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Employment Assessments & Testing: A Guide for HR and Hiring Managers

Employer hiring assessments and tests have a singular goal: identify skills, competencies, and traits to determine how well a candidate will fit into a position.

While the concept is simple, the practice and implementation of this process can be trying. Psychometricians and Industrial Psychologists have worked since the 1940s trying to identify the key characteristics that make one candidate more successful than another. While the industry has learned a lot in the past 80 years, there is no single assessment that works perfectly.

Instead, there are some key concepts that organizations should know when employing these tools.  In this guide, we will cover:

  • Identifying what tests you should and shouldn’t use (based on research!)
  • How to start using employer hiring assessments
  • What candidates should know about your employer hiring assessments and tests

We want to be transparent. We represent a hiring assessment called PXT Select.

As an assessment vendor, we wrote this article to help any hiring manager use hiring assessments or tests regardless if they use the assessment we represent or not. 

What Empoyler Assessments and Tests should you use?

Depending on the industry or the type of position, there are a variety of selection assessments to choose from:

  • Personality Tests

Personality and behavior play a significant role in helping determine how well a person fits into a specific position. However, it’s essential to choose a personality assessment that was validated for hiring (unlike DiSC).

  • Cognitive or Thinking Abilities Tests

Certain positions, such as engineering, technology, manufacturing, sales, or management, require the ability to problem-solve and engage in high-level thinking. Cognitive tests should provide math and verbal reasoning to give well-rounded insight into a candidate’s thinking ability.

  • Competency Tests

Competency tests will combine various types of testing (i.e., personality, behavior, and thinking styles) to predict how well a candidate will fit in a particular position.

  • Basic Skills Tests

Basic skills tests are typically industry or position-specific. For example, an open position in the advertising industry might have a candidate go through a ‘media math’ test to demonstrate that the candidate understands how data is represented for standard advertising metrics.

Getting Started (Part 1): Setting performance goals

Pre-Employment Testing

Before employers can add a pre-employment test to their interview process, they need to identify specific characteristics that they are looking for in a candidate. As an example, does the job require supporting customers over the phone, or does it require having a high level of comfort when using digital technology?

Potentially, this information is already identified in the job description that is posted on job boards like Indeed. However, it’s important to really think through all aspects of the job and outline what is expected from the prospective employee. Employers should outline specific competencies that are measurable. These are some examples:

  • Candidates should be able to perform moderately difficult calculations (i.e. percentages, basic division) (Thinking Skills)
  • Candidates should be outgoing and enjoy interacting with potential customers (Behavior)
  • Candidates enjoy learning technical material. They don’t shy away from understanding how things work. (Interests)

Each position should have a different list of work specifications. Once this list is combined, employers should look to work with a Hiring Test vendor that can supply a validated assessment that follows regional employment guidelines on using these types of tests.

If you are an employer in the US, be sure your chosen hiring test  provides documentation that it follows the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commision guidelines (EEOC).

Using a tool that doesn’t follow the federal governments assessment guidelines (in the US) can result in lawsuits.

Pre-Employment Testing (Part 2): Benchmarking

Once employers have a set of traits that represent an ideal candidate, they must translate those qualities into a benchmark to compare prospective candidates. 

As an example, the tool that we most often recommend is PXT Select. Below is an image that shows how we benchmark the traits we seek when hiring a customer service position in our organization.

The green colored area showcases the thinking abilities we looked for in our candidate. 

The teal colored areas showcase the range of each behavioral trait we are looking for.

The range from this particular model is pretty wide. Depending on how much data you are using you can potentially narrow this field. In our case, because this was a new position for our team, we kept the field pretty wide.

Once we have a prospective candidate for our open customer service position, we are able to compare their test results against the model we have created for our position.

Quick-guide: Creating a Employee Benchmark

There are two primary ways that organizations can create a benchmark for an open or newly created position:

  1. Survey all current employees in the position, aggregate their results, and identify traits from top performers and low performers to clearly show what aptitudes are required for your position. Often, this process requires upwards of 30-50 employees per position. Statistically, the more data you have, the more accurate your model will be.
  2. Use validated data supplied by the assessment vendor you are working with. Most vendors are able to segment their data and create standardized benchmarks for various positions. While this solution is not perfect, it’s a great starting place for small to mid-sized businesses who don’t have enough employees to create their own benchmarks.

Pre-Employment Testing (Part 3): Taking the Test

The final stage of this journey is, unfortunately, often overlooked. 

Employers will spend a lot of time analyzing many details about what their ideal candidate looks like, and, let’s be clear, this is time well spent. 

However, it’s important to remember that there is an actual person on the other side of this process. That person will eventually take this test in hopes of becoming an employee at your organization. It would be terrible for a new employee to start work at your organization and be disillusioned by a difficult or tedious hiring process and assessment.

For this reason, it’s strongly suggested that employers go through the hiring process themselves including taking the assessment. This experience will not only allow them to evaluate the full process but also use the experience to set the tone for when they invite a prospective candidate to take an assessment. 

It’s important to remember that there is an actual person on the other side of this process. This person is taking this test in hopes of becoming an employee at your organization.

When going through the trial process, it’s important to evaluate:

  • How much information is provided prior to taking the test? Does this information adequately explain why the candidate is asked to take an assessment.
  • Does the assessment cater to those with disabilities? Is it ADA compliant? Ensure it provides a way for those who are sight or hearing impaired to complete the assessment.
  • Can the assessment be administered online or must it be administered at the employer’s office?

Employers must find the right balance between being open and hospitable to a potential new employee while also collecting data to support an informed hiring decision. 

This pre-employment testing list could be longer, but these three items are a great place for employers to begin their discussion.

Quick-guide for Candidates:

For a candidate, the idea of taking a test might seem unnecessary. However, it’s important to remember that these methods often better equip organizations to overcome hiring biases because they use data to find candidates who fit their role rather than relying on impressions alone. It’s important for candidates to recognize that employers are already investing in their potential as a future employee.

As a candidate taking a selection assessment, consider the following:

  • Answer questions on your hiring test truthfully. Many assessments contain questions designed to spot candidates who answer questions in a way that makes them look ‘perfect.’. 
  • Test anxiety is real. If you feel that it affected how you completed the assessment, let your hiring manager know.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to complete the test. Most tests will take around an hour to complete.

Are You Evaluating Adding a Hiring Assessment to Your Hiring Process?