Pre-Employment Tests Surging in Popularity, Survey Finds

Now that the economy appears to be recovering—however anemically—companies are finally paying attention to a long-neglected part of their operations: staffing. And in the years during which HR was relegated to the back burner, approaches to pre-employment testing have changed markedly, reports a new survey of 210 executives conducted jointly by the Boston-based research firm AberdeenGroup and the Human Capital Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC.

Driven by post-9/11 security concerns, globalization, technology advances, and a growing need to retain competent workers, companies are increasingly turning to skill and behavioral assessment tests to ensure successful hires, according to AberdeenGroup analyst and report author Dr. Katherine Jones. She notes that such tests are different from “screening” questions, which are simply meant to eliminate candidates who don’t qualify for the position. “They don’t attempt to determine any fitness of the person with the position,” she writes. “The kind of testing and assessment of interest here goes deeper; it tries to measure the potential applicant’s skill, aptitude, cognitive, [and] behavioral and cultural fit with the position and with the organization.”

Among the survey respondents, 14% plan to use or increase pre-hire assessment within the next 12 months; 68% of companies with at least 1,000 employees and 55% of firms with up to 1,000 employees use pre-hire assessment. Assessment growth will be most vigorous for positions for professionals, new college grads, and middle-level managers. Many of the companies surveyed do a lot of their testing electronically; 50% of paper-based test users who are planning to switch to automated processes will do so within 12 months.

A significant finding of the study is that 57% of respondents see pre-employment testing as a valuable strategy to enhance employee retention. Furthermore, 52% say tests have alerted them to potential problem hires. Among the firms that don’t conduct pre-employment testing, 60% say the reason is lack of awareness of the relevant technology.

Using a proprietary competitive framework, the Aberdeen report classifies the respondents according to their progress on the hiring continuum. “Laggards” use reactive or short-term hiring processes; “industry average” performers use methods that are longer-term yet sporadic, and “best-in-class” companies view hiring as part of a total strategy for current and future workforce planning.

In her report, Dr. Jones offers many valuable suggestions for developing testing programs. Her tips include:

Know why you’re testing. A test that doesn’t correlate with the functions of the job is worse than none at all.

Stick to your rules. “Best-in-class companies did not allow a hiring manager to see a résumé or application, or interview a candidate who was not qualified for a position based on test results.”

Don’t devise your own tests. Work with a reliable provider whose tests are statistically valid.

Review your tests and their correlation with successful hires each year.

Work toward integrating tests with your hiring/performance management systems and make hiring practices consistent across the organization.

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