You probably figured that once you finished school, you were done with tests! But these days, lots of employers use pre-employment testing long before you even get to an interview. Unlike your chemistry exam, a pre-employment test isn’t something you can study for. However, there are some steps you can take to prep for these tests and overcome any lingering test anxiety. Once you do that, you’ll be ready to ace your pre-employment assessment.
Why Employers Use Pre-Employment Tests
You might think that these tests are frustrating. After all, how many of us like to brag about a mistake we made and wish we could take back? However, assessment tests do more than tell an employer about a job seeker’s skills.
Like it or not, some people lie on their resume. Or, they may not “lie,” but they stretch the truth a little. Or, a lot. To help weed out these candidates, HR professionals may use some pre-employment testing to see if you’re stretching the truth.
But, you’re thinking, doesn’t HR check references? Well, keep in mind that most companies won’t give a “reference.” They will verify the facts of your employment, like the dates of your employment and salary. But, they usually won’t give out much else. And that’s not a lot for any HR professional to go on. Besides, how do they know they didn’t just talk to your Aunt Mary?
To See If You Can Do the Job
You may claim you’re well-versed in Photoshop, but are you really? Even with an extensive portfolio to back you up, employers want to be sure you can do what you claim you can do.
Are You a Good Fit
This isn’t about a company only hiring people who “fit in.” Asking if a candidate is a good fit is also about making sure you’ll be happy in the job. If an interviewer asks, “Does this job sound good to you?” you’ll say yes because unless there’s something unexpected about the job, of course, you’re going to say yes. But, will you really be happy doing that job for the next few years? A pre-employment test may help an employer figure that out.
Tests Are Better at Hiring
Bad hiring mistakes are expensive. Not only does human resources want to save money, they also want to save their time—and yours. Carol Cochran, Vice President of People & Culture at FlexJobs, says that pre-employment tests “can be a tremendously valuable part of the decision-making process. They give a company the ability to get objective predictors of performance in a more objective way than interviews can.”
And there’s data to back that up. In one study, hiring managers were divided into two groups. One group was instructed to hire applicants based solely on what the pre-employment test said (hire or don’t hire). The other group was given more leeway in hiring. While they could follow the test, they could also choose to ignore the test and trust their instincts based on what they learned in the interview.
The two new hire groups were then compared on quality—defined as how long new hires stayed on the job and how productive they were. Overall, the group hired based strictly on the pre-employment test results were rated higher quality employees. This group was more productive and stayed employed with the company 15% longer than the other new hires.
When Will You Take a Pre-Employment Test
There are three different times you might run into pre-employment testing.
- Before you have a first interview. This helps screen out unqualified candidates, ensuring neither the candidate nor the company wastes their time.
- After a first interview but before a second interview. Usually, this test checks your skills and abilities. It’s generally a good sign if you’re asked to complete a test at this stage. It means the company is interested in you.
- During an interview. Yes, pre-employment assessments can show up in an interview. These are primarily behavioral questions that assess how you will handle certain situations.
Types of Pre-Employment Tests
There are also several types of pre-employment tests that you may face. While you can prepare for some of them, there will be times when you have to think on your feet. Common types of pre-employment tests include the following.
These use on-the-job scenarios to help reveal the thinking and decision-making styles of candidates. You’ll likely be given a real scenario or business problem the company has faced and asked how you would handle it.
These are used to measure mental capabilities and behavioral style, but have no right or wrong answers.
Not to be confused with skills tests, aptitude tests measure critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It helps employers gauge how fast you learn and how well you’ll perform.
These tests try to determine your capabilities on specific job skills. In other words, skills tests test the abilities you say you have.
Personality tests measure personality traits in work settings, such as stress tolerance, pro-activity, and service orientation. Specifically, these tests measure the things about you that don’t change (like honesty or empathy). There are no right or wrong answers, but scoring high on certain traits can help predict if you’ll be happy in a certain job and thus a good fit for the company.
Business Case Studies
Commonly called “a project,” business case studies give you practical problems that the business is facing (hypothetical or real) that you have to solve. This provides the employer insight into your work style and whether or not you can do the job.
Ask Your Questions First
Understandably, you might be nervous about taking a test. Some of these tests are asking psychological questions, and that may make you uncomfortable. Before you take a pre-employment test (or even if you’re asked a behavioral question), consider asking some of your own pre-test questions.
What Is This Test Measuring?
Hopefully, the answer to this question will help you understand what the employer is examining. Are they looking for certain skills? Or, are they just trying to understand your personality a little better? Knowing what the company is examining may help put your mind at ease or, at least, help you understand the hiring process a bit better.
However, knowing what the test is measuring will likely not help you perform any better. Some of these tests do not have a right or wrong answer, so trust yourself and give the best possible answer you can.
Are They Keeping the Results?
Some employers keep your resume on file in case something comes up in the future. That’s great. But, ask if they’re keeping the results of this test in that same file. If so, will they use the results if “something comes up” or you apply for a different position?
How to Ace Pre-Employment Testing
Let’s start with the obvious: you can’t game this. There’s no way to “win,” or “out think” the test. In fact, Cochran advises applicants “to not overthink things and go with their first answer to give the most accurate results.”
That said, there are a few things you can do to prepare for the pre-employment test.
OK. Not study study. But, practicing before your interview can help give you confidence during your interview. For example, behavioral questions are a common interview question. They usually start with “Tell me about a time when,” or, “Give me an example of.” When you hear these, you know you’re in for a behavioral question.
Anticipate these questions in advance and practice, practice, practice. Use the STAR method to help you explain why you did what you did and how it benefited your employer.
You can’t actually cheat on these tests. But, you can find out what kinds of questions or pre-employment tests you might face. Brie Reynolds, Career Development Manager and Coach at FlexJobs, advises job seekers to check out Glassdoor and view the interview questions people have reported. This can give you some insight into the pre-employment test you may take.
Keep It in Perspective
While job assessment tests are important, remember that they are usually only one part of the application process. Employers generally rely on a range of factors—including resume, references, interviews, and background checks—in making hiring decisions. Think of your pre-employment testing as just one hurdle to clear in your job search process, not an obstacle to getting hired.
Many types of job assessments are designed to measure traits in particular jobs, and that’s why there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Instead of trying to “outsmart” the test, your goal should be to answer the question honestly. If you answer dishonestly, you may be chosen for a position that’s a poor fit for your skills and personality—which means you may soon be on the job search again.
Keep the Job in Mind as You Answer
No matter what kind of pre-employment test you take, think about the job and the job description as you answer the questions. For example, if you’re applying for a customer support role, you may run into a question that asks you how you feel about helping people in need. If you remember that the job is in customer support and that you’ll probably help a lot of customers, that should help you tailor your answer.
Put Your Pencils Down
Love them or hate them, you’re likely going to face a few tests in your job hunt. But, unlike tests from school, most of these don’t have a right or wrong answer. And, they aren’t graded on a curve. Pre-employment tests are really there to help an employer get a deeper and better understanding of you as a candidate to make sure you’re a good hire—and happy in your job.
That said, the thought of taking a test may have you sweating bullets. We’ve got plenty of advice for acing all kinds of interviews. But, if that’s not enough, consider scheduling a session with one of our career coaches. They’ve got plenty of practice prepping people for interviews and lots of advice on how to deal with pre-employment tests.
Rachel Pelta contributed to this article
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
A version of this article was originally published on November 11, 2015.
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Robin Madell, Corporate/Executive Writer
Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributor to the On Careers section of U.S. News & World Report…Read More >
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