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Pre-Employment Tests

Small business owners have challenges finding the most qualified workers in today's online hiring environment. Since most people fill out applications and leave resumes online, you must make hiring decisions without meeting potential new hires in person.

Employers want the best candidates before they begin in-person interviews. How can you find out which candidates are the best fit for the job opening?

Job descriptions and online hiring boards only go so far. Screening job applicants to find qualified candidates is time-consuming. Small businesses can't survive with high turnover rates among new employees. Most small companies also don't have access to hiring managers or headhunting companies. The answer is pre-employment assessment testing.

Types of Pre-Employment Testing

Most employers are familiar with post-offer employment testing, such as drug testing and background checks. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sets guidelines for tests and questions you can ask during hiring.

Most tests must wait until after a conditional offer of employment. Anti-discrimination laws prohibit these types of tests before testing. You may not use the results to deny employment. Employers may not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, gender preference, national origin, or disability.

As long as you keep these restrictions in mind, these tests are helpful for pre-screening applicants.

Aptitude Tests

These are sometimes called cognitive ability tests. Aptitude tests test aspects of intelligence, although they are not "IQ tests." These tests examine problem-solving, verbal, mathematical, or decision-making skills. Aptitude tests correlate well with job performance and are good for choosing candidates based on ability.

The downside of aptitude tests is they only test ability in isolation. These tests can't assess an applicant's other attributes, such as their personality or how they work with others.

Job Skills Tests

Job skills tests, also called knowledge tests, can help when you must fill an open position in a demanding or niche area. A skills test analyzes what the applicant knows about the job and their skill level. A skills test is essential to hire someone immediately for a tech position or highly-skilled labor.

There are two types of job skills tests.

  • Hard skills are technical competencies. Coding, copywriting, marketing, and other job skills are hard skills. Many of these skills need training or certification.
  • Soft skills are non-technical competencies desirable or essential for a position. Management ability, leadership, and attention to detail are soft skills.

Skills testing is less important for entry-level jobs and positions where employees will learn on the job. This test only shows what the candidate already knows, not how quickly they can learn or how they will fit into the company culture.

Personality Tests

Personality tests are popular assessment tools but may not be as valuable in hiring as their marketers would have you believe. Personality tests claim to test for behavioral factors and traits. These tests would help assemble a complementary team of matching personality traits.

In reality, personality assessments don't come from hard science. Some have "correct" responses that are easy to guess from the tone of the question. Some, like the well-known Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), can give different results on different days. Most tests' yes/no format is poorly suited to personality questions, where the answer often is "sometimes" or "most of the time."

These tests can be helpful in your assessment, but take the responses with a spoonful of salt.

Integrity Tests

All employers want honest, trustworthy employees. An integrity test is a good way to find one if you trust job candidates to respond honestly. Unfortunately, few dishonest candidates will reply honestly to the question, "I would never steal from my employer: T/F."

That should not prevent you from having an integrity test. Get a test from a reputable test company, and create a scenario-based test using situations from your own workplace. Flag any strange or unusual responses for further review by your hiring team.

In short, use pre-employment testing as part of the recruitment process to thin down your pool of candidates. Interviews and probationary periods should be the true determination of your ideal new employee.

Legal Hazards to Avoid

As the hiring process moves from job description to onboarding, there are many pitfalls to avoid. The EEOC prohibits some types of testing unless a job falls into specific exempt categories. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires job descriptions to list essential functions. Reviews of applications and resumes must focus on candidate skills and not age, race, or other protected status. There are exams and tests you may only order under specific conditions.

Polygraph Exams

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) prohibits the use of polygraph tests on employees at any time. Exemptions exist for:

  • Some government agencies, such as the FBI
  • Energy-related industries, such as nuclear power
  • Armored car personnel
  • Businesses with reasonable belief an employee has stolen or embezzled

You may not use polygraph exams under any other conditions. Employers must have EPPA posters available for employee viewing at all times.

Medical Tests

The EEOC and ADA ban employers from asking about prospective employees' medical history. After a conditional offer of employment, employers can request a medical exam if it is "job-related and consistent with business necessity." For instance, airlines can ask all pilots to undergo an annual physical to ensure they are healthy.

Medical testing can't screen for disabilities, including actual or perceived genetic disorders. An employer may request medical records to confirm the need for accommodations. Employers records can only use it to verify the need for an accommodation. For example, if an employee requests a first-floor office because of mobility issues, the employer can't ask for a medical history to look for other medical problems.

Pre-Employment Testing and Discrimination

The ADA bans businesses and government employers from discriminating against qualified applicants with disabilities. Employers must ensure their skills assessment tests do not inadvertently discriminate against disabled candidates.

This means that employers to whom the ADA applies must take care that any pre-employment testing analyzes skills and does not screen out disabled candidates simply because of their disabilities.

Similarly, the EEOC warns against "disparate impact" in pre-employment testing. Disparate impact occurs when a practice or policy is facially neutral but unintentionally discriminatory. Unlike "disparate intent," employers do not deliberately set out to screen out certain groups. It happens because the test designers did not think through the test design.

You can do disparate-impact testing if the requirements are necessary for the job. For instance, a vision test requiring 20/20 vision discriminates against the visually impaired but is a job requirement for pilots.

Your tests must allow all testers to take part in an equal manner. Computer testing with adjustable fonts and backgrounds is the best solution to equal testing. Employers must make reasonable accommodations when asked. They don't have to make unusual or burdensome accommodations.

Human resources testing companies have testing templates you can customize for most jobs. If you need help proceeding, these HR professionals can develop legal tests to find the right candidate for your job.

Get Pre-Employment Legal Advice

To ensure a good job fit, you want the right pre-employment test. You also want to ensure you avoid the risk of bias or discrimination. A local employment law attorney can review your test protocols and ensure you follow state and federal laws. They will also answer any other questions you have about employment testing.

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