Pre-employment tests are a great way to learn more about your candidates throughout the hiring process. There are a number of different types of pre-employment tests that differ based on the qualities or attributes they measure, from cognitive ability to personality and skills. (Importantly, pre-employment tests are not the same as pre-employment “screenings,” such as background screenings or drug tests.)
Pre-employment tests are designed to evaluate your candidates on job-related abilities that ultimately predict the likelihood that they will be successful on the job. Some tests are more predictive than others, and any test you choose to use in the hiring process should be carefully selected to be compliant with EEOC guidelines. The easiest way to make sure you fall within those guidelines is by choosing tests that are job-related.
Here are 5 of the most common types of pre-employment tests:
Cognitive Aptitude Tests
Cognitive aptitude tests measure general intelligence, which provides an indication of a candidate’s ability to think critically, solve problems, learn new skills, and digest and apply new information. If these sound like qualities you'd want to have in just about every job candidate, then it shouldn’t be too surprising that cognitive aptitude is one of the best ways to predict job performance. In fact, cognitive aptitude is significantly more predictive of future job performance than many of the traditional hiring criteria that most of us use today. For example, cognitive aptitude is twice as predictive as job interviews, three times as predictive as work experience, and four times as predictive as education level.
Cognitive aptitude (or cognitive ability) tests can be useful for nearly every job type and job level, making it one of the most effective types of pre-employment tests for learning more about candidate potential. Cognitive aptitude can even help you identify candidates who you may have overlooked based on their resume alone, but who demonstrate high potential in the long-term. And although they measure general intelligence, cognitive aptitude tests are not the same as an IQ test, because they often measure job-related qualities like attention to detail that are not typically a part of traditional IQ tests.
Personality tests are one of the most commonly used types of pre-employment tests. Within the realm of personality, you’ll also likely to find the greatest variety of pre-employment tests on the market.
Personality tests that are specifically designed for use in the hiring process typically measure candidates based on certain personality traits that are relevant to job performance. Many of these tests are based on the Big Five personality traits, the most widely accepted taxonomy of personality among industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists. These traits are relatively stable over a person’s lifetime, and they tell you how likely a person is to “fit” with a job based on his or her personality. People who “fit” with their jobs are more likely to excel in the role and to stay long-term.
Other types of pre-employment tests assign individuals to certain personality “types.” While these type-based personality tests can be interesting from a team building perspective, they are typically not as scientifically established. It is less advisable to use these tests to make hiring decisions unless they are specifically validated for use in the hiring process. (In fact, test providers of common assessments like the DISC and the Myers-Briggs both explicitly state that their tests should not be used in the pre-employment process because they are not validated for this purpose.) These type-based tests are more useful once employees have already been hired, as a way to explore team dynamics or to define career development tracks.
Traditional personality tests should also not be confused with psychological tests, which can function as a mental health screening. The vast majority of employers should not be using psychological tests that assess mental health because these tests are not legally compliant with the ADA. There are very few exceptions.
Integrity tests technically fall under the personality test umbrella, but they measure a more specific set of behavioral tendencies. Integrity tests evaluate candidates on reliability, integrity, honesty, and other qualities like rule-adherence. They are designed to identify candidates who are less likely to engaged in counterproductive work behaviors such as theft, fraud, tardiness, or absenteeism.
Integrity tests are most commonly used to hire for entry-level jobs where rule-adherence is critical, or for jobs that have stringent safety policies (i.e. roles in manufacturing, medical, etc.) These tests are typically able to get honest answers out of candidates through covert questions that indirectly measure integrity, making it harder for candidates to manipulate their answers to look better to a hiring manager.
Skills can be broad, but in the case of pre-employment testing, skills tests evaluate a candidate’s proficiency with an acquired skill that they picked up from prior experience. Skills differ from cognitive aptitude and personality because skills are learned, while cognitive aptitude and personality are innate and relatively constant throughout a person’s lifetime.
Skills tests can help you evaluate whether a candidate has the prior knowledge to settle right into the role on day one. This is really valuable for knowing how much training a candidate needs. While skills are a helpful indicator in the present day, the skills someone has right now doesn’t provide a great indication of their long-term ability to succeed on the job. This is apparent when you compare the lower predictiveness of skills tests with the very high predictiveness of cognitive aptitude tests when it comes to predicting future job performance.
Physical Ability Tests
One test that is less commonly used is a physical ability test, which assesses a candidate’s general strength or endurance. These tests are only relevant for jobs that require significant physical exertion or for which a certain standard of fitness is necessary to ensure the safety of the employee. In other words, physical ability tests should be administered with care. They should only be included in the hiring process if the test is measuring a quality that is relevant and job-related.