Man and Woman at Computer Choosing Pre-Hire Assessment

Have you ever read a blog that was pushing for or against one particular employee assessment?

HR professionals learn from HR blogs written by HR experts — who tend to believe deeply in the value of a particular type of pre-hire assessment (or the damage caused by using a different one). Sifting through these strong opinions can be overwhelming.

Why can’t we seem to agree on the best pre-hire assessment?

Because we’re not all aiming for the same thing.

How do you sift through the vortex of psychometric babble to find the information you really need to know for your hiring process?

Build Categories for Your Pre-Hire Assessment

This is one pivotal move that can get you out of that vortex: building categories. Because there are so many different types of pre-hire assessments out there, you need to condense the volume to a manageable level.

To help you break through the confusion, we’ve compiled 8 types of pre-hire assessments, complete with brief descriptions of each as well as their pros and cons.

Read it. Bookmark it. Use it. You’ll find yourself sorting through the quagmire, weeding tests out and confidently selecting your own ideal pre-hire assessment in no time!

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Assessments that focus on knowledge, skills and abilities identify current realities that are based on a candidate’s previous experiences and training.

While these types of assessments can help with the pre-hire sorting of candidates, they are quite limited in meeting most of the post-hire management needs of employees.

If a pre-hire assessment is really that good, its usefulness should live on even after the hire is made.

Below are types of assessments that help with the pre-hire sorting of candidates.

1. Interviews

Did you know that the humble interview can be a very effective pre-hire assessment? But unfortunately, most HR managers waste this opportunity by failing to interview in a structured way that truly assesses the candidate.

Right now, the predictive success rate of an interview is only 20%, so we have some work to do!

The most commonly used form of pre-hire screening, interviews are often a standardized or structured set of questions asked of each applicant. Typically, the questions focus on a candidate’s interpersonal and teamwork skills, as well as knowledge, skills, and aptitudes or other desired job-compatible qualities.

Hiring managers most commonly conduct interviews face-to-face or by phone in order to learn more about a candidate, while allowing the candidate to also learn more about the organization.

The Goal: Ideally, this two-way exchange allows everyone involved to make the best-informed decision about specific employment opportunities.

Pros
  • Because interviews are so common, most job applicants expect them.
  • Interviews can provide a measure of skills in face-to-face, real-time interaction that a survey or test cannot measure.
  • They tend to be most valid when measuring specific organizational outcomes — IF one takes the time to properly develop and administer the interview.
Cons
  • Interviewers may exhibit bias or judgment errors, rendering the test ineffective due to improper development or administration.
  • Due to the one-on-one nature, this format consumes more time than paper or web-based testing. It is therefore not scalable for a large number of applicants.
  • Let’s face it: We all know that interview questions can be answered dishonestly by interviewees hoping to produce favorable decisions rather than honest representations of job compatibility.

2. Biographical Data

This type of pre-hire assessment is based on the idea that past behavior indicates future behavior. Built around pre-developed questions that seek factual information about an applicant’s background, personal characteristics, interests and work experience, these questions may also draw out opinions, beliefs, values or attitudes due to their wording.

Typically, a biographical data test is administered in a web-based, pencil-and-paper or phone survey format.

The Goal: Detect counterproductive behaviors that would interfere with job compatibility.

Pros
  • Biodata surveys are easy and cost-effective to administer.
  • They tend to be most valid when measuring organizational outcomes like turnover, performance, and success in training.
Cons
  • As with interviews, candidates may answer dishonestly in an effort to produce a favorable decision rather than give an honest representation of role compatibility.
  • This category of evaluation gathers data from past experience. It does not measure future potential or give assistance in managing and developing employees who are hired.

3. Job Knowledge Tests

If you want to identify candidates who already possess the necessary understanding for the tasks of a specific job, you may want to use a job knowledge test. These types of pre-hire assessments usually consist of multiple-choice or essay questions built around particular job-related technical expertise or knowledge.

The Goal: Find the person who has the necessary knowledge to be successful in the role.

