Submitting New Hire Candidates to Tests

employee testingMany companies subject potential new hires to various levels of testing to gauge overall skills and personality traits. Sometimes the tests are required to confirm specific required skills, such as expertise in a particular programming language or general typing skills. Other tests analyze fundamentals such as math and writing proficiency. Some employers actually subject candidates to SAT/ACT high school style tests. I am very good at math, but I haven’t brushed up on my trig recently. I better engage my high school kid to help prep me!

It is certainly reasonable for hiring firms to validate the skills detailed on candidate resumes and in interviews. After all, many people do lie or at least embellish their experience and training. Making a wrong hire can be very costly to any organization, and ultimately places a black mark on the terminated employee.

But can employers go too far? And what about those character tests, sometimes known as a predictive index? These tests attempt to identify the prospective employee’s personality traits (i.e., is he a Type A personality), and match them to the preferred traits of the open position. Typically developed by psychologists (but not always), the results of these tests can and do make or break the candidates chances at landing the job, sometimes regardless of the candidates actual skills and record of achievement in previous employers.

For example, sales organizations often believe that the best sales people fall more into the Type A category.  These types are generally very ambitious, well organized, and status-conscious.  Does that mean, though, that all successful sales professionals are Type A? Absolutely not. As in any profession, successful workers can come in many shapes, sizes, and personality types, which is why the skilled interviewer must perform the ultimate validation of the candidate’s match to the position. Test results should just be one factor in the process.

A friend of mine once interviewed for a sales position at a fudge manufacturing company — the one that sells those sinful chunks of chocolate to the little mom and pop candy stores you see at every popular vacation spot. Well, the company was owned by an ex-IBMer who believed every employee should possess a high IQ (whatever his definition of high was). My friend was subjected to no less than 6 different tests over a single ½ day period. These tests covered math, science, English language, personality, and logic. Some of the tests were duplicative (think SAT vs. ACT). Basically the company threw the kitchen sink at my friend. All this to hire a sales rep for a company that experienced virtually flat growth over the previous 10 years. (I guess you can sell just so much fattening fudge to tourists regardless of your IQ). He was not hired but interestingly was recontacted by the company several months later because the position was still open. He turned down the offer.

Another company I once worked for absolutely swore by the results of the Predictive Index test. Through a series of multiple choice questions the test (really an assessment) asks you first to evaluate how you think others see you, then asks similar questions about how you personally see yourself. As a test of the test, every employee was asked to take the assessment anonymously. In a quite scary appraisal session, a small committee of managers (myself included) was asked to attempt to match test results (the computerized evaluations) with the corresponding employee. The result? Better than 85% matchup of employee to assessment. Spot on and almost scary accurate! Over the next few years every single interviewed candidate took the Predictive Index test, resulting in at least a 50% drop in turnover. It is important to note that the company used the results as only one factor in candidate evaluations, and did not prejudicially “assign” personality types to job descriptions. The initial exercise of matching assessments to current employees demonstrated the test’s accuracy and flaws, and therefore how to use the test most effectively.

HR organizations should consider the use of tests of different types when evaluating potential new hires. Whether evaluating job skills, aptitude, or cultural fit, employee testing can tell a great deal about the candidate, well beyond the “resume rhetoric” and interview dialog. But submitting candidates to tests without fully understanding how the results actually relate to the open position can lead just as easily to bad hires as without tests.

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