Your hiring team’s guide to pre-employment skills testing

Pre-employment skills testing
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Regardless of size, every business depends on professional, skilled employees to be successful. Making the wrong hire causes a lack of productivity and can cost your business 30% of the employee’s first-year earnings (or an average of $15,000 for every bad hire). This is exactly why pre-employment skills tests are a key tool in the hiring process.

They are a smart, efficient way to hire correctly the first time around. Given that the stakes are so high for hiring, here is our comprehensive guide to pre-employment skills testing.

What is pre-employment skills testing?

Pre-employment skills testing is an important part of the hiring process through which companies test their candidates’ skills. This step is an effective way for businesses to make sure their candidates are skilled enough for the role they are hiring for. It strongly shows your candidates’ ability to carry out the role successfully and perform well if your company hires them.

Companies frequently use recruitment tests narrow down the candidates who have applied for a vacancy. They can then select from the remaining candidates and invite them to an interview.

History of pre-employment skills testing

The earliest forms of pre-employment skills testing go as far back as 206 BC. During the Han Dynasty, China used cognitive employment examinations to elect suitable candidates for government roles. The West took up the practice over time and the U.S. used it during the First World War to recruit soldiers. For this purpose, the Army Alpha test was used to assess the recruits’ verbal and numerical skills, and their ability to follow instructions. The results were used to find out which specific role suited them. Scores also determined the likelihood of a soldier taking up a leadership position.

Nowadays, pre-employment skills testing is widely used for recruitment. It has developed significantly compared with the unproductive and inefficient prior tests that candidates took on a piece of paper. Pre-employment skills testing has developed, along with its software and platforms, making it possible for recruiters to even automate the recruitment process. Although early skills tests were unrefined, recruiters used them for the same purpose as today – to discover top talent.

Pre-employment skills testing

Why is pre-employment skills testing so important?

Using pre-employment skills testing is an important part of the recruitment process. You should use it because skills tests help reduce:

  • the cost of hiring someone

  • the average time to hire, and

  • company turnover

But recruitment not only involves discovering the perfect person for the role in the fastest time and keeping recruitment costs low. As a recruiter, it’s also important to focus on:

  • The candidate experience

  • Ensuring your recruitment process reflects your brand

  • Avoiding bias

  • Protecting your candidates’ data, and

  • Considering other legal compliances

These are all essential recruitment factors, and skills testing can help you achieve each of these because it:

  • Focuses on discovering candidates who meet the needs of the business

  • Gives you an objective perspective on each candidate

  • Can be specifically chosen to match your company’s brand, and

  • Provides strong data security

A survey by the reference checking company Checkster reveals that around 78% of candidates are prepared to lie or alter the truth on their resumes. This is another reason pre-employment skills testing is more important than ever. It helps you discover which candidates genuinely have the skills for a role and which are being dishonest.

Candidates love pre-employment skills testing as much as employers

Pre-employment testing is beneficial to candidates too. Not only does it give your applicants an insight into the role they would carry out, it also enhances the candidate experience. It can give your candidates clues about how they might be successful in the role and which skills are the most important. Pre-employment skills testing even helps your candidates discover more about their strengths and weaknesses. Your candidates can learn about their shortcomings and improve upon them, so skills testing is useful.

Most candidates even expect to undergo a skills test because it means they are getting a fair assessment. They can also assess if the role is right for them, which is important because even a candidate who desperately wants a job will regret getting one that’s a bad fit.

What are the different types of pre-employment skills testing?

There are various types of pre-employment skills testing. Each type of pre-employment test enables you to assess your applicants for different criteria relevant to the role. The essential skills tests include soft skills tests, knowledge tests, personality attributes tests, tests that assess cultural fit, cognitive ability tests, and more. Selecting the right pre-employment skills test can give you an insight into the candidate’s suitability for the role and give the candidate more information about your company and the position.

Soft skills tests

Soft skills tests analyze how a candidate is likely to interact with others within a team. These types of test assess how candidates communicate with others, and their ability to listen to and empathize with their team members. For example, TestGorilla’s communication test, created by a subject matter expert, can help you assess a candidate’s communication skills more objectively.

