Is it legal for employers to give applicants pre-employment assessments?
The use of assessments in hiring is growing. According to the Talent Board’s 2018 North American Candidate Experience Report, over 71 percent of companies use pre-employment assessments as part of their screening process to measure areas such as job skills and culture fit. When optimizing talent, assessments are a valuable tool to gain relevant data on potential employees that allow us to make better, smarter hiring decisions.
There has been some question as to the appropriateness of using psychological assessments as part of the hiring process: What value do such assessments provide? How do they impact candidates? And, in general, should they even be used?
Let’s start by defining “psychological” test or assessment, as the term “psychological” can be misleading and anxiety-producing for some people. A psychological test is any instrument that is used to study human behavior and attempt to define or put it into categories. That means the tests you took in school, college entrance exams, and quizzes you take in magazines all qualify as psychological tests—albeit of differing quality. For the sake of ease, we’ll call them “tests” and “assessments” for the remainder of this article.
The use of testing in the employment context has a long history. In fact, in ancient China, one was required to go through a rigorous testing process in order to qualify as a civil servant. These tests were extremely rigorous and were essentially used to screen through a large pool of candidates down to those with the expertise required to perform the job in question.
Modern employment testing is generally considerably less intensive than what was used in the past, as organizations keep candidate experience in mind. In addition, scientific research and legal advances have guided us to use assessments that are established to be job-related, non-discriminatory, and fair to all applicants. Let’s look at some of the benefits of using testing for hiring.
Assessments predict future job performance.
This is perhaps the most compelling argument to use assessments for hiring! It has been well-established in the scientific literature that a variety of assessments are valid predictors of performance on the job. Cognitive ability tests, in particular, are very strong predictors of future performance.
One of the principle tenets of talent optimization is using people data to make better decisions. Using well-developed and validated assessments in a responsible manner is an example of gaining and using people data to make more-informed people decisions.
Assessments can give us holistic insight on an individual.
When using interviews alone, hiring panels can gain valuable information about knowledge, skills, and abilities, but may miss out on crucial areas of learning speed, personality, cultural fit, and soft skills. The use of assessments can provide this information, helping hiring panels make better decisions and providing useful data for onboarding and managing the employee as well.
Pre-employment assessments are time-efficient.
Anyone who has been part of the hiring process knows how time consuming rounds and rounds of interviews can be. It is a tremendous load on the part of the candidate to put aside hours, and even days, for interviews, particularly when they have to take time off from an existing job. Many of today’s assessments are online and on-demand, so candidates can get assessed on their own schedule without having to take time off work. If some rounds of interviews can be replaced with assessments, it saves time for both the candidate and the hiring organization.
Assessments can reduce unconscious bias.
It is no secret that there are biases present in the hiring process. There are numerous ways to reduce bias in hiring, including the use of assessments, such as structured interviewing and work sample tests. Using well-developed assessments adds a degree of objectivity to the hiring process that simply isn’t present by using resume screening and unstructured interviews alone.
Assessment results can inform interview content.
While not everyone loves interviews, they are a necessary part of the hiring process, so it’s important to make them as valuable as possible. By using the results from assessments, such as personality tests, hiring managers and interviewers can zero in on areas where they think the candidate might bring a particular strength—or where the candidate might have an area of opportunity. The use of assessments provides context for structured interviews, furthering the predictive power of the hiring process.
Pre-employment assessments can narrow the applicant pool to the most qualified prospects.
It is not uncommon to receive many applications in response to a job posting—and it can be challenging to sort through who is actually qualified and would best suit the position. By adding assessments into the hiring process, organizations can screen out those who aren’t qualified or fit to the requirements and can zero in on those who are likely to have success in the role.
Not only is it appropriate to use assessments in the hiring process—when they’re properly developed and validated, of course—but implementing assessments is advantageous for both the employer and the candidate. By using assessments and tests to identify the best candidates, an organization can optimize their talent practices, bringing in the best people to promote a skilled and engaged workforce.