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Revealing the Person Behind the Resume: Pre-employment Testing

“Revealing the Person Behind the Resume: Pre-employment Testing”

Pre-employment testing is an easy way to ratchet your hiring process up to its most effective level. You can offer jobs only to candidates who promise to synergize with your team, and place new hires in the department perfectly suited for their personality.


To a small, growing organization, one or more negative hires can be extremely detrimental. Pre-employment testing can increase the probability of hiring people with the appropriate skills, attitudes and interests to fit your organization and specific jobs. If done well, pre-employment testing increases productivity, synergy and long-term retention while reducing training costs and turnover. Results are significant enough to easily achieve a rapid return on investment, even for a small company. Meanwhile, the costs for making the wrong hiring decisions remain as high as ever.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Advantages and disadvantages of pre-employment testing.
  • Types of tests.


Interviews and reference checks can only reveal so much about your potential employees. A scientifically designed and well-administered pre-employment test can provide you with objective information about candidates’ skills and attitudes. Pre-employment testing, when used with traditional hiring techniques, is a viable strategy for building and maintaining a quality staff to ensure an edge in the marketplace. In today’s tight labor market, it is even more important to exercise keen insight in hiring decisions. In essence, testing helps employers see the real person behind the resume.

Extensive research is available to support the use of valid testing instruments for selection and development. (See Resources section.) Among its many benefits, pre-employment testing increases the chances of hiring a candidate likely to be highly productive in a particular position. Knowing that someone is very assertive, for example, might disqualify him or her for your customer service job but could make him or her your top choice for a sales position.

Testing helps companies spot candidates not fully committed to the job in question and can help identify slow learners, poor producers or individuals who are under enough stress to affect productivity. Testing can also be used to highlight follow-up questions in the interview process.

Testing does have some disadvantages, including increases in hiring time and interviewing costs. If not administered properly and consistently, results can be skewed. If you cannot accurately describe the job/personality requirements, test results will be lackluster at best. In addition to choosing an incorrect test, inaccurately defining the score range can create an adverse impact on minorities.

Choosing a test

Care must be taken to choose a statistically valid test that has demonstrated relevance to the job in question. You’ll need to decide what characteristics you want to measure with a test. There are literally dozens of types of pre-employment tests, addressing areas such as: background, personality, intelligence/critical thinking, drug use, honesty/integrity, work-related behaviors, specific skills (typing, software, machinery), and sales aptitude.

Most pre-employment personality tests are based on a "motivational theory," maintaining that there are four kinds of motivators: (1) tasks, (2) material (like money), (3) recognition and status, (4) and future growth and development.

These tests help determine which and how much of each motivator is right for the applicant being tested, then matches that criteria to a set of tasks required by the particular job. The closer the match, the more likely the individual will be to tackle the job with a high rate of productivity.

Patrick Sweeney of Caliper Management, a human resources consulting firm that provides pre-employment profiling, says that in general, across occupations, 82% of those employees that are job-matched in this manner outperform those who are not job matched.

Though pre-employment testing is an extremely useful tool, it should be only one part (about 25%) of the selection and development process. Any data derived from it needs to be considered in light of other information about the candidate, such as educational background, prior employment history and performance, observations during the interview, references, etc.


Helen Gallagher, human resources manager for Georgia-based Vector Consulting, has put off-the-shelf pre-employment screening to the test. Her recommendation: remember they’re only tools, not answers; make sure the test fits your needs, and test the tests!

Vector, an information technology solutions provider, has experienced annual growth of 30 percent since its founding in 1990. The firm, with revenues of $20 million, has more than 100 employees today.

Hiring technical workers is a challenge due to the tight labor market and Gallagher would often have to judge candidates in other parts of the country and, at times, the world. She chose a software application called QWIZtec for several reasons, but the most important feature was the testing and scoring could be done on the Internet.

Using Web-enabled testing allowed her to screen the candidates at little expense. “You don’t want to fly in a candidate from San Francisco and find he can’t pass the test,” Gallagher said. For businesses that only hire from local candidates, the Web feature wouldn’t be as important.

The tests allow her to set a minimum standard for her technical employees, but it isn’t the only criterion she uses to choose new hires. "I once hired a woman who missed passing the test by two points. I hired her because she communicated well, could do the technical stuff and had a good attitude. She turned out to be a good employee," Gallagher said. "My worst hire was a man who scored extremely high on the test. His communication skills were good, but he didn’t have a real good or friendly attitude."

Before deciding to use QWIZtec, she had managers, and even the firm’s founders, take the tests. "I took people skilled in their fields and asked them to evaluate the tests," she said. If you don’t have enough expertise in the firm to evaluate the tests, ask a friend, she suggests.

DO IT [top]

When selecting and administering a pre-employment test, consider the following:

  1. Verify that the test captures the information you need to make an effective decision regarding the given job opening (for example, skills vs. personality vs. sales aptitude). Make sure the test matches your needs.
  2. Be sure the test has a track record that proves it will measure what it says it will. There should be technical materials supplied with the instrument that will make you feel confident about this.
  3. Be sure the test is reliable. The test’s vendor should be able to provide evidence that proves the test’s accuracy and validity.
  4. Verify that the test is legal to use by federal guidelines. Be sure to have a lawyer or consultant who specializes in employment discrimination review the test questions before using them.

  5. Decide what kind of test is best to administer for the information you want. More than 15 minutes of testing and/or a complicated test may intimidate or irritate applicants and could cost you good candidates, but longer
    tests can be more revealing.

  6. Consistency is critical to the hiring process, so apply the same standards and criteria to all applicants for one job. For example, you may have every candidate complete a test, but submit for analysis only those applicants that make it to your "short list." For more on hiring strategies, please read "Optimizing Your Hiring Process."
  7. Have the results analyzed by a highly trained individual (for example, an industrial psychologist) or an employee selection and management firm. Be sure you can speak one-on-one with an expert who will explain the results, answer any questions and provide a hiring recommendation.
  8. Some entrepreneurs have difficulty understanding why an employee can’t accomplish what comes so easily to them. They don’t understand that if the employee were exactly like them, he or she would be a competitor, not an employee. Use pre-employment testing as an introspective tool to help get the human resources side of your business right.



Thirteenth Mental Measurements Yearbook compiled by James C. Impara and Barbara S. Plake (Buros Institute/University of Nebraska Press, 1998). Visit a library at a college with a school of education to see these extensive descriptions of commercially available tests. Get a reference librarian’s help to use the extensive series of indexes. Be sure to look under "vocations" in the classified subject index. (The book costs $165 and has a $65 supplement, so expense as well as complexity makes it worth a trip.)

Tests in Print V: An Index to Tests, Test Reviews, and the Literature on Specific Tests, compiled by Linda L. Murphy, James C. Impara, and Barbara S. Plake (Buros Institute/University of Nebraska Press, 1999). Tests in Print offers brief descriptions of many more tests than Mental Measurements Yearbook. It costs $400 and has a parallel set of complex indexes, so use it at the library while you’re using the Mental Measurements Yearbook.

Internet Sites

Testing and Assessment: An Employer’s Guide to Good Practices (U.S. Employment & Training Administration, 1999).

Association of Test Publishers

Legal Hazards of Employment Testing – What is Permitted and What is Not Permitted, by Donald J. Spero. Florida Mediation Group, 2001/

Employment Testing. ” Human Resource Executive Magazine (October 2000). Survey results.

Article Contributors

Writer: Lorna Pappas and Brenda Russell