What Is Pre-Employment Testing?

Pre-employment tests are standardized tests, used during hiring, that allow employers to gain impartial information on candidates. Pre-employment testing provides effective insights into the skills and capabilities of potential employees.

Due to the availability of technology and the internet, pre-employment tests can be conducted online and are widely used in the hiring process. Pre-employment tests have a significant impact on hiring results by more accurately identifying the most suitable candidates.

Pre-employment tests may include:

  • Cognitive ability tests
  • Work skill tests
  • Physical abilities tests
  • Motor abilities tests
  • Personality tests
  • Emotional intelligence tests
  • Language proficiency tests
  • Integrity tests
  • Drug tests

These tests are used to narrow down the pool of applicants to the most skilled and qualified candidates for the available positions.

Pre-employment tests have many benefits for the hiring process, such as:

  • Saving time
  • Lowering costs
  • Decreasing turnover
  • Improving morale

A survey conducted by the American Management Association found that "Almost 90 percent of firms that test job applicants say they will not hire job seekers when pre-employment testing finds them to be deficient in basic skills."

The pre-employment tests should be customized for the job they are being used for to increase effectiveness. Pre-employment tests, as well as background checks, are legal as long as they are not used to discriminate against candidates.

Pre-employment tests provide an unbiased way for candidates to apply for an available role and benefit the candidates as they are able to take the test at their own convenience. These tests have the added benefit of lowering an organization’s legal risks, and provide measurable data that can be used for a legal defense.

Setting Expectations From Pre-Employment Testing

Pre-employment tests need to be administered with realistic goals in mind. Professional pre-employment tests make the hiring process more effective by providing objective quantitative data. Organizations should see notable increases in good hires, and conversely, decreases in bad hires, by implementing pre-employment tests. Although the tests greatly improve successful results in the hiring process, they are not perfect, and it is still possible to hire the wrong the person.

Varieties of Screening Tests

The following screening tests are used to screen potential candidates:

  • Criminal and background checks allow employers to see if a candidate has any previous arrests or convictions.
  • Online pre-employment tests show employers whether the candidate is suitable for the job without the need for them to come into the office.
  • Credit checks give employers insight into a potential employee's credit and financial status.
  • Drug tests, including urine, hair, saliva, and sweat screening show the presence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Cognitive tests give an indication of the candidate's logical reasoning, reading comprehension, and memory abilities.
  • Industry tests provide information on how skilled and knowledgeable a candidate is on the industry they work in.
  • Medical examinations provide information on the health and medical history of a candidate.

The Different Types of Pre-Employment Tests

Pre-employment tests fall into three main categories: aptitude, personality, and skills tests.

1. Aptitude tests

Aptitude tests evaluate a candidate's general intelligence by testing the abilities of critical thinking, problem solving, and learnability. LinkedIn conducted a study of the most highly sought after qualities employers seek and found that problem solving ranked first, with 65 percent, and the ability to learn new concepts ranked second at 64 percent. Aptitude tests give an effective way of evaluating these skills that can be difficult to discern in normal interviews.

2. Personality tests

The most widely used framework for personality tests is the "Big Five" or "Five Factor Model". This framework measures the five most important personality traits linked to job performance. These traits are:

  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Openness
  • Stress Tolerance

The "Big Five" personality tests help lower staff turnover by identifying not if the candidate is skilled enough for the role, but rather if they will be happy and comfortable performing their new role.

Other personality tests try to measure a candidate's integrity. These tests assist the company in identifying a potentially dishonest or irresponsible candidate. As candidates can be dishonest when taking an integrity test, it is advisable employers do not solely rely on the results of the test to determine a candidate’s integrity.

Emotional intelligence tests show how well a candidate understands their own emotions, and how well they understand other people's emotions. These tests aren't 100 percent accurate, as people may be dishonest when taking them or simply do not know themselves completely.

3. Skills tests

Skills tests allow employers to measure relevant skill sets such as arithmetic, communication, typing, and computer skills. Soft skill tests, for example, test a candidate's attention to detail whereas hard skill tests would test a candidate’s computer skills.

Talent assessment tests give the employer the ability to test how good a fit the candidate is for the job and what performance levels can be expected.

Limitations of Pre-Employment Tests

Although there are many benefits to pre-employment tests there are pitfalls as well. Be aware of these major limitations:


A pre-employment test needs to yield the correct results - a candidate who performs poorly on the test should perform poorly on the job and vice versa otherwise, the test is not valid.


Reliability refers to how consistently a test measures a trait. If the test cannot reliably give a candidate the same score each time they take the test, the test will do a poor job of measuring a candidate's performance in the future. The test should be tested before it is rolled out to prove that it is reliable.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)

Pre-employment tests should not discriminate against candidates and should not violate federal, state, or local EEO laws.

Advice for Using Pre-Employment Tests

  • Ensure that only professional and valid tests are used.
  • Ensure the test being used is the right test for the job.
  • Ensure the test complies with all EEO laws.
  • Do ample research before purchasing third party tests.
  • Do not use tests that have overly personal questions or that may have questions that could be construed as offensive.
  • Tests should be used to guide a hiring decision, not as the basis of the hiring decision.

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