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How to Use Pre-Employment Assessments to Make Better Hires

Professional using a pencil to take a pre-employment assessment

With so many job seekers in the market, hiring managers need all the help they can get screening and qualifying candidates. A strong qualification process weeds out ill-fitting or underqualified applicants, increasing the likelihood of making the best possible hire for your open position. Pre-employment assessments are a valuable tool in a recruiter’s qualification process. 

Do pre-employment assessments have a place in your hiring process, and if so, which ones should you use? Knowing the benefits of candidate assessments and seeing some of the most common pre-employment testing examples is helpful to aid in your decision.

Benefits of Using Candidate Assessments

1. Reduces hiring bias

It’s a known fact that personal bias can creep into the hiring process, even when we have the best of intentions about the remaining objective. Personal bias can skew our opinion of candidates based on our experiences, our affinity for people who are similar to us, and even factors we’re unaware of. This can make it impossible to hire the candidate who’s objectively best for the job. 

Pre-employment assessments of candidates help level the playing field, giving us a standard, non-subjective measurement system on which to gauge all candidates equally.

Related: Beware of These Subconscious Hiring Biases

2. Weeds out unqualified candidates

Pre-employment assessments are useful in an employer’s market when companies see a higher-than-average volume of applicants for every role. Volume is a constant challenge for recruiters, who must find ways to zero in on the best candidates without getting bogged down by those applying to every open job they see. 

Hiring managers can use pre-employment assessments to set “dealbreaker” questions, which clearly indicate whether a candidate is qualified for a role. This helps ensure that only candidates who are truly equipped for the job make it through to the next round. 

3. Compares two or more top contenders

Sometimes, you’ll run into a scenario where you have more than one qualified candidate for a job. This is a great problem to have, but it can make selecting your final hire tough. Candidate assessments give hiring managers an additional data point to go on when comparing candidates who otherwise seem equally matched. This can be a helpful “tiebreaker” if you’re stuck between two excellent choices.

Related: How to Decide Between Two Candidates

4. Sheds light on blind spots

When hiring, there’s a danger that lies in the unknown—niche skills you can’t personally assess, for example, or behavioral quirks that will make it hard for a candidate to fit in with your culture. It’s impossible to cover all of these unknowns in a job interview because, as they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. 

Pre-employment assessments can help illuminate these potential unknowns, giving you additional context to use during interviews and bringing up topics you may want to follow up on before making a final hire.  

Disadvantages of Using Pre-Employment Assessments

1. Consistency

Not all tests are reliable. If a candidate took the same test two weeks apart and could get a wildly different score, it’s not a good pre-employment assessment because it lacks any consistency. Any tests your company is considering using for new candidates should be tested multiple times to ensure reliable results. 

2. It doesn’t capture the whole picture

Any pre-employment assessments will only capture a small portion of a candidate’s knowledge and skill set. It can be a helpful tool, but it shouldn’t be the decision-maker. These tests only measure a handful of traits. Measuring someone’s ability to learn new tasks and communicate is hard through tests. If the results are used to measure specific job skills, they can be one tool in the process. 

3. Could violate state and federal laws

There have been some discrimination lawsuits in the past on different hiring practices. You must choose pre-employment assessments that will not cause any problems for your company. Tests must meet the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) requirements and Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Procedures (UGESP). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits any pre-hiring tests or evaluations that are considered medical exams. Be cautious with your chosen tests, and ensure they are completely relevant to your open position.

4. Adds time to the hiring process

The average timeline for the hiring process ranges from three to six weeks in the United States. If you include pre-employment assessments in your process, your process will likely be on the longer side of the range. Each company will need to weigh the benefits of the pre-employment assessments and see if they can manage with a longer timeline to fill job openings.

Different Types of Pre-Employment Assessments

Job knowledge tests

Job knowledge pre-employment assessments measure specific job skills a candidate would need for the role. The subject matter includes either technical or theoretical. For example, an IT help desk position may test applicants on their technical knowledge of hardware equipment. 

These tests are common with roles that require a certain level of expertise or mastery before taking the job. These tests aren’t good for situations where there will be training once the position is filled, but it measures someone’s ability to do the skills that are required to step into the role. Job knowledge tests are good for accounting principles, computer programming, and specific knowledge of legal guidelines. 

