Your hiring team’s guide to workplace communication tests

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Your hiring team’s guide to workplace communication tests

Your hiring team's guide to workplace communication tests

When your team communicates effectively, employee engagement improves, boosting productivity and helping to reduce the high costs of staff turnover.

Strong communication skills help build a more positive workplace by minimizing cross-communication errors and workplace conflicts. This makes testing for communication skills important in your hiring process.

What is a communication test?

A well-designed communication test will be able to test each applicant in terms of their written and verbal communication skills. The best communication tests will also gauge how the applicants respond to active listening and non-verbal cues.

When teams are built around a foundation of strong communication, it helps your people trust each other, resolve potential conflicts productively, and establish efficient work processes together. Ultimately, employee engagement and team productivity go up.

Using a pre-employment communications test helps recruiters evaluate how well candidates can understand, use, and interpret written and verbal cues, both online and in-person.

A well-designed communication test can also help measure empathy and conflict resolution skills, making it indispensable when hiring for any junior to mid-level role.

Why communication skills tests are critical for hiring

Communication lies at the heart of all collaboration, especially within the workplace. Every stage of the employee lifecycle will be directly impacted by a candidate's ability to communicate their ideas well. That’s why communication skills are now considered one of the most important skills that employers look for. Four of the top five skills employers seek in new hires include oral and written communication, listening skills, and presentation skills. 

With more effective communication comes a greater ability to interact with others, relate to team members and customers, motivate others, and create a better workplace culture.

When it comes to critical thinking and problem-solving, communication is vital, and communication tests can easily and efficiently evaluate those abilities. To solve work-related problems and to be able to think critically about a situation depends on being able to analyze those situations and problems and deliver the best response. Communication is often considered the core of critical thought.

Being able to think critically makes it easier to structure communications with more impact. A communication test that includes testing for critical thinking will show a candidate's ability to clarify and deliver their thoughts, and respond to the communications of others.

Communication tests are also used for many leadership roles. While these will also test for critical thinking and problem-solving, they will include additional testing areas. Compassionate and empathetic leadership requires specific interpersonal skills, such as:

  • Social perceptiveness
  • Active listening
  • Persuasion/negotiation
  • Time management

These are the competencies that hiring teams are looking for when building better leadership development. That’s because communications skills tests can make it easier to hire candidates that are ideally suited for career progression.

Knowing how well candidates can communicate helps ensure that:

  • Workplace conflicts are minimal and managed well
  • Relationships with customers and clients can be made stronger
  • Productivity is improved because everyone is on the same page

Organizations of all sizes are prioritizing the need for improved workplace communications strategies. That’s why communications skills tests that can be used in the hiring funnel are now considered critical for the future of any business model.

What do communication skills tests measure?

Communications tests can cover a wide range of competencies. Some positions may require high-caliber face-to-face communication, while others may focus more on written communication or phone conversations. Whichever type of communication skills are being tested, the result is a workplace where there’s little confusion and ideas are communicated effectively. 

Some examples of what a communications skills test helps measure include:

  • How an applicant understands and interprets written communications
  • How well candidates interpret non-verbal cues
  • Identifying how well a candidate understands a task and derives related tasks
  • The ability to maintain professionalism in all communications

However, because communications skills tests (as with other pre-screening tests such as those that gauge personality fit) are customizable, they are going to be specifically targeted for each role.

How can a communication test help with hiring decisions?

The predictive validity of a communication test makes it easier to quickly shortlist from a large pool of applicants and move to the next round in the selection process. They also ensure hiring decisions are made without bias (a key advantage of all anonymous pre-employment testing) while still evaluating each candidate's communication skills.

Communication testing now utilizes advanced analytics, so recruiters can access vast amounts of insights into candidate viability. Those insights let hiring teams make better hiring decisions that reflect the roles being filled and the quality of every candidate. Improved technology has also introduced more objectivity into the communications testing process, while also being accurate, faster, and more scalable.