Soft skills definition

Soft skills are important because a candidate’s success can hinge on their ability to interact with the team. A candidate with good soft skills is likely to:

  • Be empathetic

  • Have good listening skills

  • Be able to communicate well, and

  • Be able to adapt to change

Most roles require some level of ability in at least one skill, so it’s important to determine what you’ll need for a given role so you can test candidates for that skill.

Hard skills tests

Hard skills tests assess specific skills needed for your open role. These skills tend to be easier to quantify and evaluate.) than soft skills because they’re more technical in nature.

Hard skills definition

Hard skills pre-employment tests are essential because they assess the skills that directly affect a candidate’s job performance. Some examples of hard skills include:

As a recruiter, you might use a hard skills pre-employment test to hire:

  • Software developers

  • Data scientists

  • Translators

Role-specific tests

Role-specific tests are similar to hard skills tests in that they evaluate a candidate’s knowledge of the particular skills they’ll need for your open role. These tests feature questions that are related to the fundamental tasks of the role. When candidates need a certain amount of familiarity with some of the tasks required by the role, these tests assess whether they have the level of understanding you require.

Recruiters use role-specific tests when hiring for roles such as

If you’re currently hiring, check out our role-specific tests for one that suits your needs.

Personality tests

Personality tests measure a candidate’s non-behavioral characteristics. Usually, HR staff give these tests to candidates before the job interview. Personality tests consist of multiple-choice statements. Candidates select from these statements, which gives recruiters an insight into their personality. These insights might include how a candidate communicates with the team, what motivates them, and their ability to adapt to changes within the workplace.

While we don’t recommend using personality tests to make final hiring decisions, they are helpful because they help you to get to know candidates better and obtain talking points for an interview.

Culture fit tests

You can assess whether an applicant is a culture fit (or, as we prefer to say at TestGorilla, a culture add) to find out how the candidate’s values, behaviors, and interests align with your company values.

The best culture fit tests can be used for any sized company and any role. From startups to medium-sized companies and global ones, using top cultural fit assessments make it easier to find out if your candidate’s attitude, traits, and principles match the company’s culture.

Cognitive ability tests

Pre-employment cognitive ability tests analyze a candidate’s mental skills and assess a range of aspects related to how they think. They are useful because they reveal skills that don’t show up on a CV or cover letter. They analyze cognitive abilities, including attention to detail, the ability to solve logical problems, reading comprehension, and numerical reasoning.

These tests consist of multiple-choice options that combine questions from various areas to assess your candidates’ cognitive aptitudes. Cognitive ability tests are useful for both senior and junior roles. For senior roles, the tests might measure your applicants’ capacity to make swift, practical decisions, and for junior positions, the tests evaluate your candidates’ ability to develop quickly and learn new skills.

Situational judgment tests

A situational judgment test enables you to find out how your candidates are likely to behave in the job role. Whereas cognitive tests assess a candidate’s mental abilities and skills, a situational judgment test consists of various hypothetical scenarios that are likely to occur in the role. Your candidates will have to respond to the scenario provided, and you can assess their responses to discover whether they are a good fit for the role.

Emotional intelligence tests

Emotional intelligence is an individual’s ability to perceive, recognize, understand, and manage their emotions as well as the people around them. Some experts in the field believe that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ, particularly for leadership roles. 

In pre-employment testing, emotional intelligence tests help you evaluate a candidate’s ability to relate to others in the workplace, work under pressure, and make sound decisions. Scoring highly in emotional intelligence tests is a must in roles that require candidates to empathize with others quickly. These include jobs in sales, customer support, marketing, and teaching.  

You can assess emotional intelligence through self-report tests or emotional intelligence scales such as the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test.

Risk tests

Risk tests help you determine which candidates are more likely to follow safety guidelines and help organizations reduce workplace injuries, absenteeism, fraud, and safety incidents. This type of pre-employment test can also identify candidates who are likely to engage in unsafe or illegal behaviors. 