Personality tests

When used correctly, personality tests can help employers assess whether a candidate’s characteristics will mesh well with the requirements of a role, like identifying empathy in customer service candidates or resilience in prospective healthcare workers. 

Using personality as a candidate assessment tool, however, isn’t without controversy. Personality tests can unintentionally weed out candidates who, from a skills perspective, are fully qualified for a job, and some studies have shown they’re not a strong predictor of on-the-job performance. 

Personality assessments often rely on test-takers to gauge themselves (i.e., “rate your work ethic on a scale of 1 to 5”), which can result in the candidate responding based on what they think the employer wants to hear versus their actual assessment of themself. Finally, personality tests come with legal risks an employer must consider. Candidates may claim they discriminate against applicants with an illness, for example. 

When hiring, personality tests shouldn’t be used to arrive at a hard ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ in the application process. Rather, they’re best used as an informational tool for assessing culture fit and identifying a candidate’s potential for career progression within the organization, like whether their learning style is aligned with the development opportunities you offer, and so on.

Related: Are Personality Tests Beneficial as Part of The Hiring Process?

Cognitive ability tests

Some cognitive skills can be tested during a pre-employment assessment. Measure an applicant’s attention, reading comprehension, and problem-solving skills using a cognitive test. These tests are great indicators of future job performance, and companies that implement these see high success in correctly predicting a candidate’s abilities. 

Various cognitive assessments include numerical reasoning, spatial ability, and verbal reasoning. Some focus on one area, while others cover a more general overview. The tests are common in many industries and roles because they are easy to administer, and the results can easily be added to the applicant files. 

Behavioral assessments

Unlike personality tests, which assess a candidate based on broad traits, behavioral assessments aim to predict how a candidate would respond in specific job-related scenarios. The thinking is that past behavior is generally an accurate predictor of future behavior. Behavioral assessments can be more effective than personality tests because they use questions tailored to a specific role. 

Behavioral candidate assessments are useful for discovering a candidate’s drives and work style preferences, like the level of stability they prefer in a role or whether their communication style is more formal or casual. This information can be useful when determining culture fit and, if the candidate is ultimately hired, can help managers coach the new hire most effectively. 

For the best results, the questions in a behavioral assessment should be tailored to your workplace and the behaviors you’re looking for in the right candidate for a particular role.

Skills tests

A skills test assesses a candidate’s ability to perform the technical duties of a job. In a skills test, a candidate is assigned one or more tasks that are typical of the role, then judged based on their performance. This can be incredibly useful if you’re hiring for a highly-skilled role, like a technical position, or one where prior experience in a certain type of project is essential. 

In addition to verifying a candidate’s abilities, skills tests help ensure you’re hiring on merit rather than based on a candidate’s background or connections. Since they’re often scored using a points system, skills tests can also give hiring managers a good way to compare two similar candidates side by side. 

Integrity tests

Integrity tests can help companies avoid hiring people who might be dishonest or a bad fit for the organization’s values. Typically, integrity tests would be part of the interview with at least one or two questions regarding a candidate’s ethics. You can also utilize the more general personality tests to get an idea of the integrity of applicants.

Integrity can provide insights into job performance. It can help avoid any possibilities of theft on the job or disciplinary problems. Integrity tests can’t capture all potential issues because applicants may be dishonest with their answers. Still, they are typically unbiased and incredibly standard in the hiring process.

Emotional intelligence tests

Emotional intelligence (EI) measures how well a person can build relationships and read someone’s emotions. Having the ability to persuade others and interpret their nonverbal cues and emotions effectively can be very beneficial for many professions. Companies may run candidates through emotional intelligence pre-employment assessments to see how well they will fit into the company. 

The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test is one of the most popular tests and can be completed in under 45 minutes. It will help you assess the candidate’s reading abilities and understanding of human emotions. By using these tests, you can better understand how people can contribute or lead a team and how they will get along with others. 