Hiring decisions are also made easier because communication testing technology eliminates the possibility of cheating. That’s particularly important when conducting remote testing where cheating is going to be more of a risk. Hiring teams can then trust the results that they see on the tests, improving hiring decisions as a result. 

Not only that, but recruiters are also making better hiring decisions simply because the communications tests available can now be that much more immersive. Fully customizable to reflect the realities of any job role, industry and role-specific communication questions can be asked easily.

Benefits of communication tests

Some of the benefits of integrating communications tests into your hiring process have already been mentioned. However, there are so many advantages to using those tests that it’s easy to see why they are now considered a must-have by hiring teams.

As well as the benefits that come with all forms of pre-employment testing (less admin, more data, less potential for hiring bias, access to automation tools, and minimizing human error, etc) testing specifically for communication skills means that organizations benefit from: 

1. Conflict management

Testing for communications skills will highlight and identify those candidates who are skilled at mitigating workplace conflicts. In the workplace. Conflict or tension is often the result of miscommunication or a failure to communicate clearly. By testing for and ensuring that candidates can communicate in ways that avoid and resolve conflicts, HR can make smarter hiring decisions that impact the whole organization.

2. More engaged employees

When team members know how to communicate, they will be more connected to their colleagues. When testing for communication ability, tests will show recruiters how well candidates can connect with their colleagues. Not only does this make them more likely to be satisfied in their role, but also more engaged. Testing for communication means management can identify hires that will understand goals, and strengthen connectivity between employees and management.

3. Productivity

If an employee doesn’t understand what’s being communicated to them, they won’t be as productive. It will lead to workplace errors, misaligned teams, and overall inefficiency. By introducing testing into the recruitment process, HR can make hiring choices based on evidence. Candidates that can communicate well will be more likely to understand the goals they are set or can articulate their thoughts to be able to ask questions that will clear up any misunderstandings. They will then be able to work more efficiently, boosting productivity.

4. Customer communication

When hiring teams test for communication ability, they aren’t just going to test how well candidates can communicate with their colleagues. Customer-facing roles are going to depend on communication skills. The more effectively and empathically an employee can communicate with clients, the easier it is to build relationships with those clients. That leads to customer retention and improved brand loyalty.

5. Better workplace culture

The more easily that colleagues can communicate with each other, the healthier a workplace culture will be. With diversity in the workplace such a clear focus for businesses of all sizes, there is a lot of potential for communications issues. With a varied workplace demographic that consists of a range of cultures and beliefs, miscommunication can be all too common. That can lead to potential conflict. Testing for communications skills makes it easier for HR to help create a healthier and more equal work environment.

6. More innovation

If a member of the workforce can communicate their ideas via open communication channels, they will feel more empowered. This understanding that others will listen to their ideas means they will be able to advance brand innovation. Sometimes, the biggest ideas that transformed a business come from the employees that you may not have considered. By utilizing communication testing, it’s easier to spot the candidates that will benefit most from those open communication channels.

What are the 4 types of communication skills?

One of the reasons why communications tests are at times under-prioritized by hiring teams is because of the misconception that most communication is verbal. Here are the four different forms of communication that tests help evaluate.

types of communication skills

1. Non-verbal communication

This is a form of communication that can be either intentional or unintentional. It’s all about body language and includes facial expressions, posture, physical touch, gestures, and eye contact. People that are proficient at reading non-verbal clues will always be better at conversation and comprehending the intended message well.

Non-verbal communication takes a range of forms, including:

  • Facial expression
  • Body movement/posture
  • Eye contact
  • The space between people
  • Tone of voice (an excited tone of voice will have a different impact from a monotone one)

It’s estimated that around two-thirds of all communication is non-verbal. That makes it a vital communication skill to test for. When non-verbal communication is used effectively and efficiently, a more collaborative and harmonized workplace is the result.

Traditionally, non-verbal communication skills will be often gauged during a face-to-face interview. In those settings, the recruiter can see first-hand how well the candidate uses their non-verbal skills. 

