How To Use Pre-Employment Assessments to Make Better Hires

Professional using a pencil to take a test

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? To aid in your decision, it’s helpful to know the benefits of candidate assessments and to see some of the most common pre-employment testing examples.

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 own experiences, our affinity for people who are similar to us, and even factors that we’re not consciously aware of. This can make it impossible to hire the candidate who’s objectively best for the job. 

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

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 who are blanket applying to every open job they see. 

Hiring managers can use pre-employment assessments to set “dealbreaker” questions—items that will clearly indicate whether or not 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. 

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.  

Common Pre-Employment Testing Examples

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?

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 more casual. This information can be useful when determining culture fit and, if the candidate is ultimately hired, can help managers coach the new hire in the most effective way. 

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 being a great way to verify 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. 

4 Steps for Using Candidate Assessments to Make Better Hires

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. 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 what success looks like gives you a baseline against which to measure the candidates who participate in the assessment. 

2. 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. If you only test certain candidates or give different applicants different assessments, 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. 

3. 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 how a candidate will perform in a role. 

4. Measure assessment effectiveness

As we preach again and again, 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 who scored highly on assessments are in fact performing 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. 

Still unsure what type of screening test is right for your organization? There are dozens to choose from and comparing them all can be overwhelming. To help, we’ve highlighted the benefits of some of our top picks for candidate assessment tools in our vendor review guide

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. To learn more about the benefits of working with a professional recruiter, schedule your free consultation today


Resources and Sources:

https://hbr.org/2014/08/the-problem-with-using-personality-tests-for-hiring

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.