Physical ability tests

For positions that require a certain level of physical fitness, there may be some physical ability tests to conduct to ensure candidates have the strength and stamina to perform that job tasks. These tests require your HR department’s guidance to ensure you aren’t doing anything resembling a medical examination, which is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

It’s important to perform these tests when they are relevant to reduce the accidents that can happen in the workplace and worker’s compensation claims. Muscular tension tests measure the ability to push, pull, and lift, and muscular power tests require individuals to overcome resistance. Endurance tests measure cardiovascular and muscular endurance to see if the applicant can perform a task repeatedly without losing steam. Flexibility and balance tests are the other common assessments if there will be a lot of bending, twisting, or even balancing on a ladder. The proper tests are determined by the tasks assigned to the potential employee. 

Best Practices for Pre-Employment Assessments

Regardless of which of these pre-employment testing examples you’re considering using, these best practices will help you get the most out of your candidate assessment process. 

1. Complete an analysis of the job opening

Before determining anything about the pre-employment assessments, complete a full review of the job description for the open position. It’s important to understand what qualifications you’re looking for and what job duties the employee will perform. Having a complete picture of the role will allow you to select the relevant and appropriate tests to run with candidates. 

2. Define the criteria you’ll be measuring

What kind of test results are you looking to see from a strong candidate? What benchmarks will you use to measure these things? Whether it’s a numerical score or a certain long-form answer to a question, defining success gives you a baseline against which to measure the candidates who participate in the assessment. 

3. Set a standard for all candidates 

For a pre-employment assessment system to be truly objective, all candidates must be tested the same way, at the same point in the hiring process, with the same test. Suppose you only test certain candidates or give different applicants different assessments. In that case, it’s impossible to maintain a fair and objective hiring process (not to mention that you’d be setting yourself up for legal action). 

Set a single testing standard to be used with all candidates so you’re comparing apples to apples with every hiring decision. 

4. Examine the candidate holistically 

In addition to comparing candidates’ results against one another, you’ll also want to weigh their assessment results against the rest of the information you have on them, like their resume and interview. 

Pre-employment assessments don’t exist in a vacuum. There are all kinds of reasons an otherwise stellar candidate might fall short of your testing expectations—they’re not a good test taker, they have a disability that made the test format challenging for them, they got bad news the morning of the test, and so on. Thus, candidate assessments shouldn’t be used as a make-or-break hiring factor. Rather, they’re just one piece of the overall picture of a candidate’s performance in a role. 

5. Measure assessment effectiveness

As we repeatedly preach, every part of your hiring process should be regularly measured and assessed for ROI. This includes your pre-employment screenings. 

Periodically examine your new hire data to see whether candidates scoring highly on assessments perform well in their new roles. Additionally, look at metrics like time to productivity and turnover, both of which can be tied to the effectiveness of your pre-employment assessments.

How Much Should Pre-Employment Test Count?

Pre-employment assessments will impact your hiring decisions, but the weight of these tests will depend on the job opening you are filling. A job with incredibly specific skills required may rely a lot more on the results of the pre-employment assessments to make their decisions and ensure they choose a candidate who is capable of doing the job. For jobs with a lot of training once filled, pre-employment assessments will have less weight, and decisions should rely on the interview process and the candidate who fits with the company culture and has the drive to learn. 

Make Stronger Hires the First Time with 4 Corner Resources

If you’re overwhelmed with a high volume of job applicants and need help narrowing the playing field, enlist the staffing experts at 4 Corner Resources. Our proprietary recruiting methodology consistently produces stronger hires faster and more affordably than traditional in-house hiring. Whether you need to supplement your full-time hiring staff or want to outsource hiring completely, we have a solution to fit your needs.

Schedule your free consultation today to learn more about the benefits of working with a professional recruiter.


Why do companies use pre-employment assessments as part of their hiring process?

Pre-employment assessments help companies make more informed decisions on the best candidate for an opening. Use this data with the interviews to better understand the candidate. Candidates who struggle with in-person interviews may be able to better showcase their skills with multiple channels during the hiring process.

At what point should companies conduct pre-employment assessments in the interview process?

Pre-employment tests can be conducted before the first interview to help screen candidates and ensure applicants are qualified for the position. More in-depth assessments can occur between the first and second interviews or during an interview to gather different types of information.

How important are pre-employment assessments when choosing the best candidate?

The information gathered from a pre-employment assessment should offer additional insight into the potential job performance of each candidate. Some roles require candidates to showcase their abilities during an assessment, whereas others are more general and just provide supplemental data. 

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn