Selection Testing: What It Is and How To Use It in the Hiring Process

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Scope—This article discusses the basics of pre-employment testing, types of selection tools and test methods, determining what testing is needed, a source for reviews of commercially available tests, and implementation and monitoring of pre-employment tests by HR practitioners to ensure that they are reliable, valid, legal and effective. This toolkit does not address drug testing.

An organization that makes good hiring decisions tends to have higher productivity and lower turnover, which positively affects the bottom line. Hiring the wrong people can have a negative impact on employee morale and management time and can waste valuable training and development dollars. Pre-employment testing and new screening tools and technology can help HR professionals minimize hiring time and select the most qualified individual who best fits the organization.

Pre-employment tests need to be selected and monitored with care; employers run the risk of litigation if a selection decision is challenged and determined to be discriminatory or in violation of state or federal regulations. Tests used in the selection process must be legal, reliable, valid and equitable, and HR professionals need to stay aware of any developing trends.

Employment tests usually are standardized devices designed to measure skills, intellect, personality or other characteristics, and they yield a score, rating, description or category. However, according to the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures of 1978 issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), any employment requirement set by an employer is considered to be a “test.”

Honesty and integrity tests measure an applicants propensity toward undesirable behaviors such as lying, stealing, taking drugs or abusing alcohol. Two types of tests assess honesty and integrity. Overt integrity tests ask explicit questions about honesty, including attitudes and behavior regarding theft. Personality-oriented (covert) integrity tests use psychological concepts such as dependability and respect for authority. Critics have said these tools may invade privacy and generate self-incrimination. They also claim that candidates can interpret the questions intent and provide politically correct answers. Some states have regulations regarding these types of tests, so employers should consult with legal counsel before implementing.

To implement a pre-employment testing process, the employer must 1) determine which tests are necessary; 2) select or develop a test that appropriately evaluates the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics (KSAOs) needed; and 3) monitor use of the test. Implementing a valid testing process can be time-consuming, but the wealth of information gleaned may be worth the effort.

The process of deciding which tests to use begins by isolating the KSAOs the new employee must possess on Day 1. In other words, what must the person know and be able to do without additional on-the-job training? Once the list of KSAOs is created, the employer can consider testing options.

Skills are best assessed by having the applicant perform them. Obviously, some skills are more easily assessed than others, but testing key job skills may be valuable. Again, employers should develop a standardized, job-related, validated assessment process for use with each applicant. Skills can be tested by asking for work samples or by developing job-related assessment centers.

Abilities are also best assessed by demonstration. When strenuous physical activity is involved, however, safety concerns may trump the need for evaluation. Many employers prefer the mental ability test, which measures general intelligence, but it is uncertain whether such tests predict job performance, and they often have a discriminatory impact. For jobs that require frequent learning or mental acumen, a job-related assessment center is a better option.

Developing an employment test that meets legal and regulatory criteria and professional standards is an arduous task. It is expensive and time-consuming and requires sophisticated test development skills. The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures of 1978 details the standards to which the EEOC will hold employers accountable when using employment tests.

The Mental Measurements Yearbook (MMY), which is published by the Buros Center for Testing housed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is one means of making informed decisions about commercially available tests. The MMY series is a source of objective, professional-quality reviews of commercially available tests and is widely respected and cited in all fields of psychological assessment.

Employers must ensure that any selection tests are reliable and valid, yielding consistent results that predict success on the job; if not, discrimination claims are likely to ensue. The EEOCs Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures detail how the EEOC will evaluate a testing method called into question; the agency offers additional guidance in its Employment Tests and Selection Procedures fact sheet. States may have individual requirements and guidelines for those working in that state. Consulting with an attorney before implementing any selection method is advised. See DOL Cracks Down on Companys Use of Hiring Tests.

Many employers think properly used and administered formal tests can be beneficial to the employment selection process. However, perfect reliability is difficult to achieve because a variety of factors can challenge a tests integrity—such as inappropriate or irrelevant questions or rater bias in evaluating job candidates. To improve reliability among raters, organizations should provide adequate training on the ground rules for each selection test. See Validate Employment Tests to Avoid Lawsuits and What compliance issues are involved in creating a pre-employment test?

