Pre Employment Testing: A Rising Trend in Business Today

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 1, 2015 1:00:00 PM / by Deborah Lechner

It’s no secret that when it comes to hiring the right candidate for the job, the traditional interview is little more effective than flipping a coin. In fact, HR professionals estimate that they themselves, even when at their best, are only about 60% effective in making the right call. That’s a pretty blunt instrument for an activity so crucial to future of your business.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. The past 30 years have seen a steady advance in assessment science, a field that presents employers with quantifiable testing tools that add accuracy and efficiency to the process of building a work force. While businesses were initially slow to adopt pre employment testing programs, they have become a rising trend in recent years. Why the change? Because today's well-designed, science-based tests have proven good for business and great for bottom lines.

How Common is Pre Employment Testing Today?

According to the Wall St. Journal, eight of the top ten private employers in the U.S. use some form of pre hire testing. Furthermore, the percentage of large companies using these tests as part of the hiring process rose from 26 percent in 2001 to 57 percent in 2013. 

The Reasons Behind the Trend

Pre employment tests offer a number of advantages to employers in terms of candidate selection, giving them the means to choose new hires that are well matched to the duties of the jobs they are being hired to perform. Popular screening tests include personality tests, drug screens, skills tests, and, for physically demanding jobs, physical abilities testing.

As pre hire testing programs have become more widely used, companies have also found that the advanced and objective information they provide about candidates has led to fewer hiring mistakes and reduced employee turnover. The benefits of this, according to that above mentioned Wall St, Journal article and corroborated by industry research are pretty dramatic: increased workplace safety, lower workers' comp costs, increased employee retention, and greater efficiency and productivity in the workplace.

According to a survey by the American Management Association , "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" (Greenberg, 1996, p. 24).

The Key Issues in Using Pre Employment Tests

According to this Forbes article, there are a number of potential issues companies need to understand before implementing pre-employment testing. The first issue is validity; whether or not the test measures what it is supposed to measure and can predict future job performance or success. An employer should be able to demonstrate that those who do well on the test do well in performing the job and those who score poorly on the test perform poorly on the job. For example, if an employer puts a group of incumbent workers through a Physical Abilities test and they perform well on it, the employer has evidence of validity of the test.

The second issue is reliability, the consistency of a test. "For a test to be reliable, an individual’s score should be about the same every time the individual takes it (allowing for the effects of practice)" (Stanley, 2004, p. 12). If someone takes the test on one day and scores high, then takes the test a week later and receives a low score, the test is probably not very reliable. A test should consistently measure job-related abilities; otherwise it will be of little value in predicting a candidate’s future job performance. And just as with validity, test reliability should be proven prior to the test being implemented. So it’s important to inquire about reliability and validity before committing to a specific testing protocol.

The third issue focuses on the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) aspects of pre employment testing. Because employment tests are periodically challenged in court, employers must make sure tests do not violate federal, state, or local EEO laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Choosing The Right Testing Programs For Your Company

This article recommends five tips for using pre employment tests to help ensure pre employment testing delivers the desired business outcomes and is legally defensible:

  • Choose the right tests and certify validity and reliability
  • Ensure tests meet all EEO laws
  • Conduct thorough research if purchasing tests from outside companies
  • Avoid test questions of an overly personal nature or that are considered offensive
  • Do not rely solely on test results to choose candidates

Within all of these pre hire testing categories, the right program for your company will be one that is custom-designed to suit your needs. This is especially true of physical abilities tests, since they must be job-specific to avoid running afoul of federal workplace regulations. What that means is that generic strength, agility, and endurance tests cannot be used. Rather, to be compliant with regulations – and to produce legally defensible results – physical ability tests must be tailored to measure candidates' ability to manage the specific tasks and stresses expected of them in the workplace.

The bottom line is that pre employment testing offers employers the ability to objectively judge the compatibility of candidates. This increases the odds of choosing the best person for the job, which saves time, money, and helps reduce potential workforce injury. While no test can guarantee a new hire's success, pre hire testing can give employers a leg up. There's no wonder it's a rising trend in business today.When are Physical abilities test best performed


Greenberg, E. (1996, October). One-third of applicant lack job skills. HR Focus, 73(10), 24.

 Stanley, T. (2004). The wisdom of employment testing. SuperVision, 65(2), 11-13.

Topics: Pre Employment Screening

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.