Types of pre-employment tests

Guide to pre-employment testing

Types of pre-employment tests

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This section in our guide to pre-employment testing breaks down the wide range of employment screening tests available, and describes what each test type can be used for. 

We’ll also take a look at what makes a good candidate screening test, and the criteria to look for when it comes to the quality of pre-employment tests before making a decision.

This section will also answer the often-asked question about what the difference is between a pre-employment test and an assessment.

We know the sheer variety of pre-employment tests can be confusing, but our guide aims to explain the purpose and uses of each test type.

Types of pre-employment tests

First, a word about test quality. This varies widely between the many testing platforms, as does the amount of time candidates have to spend taking the tests.

At TestGorilla, our tests are constantly being fine-tuned to ensure they stay accurate, valid, and relevant to industry changes. You may find our article on how we continuously improve our skills tests and are adding new features like API integration to create a more efficient hiring process an interesting read.

What makes a good test?

Let’s start with defining what “good” means in relation to a pre-employment test. An employer or recruiter’s goal is to make better hiring decisions, so a good test needs to be predictive of job performance.

This means that tests should be developed by industry experts with extensive knowledge and experience in the subject that the test covers. In this way, the test will determine the candidates’ skills in a specific area.

Here are some other important criteria to consider when determining whether a test is of a high standard:

  • They should be straightforward and easy to understand
  • They should cover each skill area appropriately and completely
  • They should be up-to-date
  • They should provide all relevant information
  • The question and each answer choice should be clear

Tests should also not be too easy – or too difficult – and should not contain any misleading information. Test providers should track candidate performance on each test to monitor this.

Providers also need to check the success rates of different questions and do comparisons, as well as track the amount of time needed to answer each question and to do the whole test. This way, potential issues can be detected and fixed.

Pre-employment tests: A breakdown

To make it clearer what the test categories are and how you can use them, we’ll take an in-depth look at each type.

You’ll find that sometimes tests will fit into more than one category, such as some role-specific tests like Kubernetes that also fall into the software skills bracket, but don’t stress too much about which test falls into which category.


Understand how your candidates process information and make decisions.

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Did you know that more than 88% of Fortune 500 companies use personality testing? The increasing use of personality testing as part of recruitment strategies has given rise to divided opinions among psychology professionals and advocates for minority groups. 

For example, the Center for Democracy & Technology has produced a report showing that certain types of pre-employment testing (such as personality testing) make it easier to discriminate against people with disabilities.

On the other hand, some argue that some personality assessments can be a strong predictor of job performance if used in the right way.

It seems that the key words here are “if used in the right way” and that organizations often simply aren’t using the tests correctly. One of the most common ways employers misuse personality tests is by basing hiring decisions solely on their results without taking other factors into account.

The results of a personality test are simply a data point, and you should never use them by themselves to drive decisions. You should also stay flexible in your hiring practices and understand that your team is always going to be made up of employees with different personality types and that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Though there are pros and cons to using personality tests for hiring, there are five things you should keep in mind if you decide to use one:

  • Avoid basing your hiring decision only on the results of a personality test
  • Try not to use a personality test after the interview stage
  • Don’t select an unreliable personality test because it costs less than others
  • Communicate the purpose of the test with your candidates
  • Avoid hiring a particular personality type repeatedly based on existing team members

Any one of these factors can lead to a mis-hire or potentially put off the top candidates. 

Also, don’t forget that there is a difference between innate and acquired personality traits. Innate personality traits are fixed and can’t be changed over time. For example, a quiet and reserved personality is not going to eventually become the life and soul of the party, however much others may want them to be. 

Acquired personality traits are learned or developed over time and based on an individual’s experience and interactions with their environment. People aren’t born with these qualities, and such traits can change over time in candidates.

There are many different types of personality tests out there, but many employers choose to use tests like the Big 5 (OCEAN) test, which follows the Five-Factor Model. This is an empirically based theory in psychology that evaluates five overarching dimensions of personality: 

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Emotional stability (neuroticism)

You can gain valuable insights by measuring the Big 5 personality traits as part of your hiring strategy. But again, we must stress that you shouldn’t make hiring decisions based solely on the results.

Another popular test type is the 16 Types test, which is based on the work of Carl Jung. This test gives you information on a candidate’s source of energy, the way they process information, how they make decisions, and the kind of lifestyle they prefer.