Validity measures the degree to which the conclusions drawn from a test are accurate. In other words, does the test accurately measure job-related factors that predict job performance? For a pre-employment assessment instrument, validity is the extent to which the test or tool actually measures what it purports to measure. Test publishers conduct validation studies in accordance with guidelines issued by the EEOC, and certain industry and professional standards. One of the most widely used and respected examples of these standards can be located through the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

It is critical for an organization to continuously monitor the use of any pre-employment test to support legal compliance. Implementing a tracking process for procedures and results, including recording the candidates profile, tests given, and scores achieved, can help ensure testing procedures are valid over time. Staying abreast of legal developments in employment testing is also necessary to validate their continued use. If any adverse impact against a protected group is found when auditing a selection test, legal counsel should be sought out immediately.

Employers in the United States with employees in other countries must decide whether and how to tailor their testing programs to comply with applicable international laws, regulations and business practices. Employers should identify those laws and customs, and with the advice of legal counsel, recommend a strategy that addresses the legal parameters and practical constraints of administering a testing program. General considerations should include the stringent individual privacy laws prevalent in many countries, the cultural differences in societal tolerance (or intolerance) of employment testing, and the practical difficulties of administering any program.

Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.

Selection testing is a screening process that hiring managers use to judge an applicant’s fit for a certain job or company. A selection test is a standardized test that the hiring manager gives to all applicants.
  • Achievement,
  • Aptitude,
  • Interest,
  • Personality and.
  • Intelligence tests.

Selection Testing

Types of selection tests

The type of selection test used can vary depending on what position is being filled and what hiring managers want to know about the applicants. There are several different types of selection tests employers can use:

Personality test

A personality test measures an applicants characteristics to determine what type of personality they have. This test includes questions about the applicants habits, preferences, interests and working style. Hiring managers often use these tests to determine whether a candidate is a good match for the role and the company. If the company culture involves a lot of teamwork and communication, a personality test can help hiring managers discover which candidates will thrive in this environment.

Depending on the job, hiring managers may value different results. For a customer-oriented position, hiring managers may look for candidates who demonstrate high levels of empathy and amiability. For a sales position, hiring managers may look for candidates who are persuasive and determined.

Job knowledge test

Job knowledge tests are used to measure a candidates ability to succeed in a specific job. This test evaluates the candidates knowledge of terminology, techniques and skills relating to the job they are applying for. Hiring managers use this test to ensure that they hire a candidate who is familiar with the role and able to complete the tasks it involves. These tests are typically used when hiring for jobs that require specific skills.

For example, a hiring manager looking to fill an information technology job may ask candidates to complete a job knowledge test to ensure that they are familiar with coding language and IT regulations. Other positions like accounting or data entry can benefit from job knowledge testing because they require very specific knowledge about proper procedures and programs.

Integrity test

Integrity tests are similar to personality tests, but they focus on evaluating a candidates honesty and moral standing rather than multiple aspects of their personality. This test helps hiring managers ensure that they are hiring people who will comply with their companys ethical standards. Integrity tests can be useful for any job and any industry because ethics are important within any company.

Cognitive ability test

Cognitive ability tests are used to measure intelligence and may also be called IQ tests. They can focus on general intelligence or specific areas of intelligence that relate to a job, like mathematical skills or deductive reasoning skills. A hiring manager typically uses these tests for jobs that involve a high level of ability in one or more areas of cognitive ability.

Knowing how well a candidate can perform mathematical functions and solve equations is relevant if the job involves math. Some government positions like criminal investigator or corrections officer may evaluate candidates on their ability to think critically in difficult situations because that is a necessary skill for the job.

Emotional intelligence test

Emotional intelligence tests measure a candidates ability to build relationships and work with others. This test may comprise some similar questions as a personality test, but it specifically focuses on the applicants emotional intelligence. Understanding how someone interacts with others is important when hiring for leadership positions and positions that involve constant collaboration, like public relations or marketing jobs.