However, testing for non-verbal communication can also be performed by recruiters before the interview stage. There are different formats available for communication tests. Simply including questions that ask questions about non-verbal communication will highlight the candidates who understand what non-verbal communication is and how it is used.

2. Verbal communication

This isn't just about the words that are being used to communicate ideas. Verbal communication also involves how those words are used. Tone and pitch play a crucial role in understanding what people are saying. Verbal communication is, of course, paramount in customer-facing (both internal and external) roles.

3. Written communication

While the ability to communicate using the written word has always been important, it’s never been as vital as it is in the modern workplace. With team members having to communicate and collaborate using digital mediums such as Slack, emails, and WhatsApp, written communication skills need to be tested. 

Misunderstandings when it comes to written communications are common, especially if a member of the team is prone to writing without giving it much thought, or doesn’t understand tone or context. 

4. Visual communication

We rely on visual communication more than ever, whether that’s memes, infographics, or videos. Being able to both understand and create visual communications is a skill that’s being sought after more than ever in the modern workplace. 

Images can be used very effectively to strengthen communication. They are excellent for capturing an audience's attention and can make it easier to deliver even large amounts of information quickly. The problem is that if a candidate is not able to communicate effectively with visual assets, they will face issues with visuals that are distracting or hard to understand.

Visuals are used to communicate with colleagues (at presentations) and with customers (especially via marketing channels). If a clumsy infographic is created for a blog or social media post that doesn’t communicate effectively or is perceived negatively by its intended audience, the brand reputation will be harmed. 

For management-level roles, in particular, visual communication is a core skill to test for. Managers with excellent visual communication skills will be able to share more information in ways that are clear and concise. That results in team members remembering the information that’s delivered. Exceptional visual communicators have the ability to turn even the most technical or abstract concepts into easily understandable visuals. 

Communication is critical for teamwork

First and foremost, communication skill tests help you ensure that a candidate will work well with your team. A team won’t hit its goals if the people in it don’t work well together. Ideas will be lost, and conflicts will be common. 

It's not just about professional communications either. Friendly and informal communications within a team can help to build a more collaborative environment. 

When team leaders are effective, they will understand how organizational efficiency is driven by proactive, professional, and multi-faceted group communications. With clearly communicated tasks and goals, the team will have a better understanding of their responsibilities. Both the leadership and their teams should be able to communicate well. Consider setting up a free-flowing, two-way communications channel. This encourages idea sharing and helps promote a culture where asking for help is appreciated.

What kinds of communication skills are important?

Corporate success relies on communication skills, but there is often a misunderstanding of those skills. 

We don’t just use the four key types of communication discussed previously. We convey information in a lot of different ways, and each will require a specific skill: 

what kinds of communication skills are important

1. Emotional intelligence

People with higher emotional intelligence communicate more effectively, actively avoid stress, meet and overcome challenges better, and deal with people empathically.

There are four main elements to consider when it comes to emotional intelligence. These are:

  • Being self-aware
  • Being able to self-manage
  • Being socially aware
  • Being able to manage work relationships

Although emotional intelligence is often considered a subjective and intangible quality, it can be tested for. Candidates are presented with a variety of emotion-based problems that they are likely to encounter. The questions will gauge their response to these issues, and how well they will be able to communicate in each scenario. 

Communications tests that integrate emotional intelligence-based questions will tend to test on the four branches of emotional intelligence (perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions). The challenge for HR teams is knowing how to interpret the results of such tests.

For a standard IQ test, there are clear right and wrong answers. Measuring emotional intelligence is more difficult because there will rarely be a right/wrong response to any given scenario. Recruiters need to be able to understand the responses that are given on the tests and have the skills to interpret them in terms of emotional intelligence. 

2. Clarity and cohesion

Communication involves a lot more than simply having the skills to say (either verbally, written, visually, or via body language) the right thing. What’s being communicated also needs to be delivered clearly and concisely. 