Pros
  • These tests tend to be most valid when measuring specific organizational outcomes like job performance.
  • Unlike the Biodata and Interviews, these questions cannot be answered dishonestly–as long as you are able to verify that the potential hire is also the current test-taker.
  • Even if candidates fail to ace the test, their results can still provide useful feedback regarding the amount of training that is still necessary before they are likely to be successful in the role.
Cons
  • As technology continues to evolve, this type of pre-hire assessment may require frequent updating in order to keep it relevant to the real-life role.
  • The job knowledge test may not prove as useful in jobs where the desired knowledge can be obtained in short, on-the-job training sessions.

4. Physical Ability Tests

The physical ability test measures physical skills that are required in order to perform the job in question–like strength, balance and speed.

The Goal:Detect candidates who lack the physical ability required for job success.

<h5Pros

  • Physical evaluations tend to be most valid when measuring organizational outcomes for physically demanding jobs.
  • Just like knowledge tests, as long as the identity of the test-taker can be verified, a candidate cannot fake the physical skills being tested.
Cons
  • Because the results of these tests can differ by gender (i.e. in general, men tend to be physically stronger than women), the legality of this test could be challenged by the EEOC. So make sure you do your research before implementing something along these lines in your hiring process.
  • The test can also be problematic if it is one that is also used to diagnose health or medical conditions–again, due to EEOC regulations.
  • Since a physical skills test is not a paper or web-based test, it is much more time consuming to administer, and therefore not as scalable for a large number of applicants.

5. Work Samples and Simulations

This pre-hire assessment often combines the job-related knowledge and skills discussed above into scenarios that measure a candidate’s overall competence or ability to perform a specific role.

You can also use it to assess more generally useful skills or knowledge–like organizational, interpersonal or analytical skills–with the idea being that candidates who perform well in standard scenarios are more likely to perform well in the actual role.

The Goal: Detect candidates who already have the necessary knowledge and skill for minimally acceptable performance in a role.

Pros
  • Work samples and simulations tend to be most valid when used to indicate organizational outcomes like job performance.
  • Like several of the other categories mentioned, these test questions cannot be answered dishonestly as long as the identity of the test-taker is verified.
  • Observing a candidate as they work through job-related scenarios can provide interviewers with an accurate indication of the level of additional training that will be required to ensure the candidate’s long-term success.
Cons
  • Basic scenarios may not indicate how a candidate will perform more complicated day-to-day versions of the job responsibilities.
  • These tests are based primarily on the past experience and learning of an applicant and do not typically measure their ability to learn new information quickly.
  • Like job knowledge tests, this work samples and simulations are also not as useful in jobs where knowledge can be obtained in short, on-the-job training sessions.
  • This test may be difficult to keep up-to-date and cost a lot of time and money to administer.
  • Since it is much more time-consuming than paper or web-based testing, this test is difficult to scale for a large number of applicants.
  • If not carefully thought out and standardized, this method can be ineffective due to biases or judgment errors of the test administrators.

6. Cognitive Ability

Cognitive ability tests measure job-related abilities like logic, reading comprehension or reasoning ability in order predict a candidate’s success. They are administered in either a web-based or pencil-and-paper format.

The idea behind the cognitive ability test is that certain jobs–especially the more complex jobs–require a certain level and orientation of intelligence. For example, I can demonstrate intelligence with words, but you do not want to see my accounting skills!

The Goal: Detect the candidates who lack the cognitive aptitudes that are necessary for job success.

Pros
  • Cognitive tools have been successfully used to highlight indicators regarding organizational outcomes like performance and success in training, especially for more complex job responsibilities.
  • These tests are easy and cost-effective to administer.
  • The test questions cannot be answered dishonestly as long as the identity of the test-taker is verified.
Cons

Unfortunately, this is another category of pre-hire assessment that could be challenged by the EEOC since the results can differ significantly by gender and race.

Again, be sure to do your research first to make sure your method is compliant and your organization is protected.

7. Integrity Tests

These pre-hire assessments are similar to biodata but focus more on ethics than historical facts of a person’s life. Integrity tests utilize pre-developed questions designed to measure a candidate’s honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, etc. They are usually administered as a web-based or pencil-and-paper survey.

