Employee testing is a growing phenomenon.  Some companies use testing as a way to select candidates in; others use it screen candidates out.  Others use it for training, development or succession planning.  For a whole host of reasons, pre-employment has become the norm, not the exception.

Fifty-eight percent of companies researched by the Aberdeen Group in 2005 use pre-employment assessment in some part of their organization today.   The percentage is even higher – 68 percent –  for companies with at least 1,000 employees.  Aberdeen’s research also indicates that 14 percent of companies plan to use or increase pre-hire assessment within the next 12 months.

Pre-employment testing and selection should not be confused with applicant screening (See “What to do before you select a test”).  Screening is a simpler process, generally targeting factual questions a candidate can answer regarding his or her ability.  For example:

Are you able to work legally in the U.S?

Do you have transportation to get to this site?

Are you willing to relocate for this job?

Screening questions are most often designed to easily disqualify, or “knock-out”, the potential employee as early in the hiring process as possible.  These questions don’t attempt to determine the attitude or job fit of the person to the position.

Pre-employment testing and job fit personality assessments go much deeper.  Pre-employment tests try to weed out the highest risk candidates based on work attitude and basic skills.  Job fit assessments measure a candidate’s potential for competence, cognitive skills, behavioral styles, business values, team fit with co-workers and cultural fit with the organization.

Workplace testing hasn’t always been accepted.  As recent as the late 1980s, corporations feared these tests might unintentionally discriminate or have adverse impact on protected workers. These fears were grossly exaggerated.   In fact, only a handful of suits have favored the candidate or employee in over 60 years of testing.  In nearly all those cases, the problem wasn’t the testing per se but selecting the wrong test, managers misusing the results, or managers selecting only “suspect” candidates for testing.

Skilled worker shortages and pressure to improve hiring quality over the last decade pressured hiring managers to do something different.  At the same time, a 1999 Society for Human Resource Management report noted “testing is the safest thing you can do.”

The pendulum has now swung.  Thanks to stronger workplace validation of assessments and increased employer awareness of the need to stick to job-related criteria, companies are less concerned with hiring malfeasance than they do worry about testing malfeasance.  The high costs associated with hiring the wrong employee also hit the business owner’s radar (and wallet!).  On the other hand, managers have become acutely aware of the need to retain and increase their pool of the most productive workers.

A big push for employee assessments occurred after September 2001 when employers wanted to know more about whom they were hiring.  More businesses began to use assessments to assess the likelihood of workplace aggression as well as identify employees who shared company values.

The dot-com bust ironically created an additional boom for assessments.  Superstar employees who quickly rose to the top of the heap and demanded top dollar and rich benefits disappeared like a shooting star when the economy collapsed.  Assessments to identify the competence of existing employees as well as their potential to grow became common place over the last 5 years.   Business owners and executives began to question the ability of many employees hired during their fantastical heydays. As pending retirements pose an additional threat to productivity, many companies are now assessing all employees to evaluate who will be on the bench to pinch hit when older workers retire or younger workers jump ship.

Pre-employment testing is now considered a best practice for businesses of all sizes in every industry (See “Why Online Pre-employment Testing”). Web-based technology has leveled the playing field in the war for talent between the small business owner and the Fortune 500s.   The biggest pressure to use testing is likely to come from “keeping up with the Jones.”  As one HR manager recently confided, “we’re going into this fighting and kicking.  But all our competitors for employees are using testing.  Without it, we found we are just hiring their rejects.”

As a result, double-digit assessment growth is anticipated for professionals, new college hires, and middle level managers.

What to do before you select a test

If you don’t assess candidates before you hire and employees before you promote, DO the following before selecting a pre-employment or job fit test:

  1. Articulate what is important to find out:  Good cultural fit?  Work attitude and integrity?  Potential to grow in the position?  Ability to work collaboratively or independently or both (most people can do one or the other, not both)?  Select tests accordingly.  The market is flooded with “personality testing.”  Not all tests are workplace validated. Nor is one test the holy grail of employee testing.
  2. Identify what positions should be tested. To start, look specifically at jobs with highest turnover due to hiring mistakes or attrition including retirement and those positions that carry the biggest financial or security risks if you make a mistake.
  3. Make sure hiring managers can articulate clearly exactly what criteria and characteristics are required to be successful in the job.  Descriptions like hard working, honest, and highly motivated and the like are too vague and don’t always correlate with job skills and productivity.
  4. Speak with hiring managers:  are they satisfied? Don’t worry about the cost of recruitment as much as you focus on the quality of the hires.
  5. Create an ROI metric that is important to your department’s or company’s  bottom line.  Evaluate the effectiveness of the assessment based on savings from less turnover and reduced overtime or increases in productivity, reductions in on-the-job injuries, higher customer satisfaction and so on,.
  6. Be patient.  Don’t assume these improvements show up immediately.  When the right tests are selected and integrated properly into your hiring and talent management systems, the savings from reduced turnover and/or increase productivity will pay for the additional cost of assessments many times over.   As a rule of thumb, savings are significant but often don’t show up until after 6 to 12 months.
  7. Integrate pre-employment and job fit assessments into your selection and development process.  Best practices prescribe using employment assessments as part of a comprehensive  process, not a replacement for the interview, background and reference checks, and on-the-job experience.

Why Online Pre-employment Testing?

  1. Testing is easily administered over the Web.  Tests can be taken from any location that can provide high-speed Web access.
  2. Electronic scoring can be accomplished immediately and the results delivered to hiring managers or recruiters instantly.
  3. Companies can deliver their tests to candidates on an on-demand basis.
  4. Small companies can compete for top talent as easily as international conglomerates.
  5. The quality of hiring improves as a result of rapid screening and fast-tracking high potential candidates from application to job offer.

One-third of Job Seekers Are Full-time Employees

Retaining employees is a growing problem. Employers then should be concerned that more than one-third of the job seekers attending the 2006 Lancaster (PA) Chamber Job Fair were already employed and working full time.

For the fourth straight year, Success Performance Solutions surveyed participants entering the job fair.  Fifty-four percent of the employed respondents seeking new jobs at the job fair fell in 27- to 54-years old age group. To employers that means more than half their replacements workers, employees ready to move up into managerial and professional roles as baby boomers retire and others leave, are looking to job hop.  These results are consistent with the 2004 and 2005 surveys.

In other findings:

  • Over fifty percent of the employed job seekers held only a high school or GED diploma while as few as one-third completed an associate degree or higher level of education.
  • When asked to rate their overall job skills, less than twenty-nine percent of the job seekers considered them excellent while over twenty-six percent reported they only had average or below average skills.
  • Only sixteen percent of the respondents rated their computer skills as excellent.
  • Less than four percent of currently employed job seekers were extremely satisfied with their pay and less than one-quarter were very satisfied.
  • Like past year’s results, better pay was the most sought after benefit followed by respect and recognition from supervisors and job security. Regardless of what a candidate considered the most important benefit, health care benefits ranked second.
As Published in Business 2 Business, November 2006