Again, you should use the 16 personality types to gain extra insight into candidates’ personality traits, not to base hiring decisions upon.

There is also the DISC test, which is based on the model developed by the psychologist William Marston for behavioral assessment. It classifies how we express emotions into the four behavior types of DISC: 

  • Dominance (D)
  • Influence (I)
  • Steadiness (S) 
  • Conscientiousness (C)

There are several benefits of using the DISC test in hiring, including that it complies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

DISC is an objective test that makes the list of employment tests and selection procedures accepted by the EEOC. This means that you won’t violate equal employment opportunity laws by using a DISC test as part of your hiring process.

However, the same caveat applies to the DISC test as all the other personality tests – don’t make hiring decisions based solely on the DISC test results.

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What’s the difference between a pre-employment test and an assessment?

All this talk of assessments and pre-employment testing can get confusing, so let’s demystify the terms.

 Pre-employment tests and assessments are two separate but related things. When they are used together, they form the ideal solution to capture relevant, data-driven insights into your candidates and choose whether they are the ideal fit for your vacancy.

First, we’ll look at what a pre-employment test is, followed by an assessment. Then we’ll explain how you can combine the two to maximize your chances of hiring success.

What is a pre-employment test?

A pre-employment screening test consists of a series of text-based or media-led questions or challenges that evaluate a specific skill. They are an objective, standardized method of determining a candidate’s abilities and suitability for the role.

A test often covers three to four skill areas. It assesses candidates comprehensively for that one skill set. For example, our Working with Data test is meant for candidates with an intermediate level of knowledge and evaluates them in three key areas:

  • Understanding data handling concepts
  • Performing basic data analysis and interpretation
  • Working with graphs and charts

Some testing platforms specialize in going deeper into a specific skill set (such as coding). Their tests can take between 30 minutes and one hour to complete.

So, an individual test focuses on a single area, which could be related to role-specific skills, cognitive ability, personality and culture, language, software, programming, etc.

Some employers prefer to use stand-alone tests as a part of their hiring process, and organizations often choose a specific test for existing employees hoping to move to another role within the company.

There is nothing wrong with using a single pre-employment test, but many employers like to use individual tests as building blocks to create a more in-depth pre-employment assessment. 

What is a pre-employment assessment?

A pre-employment assessment combines several individual tests to offer you a full spectrum of insights about your candidates – it gives you more bang for your buck, as the saying goes.

For example, if you’re hiring a salesperson, they need to have a range of skills to succeed in the role. You may want to test their skills in different areas by using a B2B lead generation test, communication test, problem-solving test, Salesforce CRM test, and a personality or culture test. 

A pre-employment assessment enables you to combine your chosen tests into one longer assessment made up of individual tests. With TestGorilla, you can add up to five tests and 10 custom questions (created by you) to an assessment, but other test providers may have different requirements.

Candidates then take the assessment in one sitting, completing each test in turn. Assessments take longer to complete than individual tests but give you a wider range of data about the applicants, including how they scored on each test and how they rank overall.

The ultimate goal of an assessment is to help you hire the right person for the role. Everything else is secondary. This means that assessments should be kept standardized and sent out to candidates in bulk for a quick comparison. You may find our guide to creating an assessment useful for further reading since it takes a deep dive into the subject.

What are custom questions?

Custom questions are created by the employer and are usually added to an existing pre-employment screening test.

By creating custom questions, you can tailor a test even more closely to the specific job role you’re hiring for.

TestGorilla also gives you the option of creating fully customized tests if you are a Scale or Business plan customer. This enables you to create your own test from scratch and use it as you would any other test on our platform. Fully customized tests can be particularly useful if you want to create specific tests that are relevant to your organization or more in-depth coding tests.

If this is something you want to know more about, our guide to developing an effective screening test takes a closer look at how to do it.

Not all testing platforms offer custom questions or custom tests, and some only offer them if you subscribe to a specific plan. So if you want to add some, you should check whether this is a feature that a test provider offers.

Tests should also not be too easy – or too difficult – and should not contain any misleading information. Test providers should track candidate performance on each test to monitor this.

Providers also need to check the success rates of different questions and do comparisons, as well as track the amount of time needed to answer each question and to do the whole test. This way, potential issues can be detected and fixed.

Discover the benefits of pre-employment testing, for both employers and candidates.