| |

I’m a career coach, business consultant / organizational trainer and former Fortune 500 executive. Now that I've “been there, done that” with more than 20 years of experience climbing the corporate ladder, I'm sharing the career advice you need to excel and standout in your profession as a leader. I've authored the recently released book "Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach: A Foolproof Guide to Getting the Job You Want. Every Time", the award-winning book “Your Career, Your Way,” and I'm blogging for Forbes and The Seattle Times. You can connect with me via www.careerwomaninc.com. Circle me on Google+

Contact Lisa Quast

The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

ForbesWoman 99,742 views

Pre-Employment Testing: A Helpful Way For Companies To Screen Applicants

Pre-employment tests can help screen candidates (Photo credit: Microsoft Free Clip Art)

I am often asked by women in my seminars what my thoughts are about using pre-employment testing. While I have found pre-employment tests to be beneficial in helping to screen and select the best candidates for jobs, there are legal issues that can arise if the tests are not valid, reliable, or are improperly implemented.

What are pre-employment tests?

Pre-employment tests are used to screen job applicants and can include testing of cognitive abilities, knowledge, work skills, physical and motor abilities, personality, emotional intelligence, language proficiency, and even integrity. Drug testing can also be utilized as part of the pre-employment process. Companies use testing to find the candidates most likely to succeed in the open positions and to screen out those who are unqualified.

Why are they used?

By helping companies identify the candidates most likely to perform well on the job, pre-employment testing can lead to additional company benefits, such as saving time and cost in the selection process, decreasing turnover, and even improving morale. According to a survey by the American Management Association, “Almost 90 percent of firms that test job applicants say they will not hire job seekers when pre-employment testing finds them to be deficient in basic skills” (Greenberg, 1996, p. 24).

What are the key issues in using pre-employment tests?

While there can be dramatic benefits gained from using testing in the employee selection process, there are potential issues companies need to understand prior to implementing any tests. The first issue is validity; whether or not the test measures the specific criterion it is supposed to measure and can predict future job performance or success. An employer should be able to demonstrate that those who do well on the test do well in performing the job and those who score poorly on the test perform poorly on the job. For example, if an employer can demonstrate that a typing test and skills tests using Microsoft Office software products constitute a fair sample of the content of an administrative assistant job, then the tests will probably be considered content valid.

The second issue is reliability, the consistency with which a test measures an item. “For a test to be reliable, an individual’s score should be about the same every time the individual takes it (allowing for the effects of practice)” (Stanley, 2004, p. 12). If someone takes the test on one day and scores high, then takes the test a week later and receives a low score, the test is probably not very reliable. A test should consistently measure traits; otherwise it will be of little value in predicting a candidate’s future job performance. Similarly with validation, test reliability should be proven prior to the test being implemented.

The third issue focuses on the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) aspects of pre-employment testing. Because employment tests are periodically challenged in court, employers must make sure tests do not violate federal, state, or local EEO laws, including Title VII.

Tips for using pre-employment tests:

Here are five tips to help ensure pre-employment testing delivers the desired business outcomes and is legally defensible:

  • Choose the right tests and certify validity and reliability
  • Ensure tests meet all EEO laws
  • Conduct thorough research if purchasing tests from outside companies
  • Avoid test questions of an overly personal nature or that are considered offensive
  • Do not rely solely on test results to choose candidates

Employers can increase the likelihood of hiring high-quality candidates by using pre-employment tests to help screen and select the best candidates for jobs. Administered correctly, pre-employment testing can help companies save time and cost in the selection process, decrease turnover, increase productivity, and improve morale. Even though screening tests are occasionally challenged in court, companies can reduce their legal risk by ensuring test validity and reliability, by making sure tests do not cause disparate impact on minorities or protected groups, and by consistently applying tests to all candidates.

Does your company use pre-employment tests? Tell us how well you believe the tests are working in the “Comments” section, below.

Post Your Comment

Please or sign up to comment.

Forbes writers have the ability to call out member comments they find particularly interesting. Called-out comments are highlighted across the Forbes network. You'll be notified if your comment is called out.

  • daburb daburb 3 years ago

    I think they’re (screening or pre-employment tests) going by the wayside due to the very real cost of developing a test that will hold up in a court of law. While we’re still looking for that ‘perfect fit’ in the position, lets’ not lose sight of the fact that someone that doesn’t fit the position perfectly might be someone that brings a different perspective on how best to accomplish what the job demands. Our approach, while not completely devoid of testing (we select on minimum qualifications, selection factors, then interviews) still relies heavily on how they perform during the 12-month probationary period.