Communications tests measure this by looking at intent. This involves understanding what the purpose of any given communication is, and the intended outcome. The reason why cohesion and clarity are so important is that a lack of either will almost always end up in confusion and ill-informed decisions. All messages are encoded, sent, and then decoded. If the message is clear it is more likely to be 100% understood and there will be no risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Lack of clarity means that not everything will be understood.

Testing for clarity and cohesion is a vital component of communication tests. Those tests will help the recruiters to identify the candidates who can:

  • Understand their audiences and target messages appropriately
  • Identify the purpose of every communication and message
  • Appreciate the content and context of any communication
  • Avoid overly complex jargon
  • Use the correct medium for every type of message
  • Integrate creativity into communications

3. Approachability

Often dubbed as friendliness, approachability is a core requirement of strong communications. It’s all about being able to use the right tone of voice when communicating. How it’s implemented will depend on the recipient and the relationship with the person communicating. 

In most communications, a more friendly tone is important when it comes to getting effective responses. That includes all those little personalized touches. Whether the communications are in-house or to customers, friendly personalization is something that can make all of the difference to achieving the intended outcome.

4. Confidence

There’s a fine line between confidence and overconfidence. Overconfidence can often come across as being aggressive, which is rarely called for.

By being able to demonstrate confidence in a communications test, candidates can showcase how they will deliver what customers or team leaders need. It’s a challenging parameter to measure and often comes down to verbal cues such as eye contact or a friendly yet assertive tone of voice. 

5. Empathy

The more employees that a business has, the busier the workspace. Every member of every team and department will have different ideas about how things should be done. Disagreements need to be considered empathetically to avoid hostility.

Of course, empathy is even more important for those employees that are in customer-facing positions. That’s because empathy makes it easier to connect with the feelings of each customer, making it easier to solve their pain points. That empathy can also go a long way to making sure that customers feel they are being heard. 

Communications tests will measure a candidate's empathic and person-centered communication skills. Candidates that score well will be those that find it easier to appreciate where others are coming from (think about a salesperson who can accurately gauge a customer’s mood, for example). Testing ensures that hires will be respectful of views that aren't aligned with their own.

6. Respect

Communicating within the workplace involves an understanding of etiquette. When we interact with colleagues, suppliers, and customers, etiquette norms require a level of respect for the intended audience. All effective communication will require messaging (both received and sent) that remain consistent with etiquette norms,

Successful communication is hindered by a failure to grasp the expectations of etiquette and respect. Any communication that is perceived as disrespectful will harm interpersonal relationships and make it harder to influence colleagues or customers. 

Even simple communications need to be delivered in a way that respects the time of the recipient. Clarity needs to be the goal, but concision also needs to be considered. For example, a poorly structured email that has missing elements or is slow to get to a point is not respectful of the recipient's time. 

Any lack of respect in communications makes it less likely that other people will want to reply or to communicate with someone entirely.

Respect is about listening actively and sincerity and should be reflected in all of the different ways that employees can communicate with others.

7. Effective listening

Many communications tests include audio elements. This is to test the ability of candidates to listen and interpret effectively. A potential hire’s inability to pay attention to what others are saying is a red flag. 

Communications tests ensure that hiring teams can identify candidates that:

  • Can pay attention
  • Are able to understand what’s being said
  • Will ask questions if they need more clarification

8. Open-mindedness

For someone to be able to communicate effectively, they need to have an open mind. This means being able to understand the viewpoints of other people even when one thinks they’re right, the ability to calmly consider the merits and demerits of opposing ideas and being able to have frank and open discussions. 

When employees are selected that have a more open mind, they will be more welcome to new ideas and arguments. That will be true even if they are presented with information that they wouldn't normally align with. Candidates with a more open mind will also be able to think more critically. 

Testing for open-mindedness will identify those candidates that stand out in terms of:

  • Curiosity about the opinions and ideas of others
  • Their ability to have their ideas argued against without conflict occurring
  • Not being overwhelmed by emotion when challenged or when proven wrong

Communication and open-mindedness go hand in hand. Being open-minded results in being more willing to listen to and consider other ideas. 