You can use risk tests for a wide range of roles to test for rule adherence and integrity — from jobs in finance to machine operators in a manufacturing plant.

The benefits of pre-employment skills testing

Pre-employment skills tests offer a wide range of benefits. They make the hiring process more efficient and ensure the continued success of your business by helping you make the right hires. They can even increase the chances of an employee’s success in the new role.

Here are some of the advantages you’ll realize by using pre-employment tests.

Spend less time on unqualified candidates

Using pre-employment tests in the hiring process helps you filter out unsuitable candidates before you even look at a resume. As skills tests focus on the aptitudes, knowledge, and skills needed for the specific role, you can eliminate the candidates whose results don’t indicate that they possess the necessary skills for the role.

This is particularly valuable when it comes to discovering whether some of your candidates are part of the 85 percent of individuals that lie on a resume.

It’s practically impossible to discover whether a candidate’s resume is a true representation of their skills without using a pre-employment skills test. This is especially true if you take a high-volume approach to hiring.

On average, corporate job openings attract 250 resumes. By using pre-employment skills tests you can significantly streamline the hiring process and narrow down your candidates without wasting time and resources. It is an easy and inexpensive way to weed out the many unqualified applicants and resume spammers who apply for your job openings.

Improve time to hire

Hiring a candidate might take between a few days and four months. Pre-employment skills tests help to keep this figure low, by leveraging pre-existing tests created by experts to narrow down a candidate pool to the most qualified applicants right off the bat.

These assessments help your hiring team focus on the top candidates by automatically ranking each candidate so that your hiring team can review, rank, and sort your entire candidate pool in a matter of mouse clicks.

Hire better candidates

Recruiters looking to hire better candidates use pre-employment skills tests to analyze their skill sets. Searching for top talent based only on a resume can be difficult because many candidates fabricate their experience or embellish their skills.

Even if your candidate pool is made up of upright, honest individuals, research shows that experience doesn’t predict a new hire’s skills.

In fact, the data show that multi-measure tests (tests that include a mix of the test types mentioned above) are the best at predicting on-the-job success when compared with reference checks, job experience, or any test type on its own.

With pre-employment skills testing platforms like TestGorilla, you can use multiple test types to identify the best candidate for every opening.

Measure the quality of candidates you find from various sources

As your candidates can complete pre-employment skills tests online, individuals from around the world can apply for your role. This gives you the advantages of widening your applicant pool, increasing the potential for you to screen more candidates, and enabling you to increase your business exposure.

You’ll be sourcing your candidates in a number of ways, and some pre-employment testing platforms (like TestGorilla) enable you to track which candidates come from which source. This gives you the ability to see which sources are most effective.

For example, if you find that one job board tends to generate a high number of unqualified candidates, you may decide to stop using it.

Reduce recruitment costs

Making the wrong hire is expensive, particularly because of recruitment expenses. But pre-employment skills tests can help to reduce these costs. The average cost per hire is approximately $4,000, but this figure can vary and even go up to $5,000.

Making use of skills tests gives you the advantage of:

  • Selecting top candidates faster, thereby reducing time-to-hire

  • Making fewer mishires, so you spend less time and money replacing people

So your recruitment budget will go further if you use skills tests.

Deliver an outstanding candidate experience

Pre-employment skills testing improves the candidate experience. Candidates will have the satisfaction of knowing they are getting a fair opportunity to win the job, and they’ll know they’re being judged on their skills and skills alone. If a candidate isn’t qualified for the role, it’s better not to waste their time with a drawn-out hiring process.

Additionally, some platforms generate a report you can choose to deliver to unsuccessful candidates so they can review their skills and assess their limitations.

Use the same platform regardless of experience level

Pre-employment skills tests work for a wide variety of job roles and for any level of seniority. According to the Harvard Business Review, recruiters use pre-employment skills tests for candidates of every experience level. In fact, the more senior the role, the more likely the employer is to use assessments to identify candidates with the right traits and abilities.

