Avoid 3 Common Mistakes When Using Pre-Employment Tests

Hiring managers, seeking the special ingredients in what makes a top-performing employee tick, are turning to pre-employment testing more and more. But like a promising recipes, the proof is in the pudding. Many employees don’t work out even if they “pass” a pre-employment personality test.

How can that be, you ask?

Not all pre-employments tests are created equally. Even when validated, tests measure different things. Some tests assess personality. Others evaluate honesty and integrity. Additional tests might measure cognitive skills or determine behavioral style. The properly screened candidate, who gets the go-ahead nod after completing a pre-employment test, may turn out to be a bad hire despite all the due diligence. The pre-employment test may be partly to blame, but most often failure occurs when the results were taken out of context.  Specifically, sometimes a pre-employment better predicts candidates who won’t fit rather than a blueprint for those that will. In either case, the ROI is very high when pre-employments are used.

Many managers and consultants want to use pre-employment testing much like the prince sought to find Cinderella. They create a job profile, then search for the one candidate who fits the silver slipper. That’s a great concept — when it’s put into practice with eyes wide open. But too often, hiring managers and consultants set the range of desirable traits and aptitude so tight that they knock otherwise high-potential candidates out of the running. A tight benchmark ignores the notion that there is more than one way to be successful.

Don’t mistake me for saying pre-employment testing doesn’t work. I’m a firm believer that it does. And don’t misquote me and repeat that Ira Wolfe said, “job profiling doesn’t work.”  It does. What I’m saying is that job profiles and pre-employment tests play a critical role in hiring, promotion, and succession planning when they are put into the proper context.

To get the most out of pre-employment tests, avoid these three biggest mistakes I see employers make:

  1. Ignoring the risk factors. A pre-employment test often times doesn’t predict success as well as it does failure. In a job profile benchmarking analysis I just completed for a client, we couldn’t come up with single profile that categorically identified top performers. Based on the hires to date that completed the hiring assessment, all the top performers “scored” 79% or more on the job fit scale. Unfortunately, so did a number of the hiring failures. But when we studied the candidates who scored 78% or below, 75% of the hiring mistakes were identified. In other words, getting a job fit score of 79% or more  for this client isn’t a predictable indicator of success. But scoring below 79% is a very reliable indicator of a future hiring mistake. 
  2. Singling out just a handful of top performers. Science may have discovered how to clone a sheep, but cloning top performers is still an art. While the concept of creating a tight personality benchmark is a good one, the practice is often flawed. Hiring is both science and art. Top performance doesn’t just come from personality or aptitude, but a complex mix of experience, education, training, personal values, motivation and often dumb luck — being in the right place at the time. A successful hire won’t occur by basing a hiring decision on education and experience alone. It also won’t occur by ignoring the inherent impact of personality traits and values on skills like relationship building, managing others, innovation, and problem solving. In other words, pre-employment testing is a critical ingredient in a complex recipe called job success. Testing candidates won’t guarantee a blue-ribbon winner. But not using pre-hire assessments during the screening and selection process substantially increases the chances of hiring a low performer.
  3. Getting infatuated with the silver slipper and ignore other suitors. For example, many sales managers seek out only the extroverts as potential top performers and knock out the introverts as undesirable. While it may be true that the majority of people attracted to sales might be extroverts, outgoingness and group orientation is by no means a guarantee for hiring top performing salespeople. If it was, every extroverted salesperson would be knocking down big numbers.  In reality, an introvert may have an even greater potential for success in certain industries and markets that require the patience of Job and very effective listening skills. Most extroverts, on the other hand, feel that there are no strangers in the world, just a lot of people they haven’t met yet. They therefore are often doing a lot of the talking. That means they aren’t listening. Don’t ignore the overall fit of the candidate and the role you expect him to play. If one trait falls outside the desired range, interview the candidate and references to determine how that particular trait has affected past performance. The most successful candidates will recognize their weaknesses and develop skills to compensate. Listen and observe how the extrovert learned to listen to customers and how the introvert learned to schmooze with strangers.


Ira S Wolfe