9. Tone of voice

With the right tone of voice, it’s possible to establish the entire mood of a conversation. If a candidate has a habit of starting conversations or opening communications in an aggressive or cold manner, the response will likely be reciprocal.

Tone of voice is all about emotions. It addresses the volume of verbal communications, the stilted nature of poorly written communications, or even ambivalent visual communications that come off as cold and impersonal.

Consider how much a single sentence can change depending on the tone of voice being used. An emphasis on the wrong words can transform a message, especially when combined with vague phrasing.

10. Ability to ask the right questions

Being able to ask good questions can almost always improve a conversation. 

For hiring teams, the key to identifying strong candidates is to listen to the questions they ask. Are those questions open-ended, and as a result, encourage others to respond? 

While there are communications tests that have sections on an applicant’s ability to ask questions, this skill is often left until the interview stage and a competency-based interview instead of in a pre-employment test.

Tips for using workplace communications tests in the hiring process

Different organizations use communications tests in a wide variety of ways. However, some foundational rules should always be adhered to. These make it much more likely that those tests will effectively help to identify the right recruits.

Hiring teams need to know the best ways to use communications tests if they are to streamline the recruitment and selection process. Here are the most effective tips for those hiring teams that want to get the most from their communications testing.

tips for using workplace communications tests in the hiring process

1. Know the job role

Communication tests need to be designed around the requirements of the job.

That means taking time to understand more about each advertised role. Hiring teams will need to discuss the position with the relevant managers and team members to get a clearer picture of the responsibilities. The better the hiring team understands the role, the more impactful the test.

2. Customize the test for the role

When questions can be tailored and customized to suit a specific role, then the results will be far more useful for identifying the best candidates and shortlisting them for the next stage. This can save time, money, and valuable resources. 

As a result, they can be tailored as needed. Using the same communications test for a managerial role as you do for an entry-level or shop floor vacancy will mean skewed results with little predictive validity. Every hiring team needs to first understand the role being filled and then design a communications test best suited to that role.

3. Anonymize the testing

Every recruiter and member of an HR team is well aware of the issues caused by hiring bias. It’s one of the biggest problems facing businesses and hiring teams in the modern age. When team diversity brings so many advantages, hiring teams must be able to recruit the right people without conscious or unconscious bias.

Anonymized testing helps avoid that bias, allowing you to shortlist candidates from a wider talent pool, strengthening the business.

Communication tests that are not anonymized leave the hiring process exposed to those biases that can hurt both the recruitment process and the business alike.

4. Know the purpose of each question

Every question on a communication test needs to have a purpose. Otherwise, the hiring team will have no real way to understand the value of the response they receive. That’s why so many hiring teams outsource test creation and analysis to a third party.

A communications test will only prove to be useful and result in positive hires if the team that analyses the results of each test knows what they’re looking for. Communication test results need to be measured well, and that’s only possible when every question has a clear purpose. 

Are workplace communication tests fair?

For a hiring process to be fair, it needs to be objective, non-discriminatory, and consistent. To ensure that the entire process is fair, some specific objectives need to be met. As much as the selection criteria needs to be designed to reflect the job requirements, tests need to also be:

  • Representative of the role
  • Able to measure required traits 
  • Obvious as to intent (applicants should be able to understand what it is that the tests are measuring)

Pre-screening tests are one of the best ways to ensure a fair recruitment strategy. It means that the hiring team needs to make the necessary arrangements throughout the process that don't result in a candidate being put at a disadvantage. That’s especially true in the case of legally protected characteristics. 

Unlawful discrimination is very easy to avoid if the hiring team is trained accordingly. They should:

  • Not make any stereotypical assumptions
  • Understand the scoring of the communication tests
  • Be able to apply testing effectively while only asking relevant questions

Anonymous results are the key to avoiding any difficulties with unfair or illegal hiring practices. This ensures a fairer hiring process that is free from bias and legally compliant.

