How to Choose an Employment Test

Are you thinking that you’d like to include an employment test of some kind in your selection or promotion decision-making process? The problem you likely have is that you aren’t sure which test or tests are the right ones for your company. You may even have listened to presentations by one or another test publisher, but you still have questions about how to choose wisely among all the employment tests that are available.

Our company develops, validates, and provides employment tests that are used by businesses and other organizations throughout the U.S. We help potential customers choose the right test to use. I thought it would be useful to talk about how to go about choosing an employment test or tests.

Step 1 – The Most Important Step

Start with the job description for the job(s) you need to fill. What will the person in this job do all of the time, most of the time, and some of the time? The job description should be as detailed as you can make it, including any specific education and experience that is required.

Look at the job description and make a list of the knowledge, skills and abilities that would be required for the person in the job. You’ll probably end up with two lists: “must have” and “nice to have.” Focus on the “must have” list; these are the requirements that are most relevant to success on the job.

From these lists, you now know what job-relevant knowledge, skills and abilities that successful candidates must have. The U.S. EEOC says, in their Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, that everything that is used during an employee selection process should be job-relevant, and this means that you should look for employment tests that measure one or more of the job-relevant requirements you have identified.

Step 2 – Considerations

Before you start looking for an employment test (or tests) that measure the job-relevant skills, knowledge, attitudes, or abilities that you have identified in the job description, consider the following criteria:

Cost – what’s your budget? Are you looking for an employment test for an entry-level, hourly position? If so, what’s the effect on your organization of hiring a person who turns over quickly? Since the cost of a turnover is usually estimated to be roughly 2.5 times the annual salary, this gives you an idea of much it’s reasonable to spend on testing. That means, for example, untimely turnover of a full-time employee who makes $12.00/hour could cost your company as much as $60,000.

• Ease of use – will the test that you select have to be administered under supervision on-site? Will it have to be interpreted by a third party before you get results? How quickly will you need access to the test results? Will your likely applicant pool need to be fluent in English?

• How will it be used by your organization? At what point in the selection process will it be administered to all candidates who reach that point? Who, in your organization, will see the results?

You may not have answers to all of these questions before you begin looking at specific employment tests, but thinking about these questions will help you evaluate the tests you look at.

Step 3 – Evaluating Employment Tests

There are hundreds of employment tests available, and many ways to find them. You may have heard of tests via advertisements in trade or association publications, from colleagues in your industry or professional association, or by searching the internet. In whatever way you find purveyors of employment tests, keep in mind the following critical considerations:

  • JOB RELEVANCE: Is the test (or tests) relevant to the job for which you intend to use it? The most direct test of job-relevance is the written job description from which you are working. For example, if you are looking for a test to use to evaluate candidates for a warehouse worker who will primarily spend their time loading and unloading trucks, a test that measures keyboarding skills is unlikely to be job-relevant.

Look for a test or tests that measures the most important knowledge, skill, ability or attitude that the job requires.

  • VALIDITY AND RELIABILITY: Has the test (or tests) been validated? Simply put, validation is a technical process by which the test developer demonstrates empirically that the test measures what it is designed to measure. Reliability refers to the internal consistency of the test, and to re-test reliability, which is the likelihood of the results being the same or similar as the first time the test was taken.

The U.S. EEOC’s Uniform Guidelines spell out how validity can be measured empirically, and the test developer should be able to share the validity study or studies, including design of the study, analysis of data, and conclusions, with you. The validity study should be written in plain language so that you can understand how the test was designed, how the validity studies were conducted, and what conclusions were reached.

The more factors that a test measures, such as a multi-trait personality test, the more important that the validity study include many subjects over a reasonable period of time. It’s easy to design a mobile-friendly questionnaire that sounds like it measures personality characteristics or specific skills, but it takes time and lots of data to show that the test results validly predict likely on-the-job performance.

  • TRAINING AND SUPPORT: How easy is it to use the test or tests you are considering? Does the test purveyor provide training or help in understanding the results? Is that training or help readily available? What is the purveyor’s track record with regard to helping users understand and use the results? Ask for references, and check them.

A Final Note

You gather a great deal of information about applicants or candidates for promotion, and employment tests can add objective, unbiased information about specific, job-relevant knowledge, skills, or abilities. Remember to always use the results of employment tests in addition to all other job-relevant information you have gathered, in order to build the most complete possible picture of the candidates you are considering.