Target specific skills with various tests

Finding out more about a candidate’s abilities is simple with pre-employment skills tests, because you can use various tests to target a range of skills. For example, if you are hiring a copywriter in Spain, you might test candidates’ communication, verbal reasoning, SEO copywriting, Spanish, and reading comprehension skills.

Improve candidate engagement

As a recruiter, your role also involves creating an engaging experience for your candidates. Pre-employment skills testing does this by giving candidates a chance to prove their skills. Tests like this often provide a break from the standard interview and resume screening approach.

You may even find that candidates are more likely to complete your assessments because they enjoy the challenge and showing off their skills.

Reduce hiring bias

Bias can stand in the way of hiring the best person for the job, so getting an objective view of your candidates is essential. Using pre-employment skills tests directly counters hiring bias and will give you an objective way to evaluate your candidate pool.

Skills tests allow you to rank your candidates without knowing anything about them besides their skill level. By objectively quantifying your candidates’ skills in this way, you increase your probability of making a great hire.

Validate candidates’ skills pre-interview

Using pre-employment skills tests enables you to check your candidates’ skills before inviting them to an interview. This is beneficial for two reasons. First, you can narrow down your candidates faster and invite the most qualified to the interview. Second, you will gain more information about the candidates you ask to attend an interview.

With this information, you can plan questions based on their results. For instance, if you’re hiring a marketing manager, you might test them on PPC advertising, social media management, technical SEO, conversion rate optimization, and email marketing.

If a candidate scores really well on all of the tests except email marketing, you can ask them about their experience in that area so that they have an opportunity to address your concerns.

Identify suitable candidates even if you lack expertise in the area

What if you’re a recruiter and lack expertise in the area for which you’re hiring? For example, you are looking to hire a JavaScript developer, but you don’t know anything about coding. Pre-employment skills tests to the rescue!

Instead of relying on your own knowledge, you can have candidates take a test prepared by a JavaScript expert. Then you can evaluate each candidate without having to understand the subject yourself. All you need to do is analyze the results of the tests and select the best candidates based on the data.

(Of course, you’ll want to have someone on your team who is experienced in the subject interview them before you make a final decision.)

Eliminate human error when assessing skills

Mistakes can occur in any role, including recruitment. Reducing these mistakes is crucial, as this will minimize unnecessary business costs. Pre-employment skills testing software takes the subjectivity out of candidate assessment.

Instead of relying on resumes, interviews, or intuition, you can quantify each candidate’s skill level, which makes the candidate evaluation process much more straightforward.

Another area where human error comes into play is in scoring tests. If you’re administering tests manually, mistakes can be made when gathering your candidates’ data and when calculating scores.

Of course, none of this is an issue when your testing software does it for you.

Reduce administration time

Compared with screening resumes, using pre-employment skills tests significantly reduces admin time. As described in the Harvard Business Review, click-to-apply online applications increase the burdens on companies.

If yours is one of the many companies that receive hundreds of resumes per opening, the manual resume screening process is incredibly time-consuming. Thankfully, skills tests can drastically reduce the number of resumes you have to screen.

Make legally sound hiring decisions

Ensuring that your hiring decisions are legally compliant is essential. Pre-employment skills tests are helpful in this regard because they increase your level of objectivity when selecting candidates.

If your hiring approach is questioned from a legal perspective, you can point to your use of skills testing software as one piece of evidence that you take an unbiased approach to hiring. This is especially true if you anonymize the testing process.

Best practices to get the most out of pre-employment skills testing

In order to realize all the advantages offered by skills testing, it’s important to follow a few best practices. This way, you’ll streamline your recruiting process and make better hiring decisions more efficiently. It all starts with the following best practices.

Choose the right platform

The HR tech landscape is full of pre-employment testing software. You’ll need to decide what your needs are so you can choose an option that will do everything you need it to while still fitting in your budget.

For instance:

  • Which openings will you be filling on a regular basis?

  • Which tests will you need to assess the candidates for those openings?

  • Which anti-cheating measures are important to you?

