a candidate will show up for interviews or complete other steps of the application process. All of this leads to a lot of wasted time and frustration that falls squarely on HR’s shoulders.

Application statistics

One of the biggest trends in pre-employment testing, and a key factor behind the growth in this space, is that employers are now increasingly using pre-employment tests early in the hiring process as a means of finding out whether or not a candidate meets the basic qualifications for the job.  By assessing an applicant’s critical thinking ability or basic work readiness skills, for example, an employer can quickly filter through large applicant pools to focus their energy on the most qualified applicants who are most likely to succeed.Hiring FunnelThe data gathered from pre-employment tests can help recruiters and hiring managers have more meaningful and productive conversations with their applicants. Furthermore, applicants become more invested in the process when they take 20 or 30 minutes to complete a pre-employment test, which increases the chances that they’ll show up for interviews or follow through on other steps in the hiring process. Most importantly, pre-employment tests help you find the needle in the haystack within your large applicant pool, making it easier to find the best talent to join your team.


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Our Pricing Explained

We often get asked why our pricing is structured the way that it is. When we launched our service in 2007, we were the only testing provider to have a flat-fee, subscription pricing model.  Now some other providers have followed suit. With the annual subscription fee, you get unlimited testing for every test in our portfolio.  The subscription price is based on the number of employees in your company, or the number of employees in a particular department or branch for which you want to administer pre-employment tests.

We believe that for most companies, flat-fee pricing has a number of advantages over per-test pricing models. For one, you will have more predictable costs. You know exactly what the total cost will be before getting started, and you don’t have to factor in additional costs if you decide to administer more tests or hire more people than you expected.

Second, flat-fee pricing almost always helps customers lower the total costs of administering pre-employment tests. With online tests, the incremental cost of delivering tests is relatively low, and the transactional pay-per-test model, which originated in a time when test scoring wasn’t automated, doesn’t make much sense anymore.

Third, flat-fee pricing actually helps you drastically reduce time spent in the hiring process by encouraging you to test early in the process. Pre-employment testing adds the most value when it’s done early in the hiring process because it helps you cut through large applicant pools to find the candidates who are most qualified for the job. However, testing early in the process as opposed to testing a smaller, pre-filtered group of candidates later on requires you to administer a massive number of tests. Flat-fee pricing allows you to administer tests to large groups of applicants in the early stages of hiring without having to worry about the additional fees associated with per-test pricing models. No more rationing tests!

But why do we structure the prices of our subscriptions around employee head count? We use employee head count as a proxy for a company’s level of hiring activity. Companies with 200 employees are likely to hire more people within a year than companies with just 5 employees. The number of employees at a company allows us to make a (pretty accurate) estimation of how many people that company is likely to hire in that year.

If you’d like a quote for your company, email

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Criteria Corp Now Integrates with Greenhouse

We’re excited to announce a new partnership with Greenhouse! Greenhouse is an applicant tracking system designed to help you make more data-driven hiring decisions across the whole recruitment process. Our partnership with Greenhouse means that you will now be able to seamlessly integrate Criteria Corp’s testing platform with your Greenhouse account. Streamline your hiring process by administering tests and viewing candidate test results all within the Greenhouse system.

Want to learn more?  Check out this post on the Greenhouse blog about the integration process to find out how the partnership makes it easy to merge Criteria’s test results into Greenhouse’s streamlined recruiting platform.

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Hiring Fail: The Humor in Hiring the Wrong Person

All employers can remember a time when they hired the wrong person for the job. The hiring process is both art and science, and it’s impossible to get it right every time. Adding pre-employment tests into your hiring arsenal can help you increase your hiring success rate and reduce the occurrence of what we like to call “hiring fails.” We know how much of a pain point these hiring fails can be for recruiters and hiring managers alike, so we made a video to poke fun at the comedic side of a hire gone wrong. Enjoy!

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Credit checks for job candidates are losing favor as hiring criteria

Using credit checks as a factor in the hiring process has always been controversial. According to data from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 47% of employers in the U.S. run credit checks on potential hires.  Critics argue that using credit checks on candidates is discriminatory by unfairly filtering out people who are struggling financially. The thinking goes that, in order to repair their credit, job seekers need jobs, but eliminating candidates based on bad credit makes this much more difficult. More importantly, there is no evidence that credit checks relate to job performance in the first place. The result: employers cannot prove a credit check adheres to the rule of “job-relatedness,” which is required for any factor used in hiring decisions.

With this in mind, New York City recently passed legislation banning most employers from using credit checks to discriminate against job applicants or current employees. Brad Lander, the bill’s sponsor, calls the new legislation “a civil rights bill,” and it seems likely that more cities will follow New York City’s example. If background credit checks for job candidates continue to lose support across the country, employers will likely stop using them in the hiring process. Overall, this is a positive development for recruiters because credit checks have little utility as a means of predicting future job performance, and frankly it’s about time they be discarded as a variable in making employee selection decisions. More predictive criteria, like pre-employment tests, can help fill the void: well validated and professionally developed employment tests are far more predictive of job performance, resulting in job-related and legally defensible tools for the employer that are less biased and fairer to job candidates.

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How Much Testing is OK?

In the social media age, when a company’s employment brand is more important than ever, it’s a great idea for companies to always keep the issue of candidate perception in mind when implementing pre-employment testing. Given that the trend is increasingly towards testing early in the hiring process — as we discussed here and here — it’s important to consider the question of how much testing is appropriate when the tests are one of the first points of contact a candidate may have with your organization.

We analyzed a lot of data (about half a million tests) to help answer this question. As the graph below makes clear, candidates complete the tests much less frequently when the length of the test exceeds 40 minutes.

The completion rates for batteries less than 40 minutes in length always exceed 75%. If this seems low, consider that many candidates encounter the test through a link in a job posting, and may simply close the test window after deciding they don’t have the time, ability, or inclination to take the tests. If candidates won’t spend 20-30 minutes applying for a job, chances are they weren’t serious about working for your organization in the first place—we call this group “resume spammers.” Interestingly, this 75%+ completion rate is no different for a very short (less than ten minute) test than it is for a 30-40 minute test.

However, in cases where candidates are asked to take a test battery that is longer than 40 minutes, the completion rates are significantly lower: 66% for 41-60 minute tests, and 60% for tests lasting longer than an hour. It seems that the point at which “test fatigue” begins to discourage candidates can be pinpointed: it’s after 40 minutes. This is why we recommend that our customers keep test batteries under 40 minutes in length whenever possible. This is especially true for remote testing done early in the hiring process. It is impossible to know from the data, although it seems highly likely, that candidates will have higher completion rates for tests given on site, for several reasons—the main one being that if candidates perceive themselves to be under serious consideration for a job, they are much happier to spend a long time being assessed.

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