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Pre-employment testing: What is a cutoff score?

Written by Raji Oluwaniyi

Recruiting the right employees for a role requires certain things to be in place. To ensure you hire the best candidates, your company needs a good pre-employment test with a suitable cutoff score. 

Whether you are looking for a business operation manager or a DevOps engineer, pre-employment tests with appropriate cutoff scores will significantly improve the quality of your business’s employees.

Therefore, let’s see what a cutoff score is and what factors you should consider before setting one when recruiting for a vacant position.

What is a cutoff score?

cutoff score definition

A cutoff score is a benchmark score used to filter out unsuitable candidates from applicants who meet your requirements on an assessment or test. The cutoff score refers to the lowest attainable score to pass an assessment.

Cutoff scores are a part of pre-employment testing to identify the best candidates for a position. Since different roles require specific skills and abilities, the benchmark required for setting cutoff scores will vary depending on the position.

Why are cutoff scores important?

Cutoff scores are essential because they determine your employees’ skill level or competence. The right cutoff score will save you time when recruiting because it enables you to focus on applicants who may have the skills you need. 

Below are the three main reasons for using cutoff scores: 

why are cutoff scores important

1. Technical reasons

Cutoff scores and pre-employment tests filter out applicants who don’t have the required skill set for the open role at your company. Filtering out unsuitable candidates early in your recruitment process saves time and puts you ahead of your competitors.

According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management, 75% of HR professionals state that there are skill gaps among job candidates. You need a solid pre-employment test and a good cutoff score to identify those applicants with the right abilities.

2. Practical reasons

Hiring without a pre-employment test and a cutoff score makes your recruitment process more strenuous. The possible consequence of this is that you may hire the wrong candidates.

Some candidates look good on paper and in interviews, but they cannot apply the knowledge they claim to have that will benefit your company.

Thus, ensuring you test candidates’ application of the knowledge they claim to have prevents your company from hiring those who may mislead you in their resumes or interviews.

3. Limits employee selection risks

The goal of every interviewer is to hire the right candidate for the role. However, it is difficult to determine whether an applicant is a good fit for the role by just resumes or interviews alone.

Situations like these create false positives (low-quality candidates who are good on paper) or false negatives (high-quality candidates who are bad on paper).

Hence, cutoff scores put you in a better position to determine the best candidate for an opening in your organization. 

Who should set cutoff scores?

Individuals with a firm understanding of the role and the required skill levels should set cutoff scores. At the same time, those aware of labor market conditions and competitors in your industry must have a say.

What are the types of cutoff scores?

Knowing the types of cutoff scores will help you determine how to set a reasonable threshold for the available position. Below are the two kinds of cutoff scores:

1. Performance-related cutoff scores

Performance-related cutoff scores are set based on how well you expect the future employee to perform. In other words, the ideal skill levels for that role will determine the cutoff score.

Higher cutoff scores are associated with roles requiring more advanced performance levels. Thus, as a recruiter, you should note that the higher the job requirement, the higher the cutoff scores.

2. Group-related cutoff scores

Group-related cutoff scores are set based on the performance of candidates in a reference group. This reference group may be the current candidates, the applicants from the previous year, or some other appropriate reference group.

Having this in place creates less pressure on coming up with an appropriate cutoff score since you can use one that already exists or correlates to the performance of your candidate pool.

What are the factors to consider in setting cutoff scores?

Larger companies may establish reasonable cutoff scores by assessing their employees with the test and using the average score as a benchmark. 

However, smaller companies may be unable to adopt the above method. Regardless of the size of your company, the following factors must be considered before setting cutoff scores for an available position.

factors to consider in setting cutoff scores

1. The number of applicants for the role

You can afford to set a high cutoff score if your company has a large applicant pool for a particular position. Doing this ensures that the most competent candidates will make it to the next stage and reduces the labor you invest in your recruitment process. 

However, suppose the applicant pool is small or you have to hire multiple candidates. In that case, high cutoff scores will restrict the list of qualified applicants, making it more difficult for you to find and hire employees for the position.

2. Prevailing labor market conditions

Existing labor market conditions largely influence the ideal cutoff score. However, if there are many qualified candidates for the role in your industry and labor market, it is appropriate to set a high cutoff score.

This is because your industry and labor market have already provided a large pool of qualified candidates for your company’s limited roles.

3. The number of vacant positions 

The number of vacant positions determines the number of candidates you will employ. Hence, if you need to fill various positions, lower cutoff scores may be more effective to embrace a greater number of applicants.

4. Ideal cutoff scores

Based on role requirements, you may have an ideal cutoff score you expect qualified candidates to meet. This ideal cutoff score is a starting point that may change as you take into account other factors.

5. Whether you’ll allow exceptions

Exceptions are often problematic, as they enable implicit impartiality to creep into your recruitment process. So before you include exceptions, consider the situations in which exceptions may apply.

If you do not establish such situations, it’ll lead to a ton of inconsistencies in your recruitment process, which can be disastrous.   

Optimize your recruitment process with TestGorilla

Organizations using pre-employment tests and cutoff scores are 24% more likely to hire employees who exceed their performance goals. Such employees will likely improve the revenue of their company.

TestGorilla’s comprehensive and expert-approved test library contains a variety of pre-employment tests for which you can set your desired cutoff score. These tests are perfect for evaluating potential employees and ensuring you only hire the best.

Get started with TestGorilla and start hiring the top candidates in your industry.


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