Even under the best of circumstances, hiring someone is a gamble. You never know for sure if a new hire is going to work out — will he or she be reliable, perform well, and be a good fit for your organization? Although there is no foolproof way to hire, selection tests can certainly improve your odds. Many organizations, however, avoid using employee selection tests for a variety of reasons, including that they are

  • not convinced of their value
  • concerned that tests will screen out minorities or lead to a discrimination complaint
  • uncertain about how they can use the tests
  • not sure how to start using employee selection tests

The Value of Testing

When a test is matched to your company and the job you want to fill, it increases the odds that the person you hire will be the right one. For a person to perform a job well, their KSAOs (Knowledge, Skill, Ability and Other characteristics) must match the KSAO requirements for the job. The better the match between the KSAO requirements for the job and the KSAOs of employees, the greater the chances those employees will be successful on the job. To hire a salesperson, for example, an important KSAO is excellent verbal communication skills. A well-designed test is an efficient means of assessing whether the applicants have the KSAOs they claim to possess. A test is relatively inexpensive and provides an objective means of assessing the applicant. Companies have found that tests work. Thousands of empirical studies consistently show how tests predict employee job performance. But, to be most effective, tests must be chosen with specific KSAOs in mind. A successful testing effort begins with a job analysis, a study that determines the KSAO requirements for a job. Once you know which KSAOs you are looking for, you can choose employee selection tests that will assess these KSAOs in applicants.

Testing and Discrimination

In the U.S., the first step in investigating potential hiring discrimination is determining if there is adverse impact. This means that the proportion of applicants hired from various protected groups based on race, color, religion, national origin, or gender is different than a comparison group (e.g., Whites or men). Adverse impact might occur by using employee selection tests that result in group differences. But keep in mind:

  • Not all tests will contribute to adverse impact in hiring. For many employee selection tests there will be few differences among groups.
  • Adverse impact can be reduced through the use of tests. Since tests are objective, they do not introduce the sorts of biases that can occur when hiring managers try to judge knowledge and skill from a face-to-face interview, and infer capability, even unconsciously, from irrelevant personal characteristics. Introducing employee selection tests can help overcome personal biases that affect hiring decisions.
  • If using a test causes an adverse impact, it does not automatically mean that unfair discrimination has occurred. In cases of adverse impact, an organization must be prepared to make a case for the practice being a business necessity and that the hiring practice has validity. In other words, you must show that your methods lead to hiring people who are more effective on the job. The use of a test, even one that produces an adverse impact, can be justified if its use is based on a job analysis and you have evidence to show the test’s results relate directly to job performance.
  • Test scores should not be the sole determinant of hiring decisions, but rather are used in combination with other factors. Even if a test shows group differences, it is the final hiring decisions that determine adverse impact.

Uncertainty about How to Use the Employment Tests in the Selection Process

It takes expertise in human assessment to be able to use tests properly. Introducing a test involves several steps.

  • Determine KSAO requirements for the job.
  • Target the KSAOs you wish to assess in applicants.
  • Choose the test(s) and set up the testing program. (Most employee selection tests today are conducted online.)
  • Set high standards. Often employee selection tests are used in a multiple-hurdle fashion where a cut score is set. The cut score is a minimum or “passing” score an applicant must achieve for further consideration.

The good news is that many companies and consultants can provide expertise in testing. Large organizations often hire internal experts who have backgrounds in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology and who use platforms such as eSkill to configure tests to their KSAO requirements.  For small to mid-sized firms without internal I-O resources, a vendor like eSkill can share their expertise and provide guidance to HR/Recruiting generalists, showing them how to select and configure valid employee selection tests based on their KSAO requirements.

How to Get Started

If your company has never used tests, start small by picking one job, perhaps the one you hire for most frequently or the one you have the most trouble finding the right people for. If you do not have a testing expert in-house, do your homework and find someone to help. There are many consultants and testing companies out there. Some, like eSkill, offer thousands of possible tests and assessment experts who can provide you with live support in test selection, helping you choose compliant and accurate assessments. In the long run, the proper use of employee selection tests will help your human resources professionals improve their processes and hire employees who best fit the requirements of your jobs.

Paul Spector

Dr. Spector is a professor who has spent a career teaching and doing research about the human side of organizations. He has taught both industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology and business at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.

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