    • Called-out comment
  • Author
    Lisa Quast Lisa Quast, Contributor 3 years ago


    Yes, pre-employment testing can be expensive. Many companies use them in situations where they are regularly hiring a high volume of personnel, such as in large call centers. While they can be a good way to test for the basic skills necessary to be successful in a position, they should not be used as the only way to decide on who to hire. The best use is when they are one component of a hiring process that also includes in-person interviews, preferably with a few different people from the company so as to obtain several viewpoints. Almost no candidate will be a perfect fit in a position and I agree with you that someone who “doesn’t fit the position perfectly might be someone that brings a different perspective on how best to accomplish what the job demands.” Thanks for sharing your viewpoint!

    ~ Lisa Quast

    • Called-out comment
  • dssaims dssaims 3 years ago

    Criteria Corp (http://www.criteriacorp.com) is a Software as a Service (SaaS) employment testing company that really fits the bill. They have high quality tests from publishers like Harvard University and their low-price subscription model allows employers to know ALL the costs up front. That way employers do not have to worry about conserving test administration which may result in missing out on that perfect fit applicant. In fact, with so many applicants responding to every job these days, Criteria Corp’s “link generator” allows companies to pre-screen, and then only read resumes and interview the cream of the crop. Check them out!

    • Called-out comment
  • Author
    Lisa Quast Lisa Quast, Contributor 3 years ago


    Thanks for the helpful link! It is important for companies considering the use of pre-employment testing to rigorously screen all available options and to review the top choices with a highly qualified employment lawyer before making a decision. It sounds like Criteria Corp has some positive aspects, such as helping employers understand all possible costs up front, that would appeal to companies. I will take a look at the resource you provided.

    ~ Lisa Quast

    • Called-out comment
  • hrstouffer hrstouffer 3 years ago

    Interesting article, Lisa. We used pre-employment testing during the interview process for a recent Director-level hire. We selected the test, PI Worldwide’s Predictive Index, as it came highly recommended by one of our Board members. As a small and rapidly growing company hiring for a new position resulting from an outside investment, we didn’t have a room for error. The PI test helped us to identify what type of person would be the best fit culturally to augment our team and manage the expansive responsibilities required to be successful. We worked with PI to not only review the test results but also to create final interview questions to challenge the applicants on some of the concerning areas. I took it myself and was scared to see how accurately it portrayed my own characteristics. It’s a tool that I would highly recommend as it was instrumental to us in the selection of what has turned out to be a very successful hire.

    Heather Stouffer
    Founder & CEO
    Mom Made Foods

    • Called-out comment
  • Author
    Lisa Quast Lisa Quast, Contributor 3 years ago


    Thanks for sharing your experience with pre-employment testing. It sounds like you did a great job evaluating companies with off-the-shelf pre-employment tests and found a company with tests that fit your needs incredibly well. Taking the time to evaluate what is available and narrowing them down based on your needs assessment is one of the keys to successful use of pre-employment tests. I’m also happy to hear you took the test yourself as a way to evaluate the product before using it on candidates and found it to be very accurate in the results. Yes, it really can be scary at how accurate they are!

    Are there any other readers out there who would like to share their experience (good or bad) with using pre-employment tests? We’d love to hear from you!

    ~ Lisa Quast

    • Called-out comment
  • Another effective way of pre-screening candidates is to use a video based applicant tracking system that allows custom automated pre-employement testing.
    Imagine the possibilities.

    • Called-out comment
  • Can an employment agency in Michigan administer a personality, integrity or cognitive assessment test without first being interviewed? I made the mistake of letting this place know about a work related injury, being off work for almost a year because of it and that I had hired a Worker’s Comp attorney. I had an interview set up until they told me I failed these 3 assessment tests. Is this legal in the State of Michigan?

    • Called-out comment
  • Author
    Lisa Quast Lisa Quast, Contributor 2 years ago


    For an answer to your question, I recommend you contact an employment lawyer familiar with Michigan state employment law.

    ~ Lisa Quast

    • Called-out comment
  • Nathaniel B. Nathaniel B. 2 years ago

    Thanks for shedding some light on assessments, Lisa. There’s a lot for any company to consider before moving forward with any type of assessment.

    You mentioned a few key terms (validity & reliability) which are essential to an assessment. The next step is figuring out which style of assessment you’d like. I have a blog post that might help: http://www.prevuehr.com/blog/prevue-vs-disc/

    • Called-out comment
Share this page
'); }