The Goal: Identify applicants who are likely to be reliable and follow the rules.

Pros
  • Due to the survey format, integrity tests are easy and cost-effective to administer.
  • Integrity tests often successfully indicate organizational outcomes like inventory theft/damage, difficulties with authority and regular attendance.
Cons
  • Ironically, questions about integrity can be answered dishonestly to produce a favorable decision. ((How would you answer a question about whether or not you lie when applying for a much needed job?))
  • These types of tests may be offensive to test-takers if the questions seem too personal and not related to the job.

Why Most Pre-Hire Assessments Fail

While using assessments like interviews, biodata, job knowledge tests, physical ability tests, work samples/simulations, cognitive ability tests and integrity tests can help you identify the right candidate, none of these can stand alone.

How many of us have known someone who seemed to be the perfect fit for a job — that is, they had all the right qualifications and know-how — yet they only lasted a few months? Some of us have even known people who hated jobs they were really good at!

This problem, which often baffles and frustrates hiring managers, can be explained by what we like to call a person’s “wiring.” No amount of training or skill can compensate when a person is trying to do something they simply were not born to do or something they simply do not enjoy.

Your goal as a great hiring manager is for your people to thrive, not just survive. You want to create a strong, healthy company culture. This goal can only be accomplished with a combination of tests that measure knowledge, skills, abilities AND personality.

Personal Assessments

Personal assessments focus on perspectives, motivations, and behaviors — which are a vital complement to knowledge, skills and abilities. These types of assessments not only help with the pre-hire selection process but also help meet the post-hire management needs of employees.

8. Personality Tests

Many pre-hire assessments fall into this last category of measuring personality. In general, these are web-based or pencil-and-paper survey questions designed to measure common personality traits including:

  • Extroversion
  • Conscientiousness
  • Resiliency
  • Stress Response
  • Emotional Stability
  • Initiative
  • Motivation

The idea behind this type of pre-hire assessment is that people are pre-wired with certain propensities that predetermine longevity, success, and satisfaction in specific roles.

Therefore, personality tests can identify candidates whose personality traits indicate potential success in particular roles within your company. But the real value is that the same information that allows you to make a more educated hiring decision can also equip you to make effective management, promotion and problem-solving decisions throughout the life of the employee in the company.

Pros
  • Personality tests have been successfully used to measure many organizational outcomes, but each assessment has its limitations. So be sure you understand the specific philosophies your personality test of choice is built around.
  • The survey format makes these types of assessments easy and cost-effective to administer.
  • A candidate’s results can assist in quality management and promotion decisions in the future.
Cons
  • Personality questions may be offensive to test-takers if they seem too personal and not related to the job.
  • Candidates can answer dishonestly in order to produce a favorable decision.
  • Because personality lies in the field of psychology, the use of these tests can be problematic if the test type can also diagnose mental disorders, which are protected under EEOC regulations.

While these pros and cons apply to all personality tests, we cover some of the more popular types in more detail in other blog posts:

So Which Pre-Hire Assessment Should I Use?

You need to understand multiple facets of a candidate – what we like to call the person’s strengths, motivators and behaviors.

A well-designed structured interview is essential. But in addition to that, you’ll want to assess the candidate’s skills and personality. For example, you may want to use a combination of work samples/simulation, integrity and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

What we want you to come away with after reading this blog post is that there is no one pre-hire assessment that does it all. You need to approach a candidate from multiple angles in order to compensate for the weaknesses of each method. After looking at the types of assessments above, pick a few that together will give you the most well-rounded, accurate picture of a candidate for the particular role you are trying to fill.

The number of pre-hire assessments on the market today is staggering. Knowing that different evaluation methods serve different purposes can help you get traction in choosing the right ones at the right time to best accomplish your goal.

Which category of tests has been most helpful to you? Have you tried a combination of these tests before? Do you have any other categories not already on this list?


After doing our own research, we formulated what we believe is a well-rounded, insightful pre-hire assessment. This tool, which we call the MAP, combines different types of popular assessments to provide the best overall picture of a candidate’s personality, motivators and behaviors.

Use the MAP for Free