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The Essential Guide to Pre-Employment Testing

AIVirtual Assessment CenterDigital Assessment
calendarSeptember 16, 2021
calendar Claire Rahmatallah
The Essential Guide to Pre-Employment Testing

Poor recruitment decisions can be costly mistakes. This CareerBuilder survey shows the average cost to any organisation, including replacement hire costs and company downtime while a vacant position. With statistics like this, it's clear that the cost of a poor recruitment decision is significant, and so are the long-term effects. Making a bad hire costs companies money and has a significant negative impact on team productivity, morale, and company culture. One of the solutions to this problem is pre-employment testing. This is a process designed to ensure that employers give themselves the best chance of predicting job performance for each open position.

What is Pre-Employment Testing?

Pre-employment tests are a series of different assessment tools that recruiters use to screen potential candidates and find the best match for their organisation. By implementing pre-employment assessments, employers can use this part of the hiring process to gather relevant, reliable job-related information on candidates in a way that is as objective and legally defensible as possible. Most pre-employment testing is completed online, with a variety of different assessment types and skills tests available.

Why do organisations use Pre-Employment Tests?

As part of any hiring process, employers want to gather as much relevant information as possible. Traditional methods of getting to know candidates often don't yield the best insight. CVs are often unreliable. And interviews are subjective and often serve as poor predictors of job performance. In contrast, properly developed and well-validated tests are a reliable and objective means of gathering job-related information on candidates. Pre-employment tests introduce objectivity into the hiring process by providing concrete results that can be standardised across all applicants. Employers can then use these data points to make better informed, more defensible hiring decisions. Even more importantly, companies that use pre-employment testing can experience tangible positive impacts on their business. The two most common hiring-related pain points for HR professionals and business owners are that organisations are spending more time than they need on hiring decisions. Despite this, they are still making more hiring mistakes than they can afford. Pre-employment tests can help directly with these issues: by dramatically reducing time spent on CVs and interviews, pre-employment tests will help reduce the time and costs associated with hiring. And by providing reliable, objective data that predict job performance, pre-employment tests are designed to increase the quality of good hires and reduce the number of bad hires. Ultimately, this will lead to bottom-line improvements such as increased workforce productivity and reduced turnover. 

What is pre-employment testing best practice?

Most organisations use a combination of seven different types of assessment to measure candidates on soft skills such as cognitive abilities, personality, situational judgment, and hard skills such as role-specific skills in the case of roles such as accountancy or web development. While the assessments themselves are the foundations of the initial evaluation, the different test types give employers a much fuller picture of a candidate's profile.

Personality and Culture Fit

A personality questionnaire measures the way an individual prefers to behave at work. These assessments help employers better understand a candidate's potential for job performance and satisfaction. As the name suggests, personality and culture fit tests explore the candidate's personality traits and ensure fit within the company culture. The definition holds especially true in a business environment where using a personality questionnaire can shine a light on the way candidates behave and uncover their psychological traits. This process can mean the difference between hiring someone who thrives at your workplace and someone who struggles to keep up.

Cognitive ability

Cognitive ability tests differ from personality questionnaires as they are meant to assess abilities around thinking (reasoning, problem-solving, verbal ability, etc.) The end goal of a cognitive ability test is to evaluate the candidate's potential to use mental processes when dealing with problems in the workplace. These assessments help employers understand a candidate's capacity for processing and interpreting different types of information.


These assessments determine whether a candidate has the required language skills before inviting them for an interview. Language tests measure a candidate's proficiency with a specific language based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFR in short. While born in Europe, this framework is now used internationally. Language tests usually cater to a candidate based on the required proficiency level, from beginner (A1) to native or bilingual (C2). Checking language skills in your pre-employment assessment helps you understand whether your candidates have the required language skills (grammar, business jargon, etc.) for the job before inviting them for an extensive interview.

Situational judgement

These tests help potential employers understand whether a candidate can apply their knowledge to achieved desired outcomes. Situational judgement tests contain descriptions of a specific scenario likely to be encountered in the role that are immediately followed by a question on how to handle it properly (usually around risk, stress, ethics, and other business factors). As the name suggests, these are meant to measure the candidate's situational judgment and how they would make decisions within specific contexts. Situational judgement can play an essential role in pre-employment assessments because they help you understand whether a candidate can apply theoretical knowledge to work-related contexts to achieve the desired outcomes. Situational judgement tests also give the candidate some insight into the role as they are typically designed for the organisation specifically. As such, this reinforces the fact that recruitment is a two-way process.

