The proliferation of personality tests on the Internet and an increased desire by companies to hire the right employee the first time is driving up the utilization rate of pre employment assessment tests by small business.  Popularity often breeds myths and pre employment tests are no exemption. There are seven common myths surrounding the value and relevance of effective employee assessment.  The following is my response at debunking the 7 common myths about pre employment tests.

1. Did I pass? It never fails. A candidate or employee completes a pre-employment “test.” Inevitably the next words we hear are, “did I pass” or “are you going to tell me I should be looking for another job.” And here’s my favorite: “I guess you’re going to tell me I’m crazy.”

As employee personality assessments (also calls tests, surveys, and profiles) in the workplace grow in popularity, so do the myths. Just as in the above example, the myth is that employees pass or fail or can be diagnosed with a mental health issue. That’s just plain hogwash and far from the truth.

Pre employment tests do not differentiate between good and bad personalities. The results are neutral.  A pre-employment test does however reveal how a candidate, when compared to other like personalities, might approach work and other team members. It’s the organization’s call whether the personality is a good job or bad fit. But as far as the assessment goes, different personalities are just different personalities, no more and no less.

2. Employment assessments are psychological tests. The personality assessments we recommend and those that meet EEO guidelines cannot differentiate between normal and abnormal (clinical pathology) behavior. I mentioned that earlier. Workplace assessments or surveys only assess normal personality and help differentiate between different styles, values, traits and abilities of normal people.

Psychological tests on the other hand help professionals diagnose clinical disorders and pathological behavior. Although these pathologic behaviors may have an impact or bearing on how well someone can perform a job, using them might place an employer in harm’s way. Psychological assessments (those developed to diagnose abnormal conditions) are considered medical tests. To use a medical test you must be able to prove necessity and ensure such a test does not violate the rights of candidates and employees protected under the American Disability Act as well as EEO.

As a head’s up, you will find that few positions qualify for using a clinically-based psychological test. Just like you can’t ask a female candidate if she’s planning on starting a family in the future, you can’t hire or fire in most situations based on mental health or mental illness.

The bottom line is that although knowing the mental health of a candidate before he/she is hired or an employee is promoted might seem judicious, current guidelines and laws protect the candidate, not the employer, from needing to disclose this. 
Personality assessments, on the other hand, that assess normal work behaviors and traits are not only legal but recommended by the Department of Labor.

3. You can’t judge a test by its cover. 
Don’t be fooled by claims of validity.

Any tool, technique or instrument including the interview must be valid. Validity means that the test accurately tests what you’re testing. That might seem like a mouthful but it’s pretty simple really. But just because a test is valid doesn’t mean it’s legal to use. To meet EEO guidelines, any assessment you use must be valid AND job specific to be legal.

For example, suppose you have severe chest pain and are rushed to the emergency room. But instead of checking your heart with an EKG, the nurses and doctors test your blood sugar. If your results are normal (and you are still alive) that doesn’t mean you are okay. The blood sugar test may be a good one and the results are accurate but you still could be having a heart attack. Valid test, good result, wrong application.

The same thing happens in business everyday. The Internet is now clogged with hundreds and hundreds of inexpensive, easy to administer and quick to score personality “tests”. The validity of many of these assessments is questionable and the reliability (will the results hold up over time) is doubtful.

4. An experienced candidate can fake the assessment. Absolutely. But a well constructed assessment has a fakability scale. If a candidate or employee attempts to “fake good” or “fake bad”, the fakability scale will flag the report. The fakability scale is often called social desirability, good impression, positive factor, or just validity.

A word of caution. A questionable validity score does not always indicate that the test-taker intentionally lied but it does warn you that the results may not be fully reliable in which case additional probing might be needed.

5. Testing candidates and employees takes a lot of time. Anything worth doing takes some time. But in this case most of the time is that of the candidate or employee. With the introduction of the Internet and very sophisticated processing software, scoring assessments is easy and basically an administrative function. Often times, they are completed in real time. Retrieving the reports takes minutes if not seconds and with time being a resource few managers have in abundance, third party employee and candidate evaluation through pre employment assessment is a major time-saver.

Instead of scheduling an hour or two or more to interview the candidate, the manager can arrive at the interview with a comprehensive folio on how a candidate will approach the job and then focus the interview on finding out if he or she is qualified for the job instead of small talk.

Properly selected assessments also are saving companies a lot of money by avoiding unnecessary travel expenses for candidates who are clearly unqualified for the job. And possibly the biggest advantage is they cut out hours of wasted interview and entertainment time with unqualified and poor fit candidates.

6. We’re too small a company to use personality assessments. The Internet has leveled the playing field. What used to be affordable to only the Fortune 500 is now available to every employer on the planet – or at least those with Internet access.

Regardless of the size of your business, the cost of hiring the wrong employee ranges from as low as one-half the annual salary for an entry-level, low-skilled employee to fourteen times annual salary for a senior level executive. The smaller the company, the more critical the role that each employee plays in bringing success or causing failure. Pre-employment screening tests can cost as little as $20. Executive assessment packages many cost several hundred dollars. Nevertheless, the cost of making sure the candidate fits your team and the organization and is capable of doing the job is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of lost opportunity or a painful, involuntary termination.

7. Employee assessments aren’t legal. To the contrary, pre-employments testing are legal.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor’s best practice guidelines and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission place pre-employment tests in the same category as the job interview, observation, resume review, and reference checks – any process, technique, procedure, or assessments are considered tests. Pre-employment tests add a significant improvement in hiring accuracy when used in conjuction with the time-honored method of scanning resumes, interviewing candidates, and checking backgrounds and references. Many studies indicate that when pre-employment testings is used in conjuction with a behavioral interview, the odds of hiring right the first time improves 50 percent or more.