  • How much does each company charge and how do they bill (e.g. per candidate, flat fee, annual subscription, etc)?

  • Does your testing solution need to integrate with a specific ATS?

  • Do you have existing tests you’d like to be able to use within the platform? If so, it’s important to find a solution that offers custom tests.

  • Does the platform have good customer support?

  • Are its customers satisfied?

Once you’ve determined what you need and what you’re willing to pay, it will be much easier to narrow down all of the current offerings to make a decision.

Validate the test’s results

It’s important to validate the data from your pre-employment skills tests so that you know they’re providing valuable insight into your candidates. Validity refers to the accuracy and reliability of a test’s results. The easiest way to do this is to determine whether the test has criterion validity.

According to ScienceDirect, “criterion validity establishes whether the variable or concept can be measured with accuracy by comparison with an existing gold standard and whether the instrument can substitute for the gold standard or vice versa”.

You can assess if a test has criterion validity by having your employees take it. Your top performers should do well, your average employees should do OK, and your below-average employees should do poorly.

If your top performers don’t do well on the test, then it won’t help you identify top candidates. If your lowest-rated employees do well, the test could lead you to make poor hiring decisions.

Choose the right tests

It’s also important to choose the right tests for each role. This is called “content validity”. explains that content validity refers to “how accurately an assessment or measurement tool taps into the various aspects of the specific construct in question. In other words, do the questions really assess the construct in question, or are the responses by the person answering the questions influenced by other factors?”

For example, for a marketing role, a PPC advertising test has content validity if you will be expecting the hire to manage PPC campaigns. On the other hand, if the role will focus solely on email marketing, there’s no reason to test for PPC advertising skills.

TestGorilla’s Test Library gives you some direction if you choose to search for recommended tests based on a role. To further ensure that you’re using tests with content validity, check with someone on your team who understands the role. If possible, find someone who has actually held that role or a similar one in the past. Ask them if you’re selecting the right tests for the role.

Brand your assessments

Take advantage of the customization features offered by some pre-employment skills software and provide your candidates with a branded assessment. For example, TestGorilla allows you to add your logo and a brand color to all assessments.

You might also choose to include an intro video, to add a personal touch to the assessment process.

This will make your company stand out from other businesses that your candidates may be interviewing with. Top candidates will be more likely to want to work with you if they remember your brand.

Administer the right tests at the right times

Choosing when to give your candidates the tests is key to enhancing your pre-employment skills testing process. Skills assessments administered before the job interview can help you identify strong candidates to interview. As opposed to giving candidates the tests at the end of the recruitment process, sending out pre-employment skills tests as early as possible also:

  • Helps you develop follow-up questions to discover more about a candidate’s knowledge during the interview process,

  • Enhances candidate engagement from the start of the recruitment process, and

  • Helps you efficiently narrow down your candidate pool.

Track engagement and completion rates, and take appropriate action

Be sure to monitor your candidates’ completion rates. If you find that many candidates aren’t completing your assessment, you may need to make it shorter. You might also change some or all of the tests you include.

TestGorilla allows you to include up to five tests, which usually take around ten minutes each, so an assessment is usually completed in less than an hour. But if you choose to add custom questions or use custom tests, the assessment could be much longer. This may make sense in later hiring stages, but it will be less effective at the top of the hiring funnel.

Decide how much weight to give test results

You should decide upfront how big a factor the test results will be in your ultimate decision. You will likely base your hiring decision on other factors in addition to the results of the tests. For example, almost all employers invite candidates to at least one interview before making a job offer. Some ask candidates to complete a paid trial project as well.

In order to ensure objectivity, the weight given to each of these factors should be determined from the start so that some elements of the process aren’t subjectively given more weight because the team wants a certain candidate to come out on top.

Enhance the hiring process with skills tests

If you are searching for ways to optimize your hiring process, pre-employment skills tests are a great way to streamline your approach, increase efficiency, and make better hiring decisions. The myriad benefits of pre-hire assessments combine to make them a powerful force multiplier for your team.

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