Don’t DIY Your Employment Tests

Like many HR pros, I have lived the “Skilled Labor Hard to Find” headlines.  At one company, we had a hard time finding employees with strong math and computer skills.

The HR team set out to “solve” this gap by analyzing our locations: Which had high turnover? Low turnover? Which was most productive? Which had the least errors?

We reviewed a lot of data (this company had 100+ locations) and settled on a list of locations we wanted to visit.

One location in the Northeast had great productivity numbers, low error rates, and low employee turnover, so we asked the manager for his secret. 

He explained that he had a rigorous hiring process:

  • Everyone started as temps so he could “test” them out.
  • After six months, if they had a good performance and attendance record, he hired them.
  • Oh, and he gave them all a couple of skills tests he put together on spelling, grammar, and math.

Wait. An employment test? That he developed on his own? What?

Yes, our location manager was giving his potential new hires, working in a semi-manufacturing environment, a test of their vocabulary, grammar and math skills.

His reasoning was sound: employees had to be able to quickly measure and cut materials, quote prices and communicate with customers in person and over email.

Unfortunately, based on my experience and education, I knew that we could not be making employment decisions based on a do-it-yourself (DIY) Pre-Employment test.

Employment testing is an important hiring phase, but you should only use tests that have been vetted thoroughly.

Three important aspects to remember about employment testing are:

Lesson 1: Employment Testing Isn’t Just for “Hard” Skills, Such as Math

When you think “test,” you may think SAT or GRE, but you can use many other assessments to pinpoint strengths and areas of improvement. The MBTI or Myers’ Briggs is a very popular example of this kind of test. You would not want to use this test in a pre-employment setting, but you can use it to pinpoint a skill gap and build a development plan.

Lesson 2: Don’t Design Your Own Employment Tests  

In my above example, the hiring manager was hiring good people and getting fantastic results. Most will assume that his methods were good and only see the positive results.  Unfortunately, by using an employment test that he developed on his own he put the company at risk:

  • When tests are used in an employment environment, we must be careful to ensure that the test is accurate (more on this in a bit). Because his test had never been vetted, we were unable to say that the test was an accurate predictor of workplace performance; There could have been other factors at play that led to successful productivity.
  • No other location within the company used this test. If the company was challenged by a declined candidate, an attorney could claim that our hiring practices were not fair because they were not applied consistently.

Don’t be like my hiring manager in the above example. Do not develop your own employment tests. You can partner with companies like eSkill to ensure that your test is both valid and reliable.

Lesson 3: Does It Measure What It’s Supposed To?

Before you design the test, you must have an accurate description of the job. You don’t need a formal job description, but you must understand and communicate the skills, knowledge, and qualities that are critical to success in the role.

This description is the basis from which you will choose a test. Be careful that you don’t confuse “must have” with “nice to have.” In the case of the hiring manager I described above, it was okay for him to expect certain computer, math and writing and verbal skills, but the skill level could vary—in a semi-manufacturing environment, workers don’t usually need a college vocabulary to communicate with customers—and his DIY test may not have accounted for that.

Once you have the description nailed down, you can work with a company like eSkill to review the reliability and validity of the employment test. You want to know if the test measures what it is supposed to measure and if the results are consistent across time.

Now it’s your turn. What tool do you use for skills testing and how do you think it improved your recruiting process?

Eric Friedman

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a global platform for complete candidate skills and job fit assessment. eSkill’s online skills testing is used by thousands of employers for pre-employment assessment and staff benchmarking. Eric has degrees in Psychology and Business, and a fascination with matching people with roles they're best at, and that they enjoy.

3 Comments

  • AvatarKelly says:

    The legal factor. This is the most important reason why every company should only hire based on professional assessments.

  • AvatarTim says:

    Great article. These assessments standardize the employment process and you can avoid the pitfalls of hiring based on a misguided first impression. Vetted tests will maintain equality during the hiring process, while hiring managers alone cannot. Choose your skills assessment provider and forget about discrimination issues.

  • AvatarCasey Miller says:

    The good news is that it has never been easier for companies to reach a relatively mature state with their assessment programs. Accessibility to quality assessment tools has never been better.

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