Job seekers get a lot of benefits from a well-designed pre-screening testing strategy. That’s because it improves the time to hire (great for those proactively seeking fast employment), can improve the interview stage, and helps them to stand out. 

There’s also the fact that when communications tests are conducted online, it means that candidates don’t have to make multiple visits to the workplace. That can save a lot of time and money. It also means that the business is less limited by geography, and has more accessibility to a wider pool of talent.

At what stage should you use workplace communication tests?

Different hiring teams will introduce pre-screening and communications tests at varying stages in the hiring funnel. However, it’s recommended that you use tests early in the recruitment process if you want to save a lot of time and you get a lot of applicants.

For those that receive a low number of applicants, particularly for highly-skilled and niche roles, tests may have more value slightly later in the recruitment and selection process. Those tests can be used to narrow down a shortlist even further. 

What kinds of questions can you ask in workplace communication tests?

According to a study by Checkster, 78% of applicants lie on their resumes. That’s where skills testing comes in. When it comes to communication skills, those tests can highlight the applicants that may have been overzealous on their application forms and resumes.

It all comes down to the kinds of questions that are being asked on the tests. If the communications test has the right questions, the hiring team can make more informed and practical decisions.

Here are some generic sample questions that you may find on a communication test. Remember though, hiring teams must customize their tests so that it reflects the requirements of the job role.

Example 1 - True or false

With true or false questions, candidates simply need to read a statement and write (or type/tick the box) ‘true’ or ‘false’ in the available space. Examples of true and false questions used in communications tests might include:

  • Communication deals only with information.
  • Effective communication is essential for efficient and successful workflow in a business

Example 2 - Situational questions

These are the questions that propose a scenario and give applicants multiple options to select as their response. This is one of the more common kinds of questions that you can expect to see on a communications test because they encourage candidates to think about their responses more. This kind of question might look like this:

A customer has come into the store angry about a product that they purchased two weeks ago. They don’t have a receipt but you remember them buying the product. The customer is causing a problem and holding up other customers. Choose your response from the following:

1: Give them a refund

2: Shout at them and tell them to leave

3: Explain that not having a receipt means that you can't give a refund, but that you're happy to give them store credit to match the price

4: Call a manager, explain the situation and ask for help

Example 3: Short answers

With these questions, candidates are given statements that require specific answers. They might look like this:

  • Name two kinds of non-verbal signals that people use to communicate anger
  • List four body parts that we use to communicate, not including the mouth

Recommended reading: 20 communication interview questions to evaluate candidates well

Why you shouldn't rely only on communication tests?

Consider an applicant that doesn’t provide the right answer to a question simply because it uses a term or word that they haven't encountered before. They may know the answer, but the phrasing or the terminology being used may be a mystery to them.

That’s why HR needs to look closer at those candidates that may not have scored the highest in their test result, but have more than a passing mark. If a candidate has performed extremely well on some sections but has scored poorly on others, that candidate may still be worth taking a closer look at. 

There’s also a risk of using a predetermined ‘passing’ mark. If communications tests are the only criteria before you offer someone a job, then you're missing out on some vital stages.

Interviews, despite their flaws, are still ideal for complementing your pre-screening testing. They allow the hiring team and the candidates to ask questions, gauge responses in person, and ask for clarity on test answers.

Create and design better workplace communications test with TestGorilla

If you want your business to benefit from the best hires, communication will always be a core skill and should be tested as such.

The first step to testing for employee communication skills is to ensure that your workplace communication tests are designed and used correctly. 

Workplace communication tests have become one of the most valuable additions to recruitment and selection. However, hiring teams often have trouble ensuring that these tests ask the right questions and that each question has a purpose.

To recap, here are four best practices in using workplace communications tests in the hiring process: 

  1. Understand the job role
  2. Design and customize the test for the role 
  3. Anonymize testing
  4. Determine the purpose of each question you're asking

TestGorilla can help you develop better workplace communication tests and ensure that you hire the best talent in the shortest time. Get started today for free.

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