Employment Testing: A Diversity of Views

I think that in many ways how people feel about employment testing is probably quite similar to how they felt about tests at school.

Some people I knew loved taking tests at school; other people were terrified at the mere thought.

In this posting, I present a roundup of some different reactions to employment testing.

One perspective is from a consultant, who helps organizations implement online employment testing; a second perspective is from attorneys, who help organizations defend against legal charges; and the third perspective is from a popular columnist based in St. Louis.

If all of this is too serious for a Friday, then you could instead take this test and find out which cartoon character you are (I came out as Bugs Bunny!!!)!

First, the consultant’s perspective is based on a recent survey he conducted in which he reports:


A significant number of professionals queried seem to feel that their use of prescreening tools is not effective for the organization.

But, he goes on to state that most organizations don’t evaluate their tests and those that do, realize that their tests do provide value. He notes that the use of tests is still in their infancy and a basic lack of understanding of their value remains a major obstacle to their use.

He concludes that:

The biggest obstacles to the use of pre-employment assessments remain the belief that these tools are too costly and a skepticism about their ability to provide meaningful results.

I must admit that in light of the fact that employment tests have been use for about one century now, there must be good reason for their lack of more common use!

Go here to read the entire article by Charles Handler about the use of online tests and the various obstacles faced by companies in implementing them.

A recent article in the American Bar Association’s online journal provides a much different approach to employment testing.

The authors of this article, who are attorneys, focus primarily on the tests which constitute medical examinations, a topic we have posted on before (here and here).

In addition to covering the laws regarding employment tests that might be viewed as a medical examination, they touch on confidentiality laws regarding tests as well as state laws that may limit or prohibit the use of integrity tests.

But selectionmatters.com takes this article to task for not focusing more on the various anti-discrimination laws that are relevant here, such as disparate impact issues and related validity concerns.

He raises some good points that the authors should have spent more time on; while ADA definitely affects test use, so does the Civil Rights Act of 1964/1991!

Finally, a completely different perspective is brought by Bill McClellan of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, who tells the sad story of an SBC employee who is ultimately laid off, and not eligible for a job retraining program, because he fails to pass a 13-minute spelling test, despite being a college graduate. The employee concludes, based on this episode, “It would be comical if it weren’t so absurd.”

So, the bottom line on pre-employment testing? I quote from a recent book review I wrote about a book that critiqued personality testing, but the implications apply to any pre-employment test:

The uncritical use of personality tests in the workplace is foolish at best, and at worst, may be costly to companies.

If you have a broken sink, I suggest you hire a good plumber. Similarly, if you are considering implementing employment testing, hire a good industrial/organizational psychologist!

4 Comments

  1. Recently, I went on a job interview for a very senior role and was given a series of tests. Firstly, I found the process insulting and humiliating. When I asked specifically if there was algebra on the test I was told no and of course there was. Also, the copyright of the “supervisory assessment” was from 1952. Even on a good day the best answer from a list of awful choices was still a bad answer. I didn’t follow the rules and basically wrote out my answers in pencil in long-hand on the multiple choice test. Then when I knew I had “failed” and mentioned it in the next series of interviews…people told me not too worry…that the role I was being considered for didn’t have to do that well on certain parts of the test or it didn’t matter that much…And then I thought what a waste of everyone’s time, energy and expense. And for me an immediate turn-off to the company and the process and the people there. It’s a delicate balance of 1) making sure the test is applicable to capabilities of the job; 2) the way it is positioned and administered to candidates; and 3)how the results are used or not??

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think it illustrates some of the practical, as well as scientific, problems with employment testing. I hope your interview experience with this company was more appropriate and job-related!

  3. Hi All,

    As a management side labor & employment attorney, like yourselves, & as someone with a Masters in I/O Psychology, I have studied & taken a variety of assessments & tests. I once interviewed for VP of HR for a casino that’s part of a well known gaming chain. I had to take a battery of tests. I found that the tests were “beatable” in that they largely contained loaded questions, & I was able to figure out where one theme or subject matter group ended & another began. Therefore, I was able to maintain consistency througout. Obviously, I passed with flying colors. Subsequently, I screwed up a phone interview with the VP of corporate HR when I asked her questions about a few interviews she gave to some journals. Ironically, she didn’t know the answers to my questions. I stumped her. I thought that by asking her questions she previously answered in interviews, I was lobbing some softballs at her. When I spoke to a recruiter from the chain a few days later, he informed me that his VP indicated that I asked too many questions. Go figure.

  4. Samantha

    In my experience, the assessment tests I have taken for jobs were easy, but I found the questions repeating themselves after a few pages. (Probably to make sure you were answering truthfully and not playing it up). I’d assume most companies use a PEO to administer these tests. The experience described above about having to take algebra, etc for a position that math doesn’t apply to, sounds like a method I’ve read in another post. Some companies will try to make everyone test poorly to find the ones who will test well under unusual circumstances.

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