Role-specific skills

These tests quantify a potential candidate's knowledge of specific professional skills. Tests that measure role-specific skills are directly targeted at the candidates' role of choice, and they are designed to uncover whether they can get the job done or not. They tend to be more technical and knowledge-based than other test types, especially when specific to an industry or niche role. With questions meant to prove professional expertise in specific knowledge areas, role-specific tests evaluate how much a candidate knows about a professional topic. A critical advantage of role-specific tests is the immediate understanding of what a candidate has previously learned and practised. And the best time to shine a light on the body of knowledge the candidate possesses on a professional topic is during a pre-employment assessment.

Programming skills

Going deeper into technical knowledge, programming skills have now become a staple of modern business and innovation. With programming languages and frameworks using their own rules, it makes sense to have tests for each. These tests demonstrate whether a potential candidate has the coding knowledge required for a given role. Similar to role-specific skills, tests on programming skills are meant to identify whether the candidate has the knowledge needed for the vacancy on a specific topic. These should always be combined with more general tests. Tests in the programming space can last longer than the usual 10 minutes due to the complexity of coding requirements. Questions and challenges can vary from technical knowledge to problem-solving and are usually complemented by screenshots or images to help the candidate visualise the issue at hand. Naturally, this type of test is indispensable for pre-employment assessments for programmers and is vital in establishing the right quality of candidates.

Software skills

These tests demonstrate how comfortable a potential candidate is with essential software used in the role. Similar to programming skills but geared towards productivity and proprietary platforms, software skill testing is another critical type to consider when evaluating your candidate's ability to adapt to your business environment. Tests in this area range anywhere from cloud CRM solutions such as Salesforce, HubSpot, and Zendesk to more traditional programs and skills such as MS Word, MS Excel, and email productivity suites (primarily Outlook and Gmail). Modern software comprises many different functions that aren't as immediate as most candidates like to think. Asking the right questions from the start is a big-time saver and a key indicator of how fast the candidate will adapt to your working environment if hired.

Other types of pre employment testing:

  1. Integrity test
  2. Emotional intelligence test
  3. Background checks
  4. Drug tests
  5. Physical ability test
  6. Job sample tests

Why is pre-employment testing important?

Pre-employment tests offer wide-ranging benefits that streamline the hiring process and strengthen an entire organisation by increasing the likelihood that new employees will be successful in their roles. Pre-employment testing is important because it can help ensure alignment between the employee selection process and desired business outcomes such as lower turnover, increased sales, and higher customer satisfaction. The most significant benefits a company may experience by implementing an effective pre-employment testing process include:

Higher productivity

Professionally developed, well-validated pre-employment tests can successfully predict employee productivity across many job types and industries. Tests are among the most accurate means of predicting performance because they can objectively determine the extent to which a candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform well in any given role.

Increased employee retention and reduction in costs

Pre-employment testing can increase employee retention by ensuring that new employees have the basic aptitude required for the job and the appropriate temperament or personality to feel comfortable with the type of work required of them. These factors may reduce the likelihood of employees being let go for performing poorly or not completing training, as well as the possibility that employees will quit of their own accord.

More efficient, less time-consuming hiring process

Pre-employment tests offer the most time-saving value when administered at the top of the hiring funnel. By requiring that applicants take the tests early on, companies can quickly rule out people who send out their CVs with minimal thought or effort. The applicants who end up completing the tests are, at the very least, serious enough about the position to put in the time to take the tests. In addition, setting minimum cut-off scores for certain tests can quickly narrow down the number of applicants to select for phone or in-person interviews. Reducing the time spent on the interview process drastically reduces the overall time spent recruiting employees. Pre-employment tests limit the hours spent on time-consuming recruiting activities by making it easier to discover the right candidates with the most potential for success on the job.

Increased Defensibility in the Hiring Process

Besides helping a company improve various business outcomes, pre-employment testing can also enhance the objectivity, equitability, and legal defensibility of an organisation's hiring process. Pre-employment tests are governed by guidelines intended to ensure equitable and non-discriminatory hiring practices. In this way, employment testing can support legal defensibility by enhancing the objectivity of a company's employee selection procedures.

Hire away!

So, pre-employment testing can be a very valuable part of any hiring process. Used correctly, and it will help organisations make faster, fairer, and more educated hiring decisions which will benefit them for both the short and the long term.


The Essential Guide to Pre-Employment Testing