Skills test

A skills test evaluates a candidates ability to perform specific tasks related to a job. Unlike a personality test, a skills test requires candidates to perform these skills to prove their ability rather than answer questions related to the skills. A hiring manager may administer typing tests for clerical and data entry job candidates to ensure that they can type quickly and accurately. Another example of a skills test is a writing assignment given to an applicant of a job involving writing.

Physical abilities test

Physical abilities tests measure a candidates strength and endurance. These tests are necessary for jobs that involve a certain level of physical fitness and ability. Common jobs that utilize physical abilities tests include police and military positions. Hiring managers administer these tests to ensure that candidates can handle the level of physical activity required for the job without risk for injury.

What is selection testing?

Selection testing is a screening process that hiring managers use to judge an applicants fit for a certain job or company. A selection test is a standardized test that the hiring manager gives to all applicants. This may be a physical test, an in-person test during the interview or an online test completed along with the application or after an initial phone screening.

Selection tests can vary in criteria and length. Some selection tests can take a few minutes to complete while others can take upwards of an hour. The length of the assessment depends on the position and what the employer is trying to learn about the candidate.

Why are selection tests used?

Selection tests are a valuable resource for hiring managers because it allows them to learn more information about a candidate before moving to the next stages of the hiring process. Selection tests can save time, because the hiring manager does not have to schedule a meeting with each candidate. Instead, they can send each applicant an online selection test. They can even include the selection test in the digital application to save even more time.

Selection tests evaluate a candidates skills, knowledge and personality in a more precise way than reviewing a resume. They can help hiring managers predict how a candidate will perform in a specific role or within a company. Selection tests can even demonstrate the candidates ability to complete the job before being hired. This can improve the chances of hiring a candidate who performs the job well and stays with the company, which also saves the hiring manager from repeating the hiring process for a single position multiple times.

Reliability and validity of selection tests

Certain selection tests are more reliable than others. The reliability of tests depends on the consistency of how tests are administered. In order for a selection test to be reliable, it should be the same each time and judge all candidates objectively. Physical and skills tests, for example, tend to be the most reliable types of tests because they evaluate candidates based on their proven abilities. If a candidate completes an obstacle course or a typing test within the allotted time limit, they are strong candidates. There is little room for subjectivity with these tests.

Validity is another important consideration when implementing a selection test. There are three types of validity that the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee describes when discussing selection testing:

How to create a selection testing program

If you want to enhance your hiring process, you can follow these steps to create your own selection testing program:

1. Determine what test to use

The first step to creating a selection testing program is deciding what type of test to use. Consider what you want to learn about candidates in order to help decide if they are a good fit for the job. Company culture might be an important element of your hiring process, in which case a personality test can help gauge if the candidates values align with the companys. If you are hiring for a very technical position, a job knowledge test can be a good test to determine which employees are capable of performing the job.

There may be multiple tests that are relevant to the position, and in that case, you can choose the more important of the two or ask candidates to complete both tests. You should also consider how likely applicants are to complete these selection tests. If you are hiring for an entry-level or part-time position, it may be best to give a shorter assessment. For higher-level roles, candidates will be more willing to spend time on an assessment.

2. Create or choose a test

You have the option of creating your own test or using an existing screening test. This choice depends on what information you are hoping to learn about the candidate. If you have decided to conduct a personality selection test, there are many of these tests available online and there are also specific selection testing services you can use. Personality tests ask many of the same questions regardless of what job you are looking to fill, so it is most efficient to use an existing test.

If you want to discover the candidates knowledge about the specific position, you may need to make your own screening test. If it is a common position you may be able to find existing tests, but if the job has certain functions that are specific to your company, it may be best to create your own test.

3. Research ethics of your test

Before asking candidates to complete your test, you need to ensure that it complies with the EEOC standards for ethical employment screening. If you decide to create your own test, you will need to do extensive research while crafting it to make sure that it does not violate any of these standards. It is important to review the EEOCs guidelines even if you choose to use an existing commercial selection test. Not all existing tests are regulated, so doing your research is essential.

4. Monitor your test

Once you begin to use your test during the screening process, you should continually monitor it. This is an important step to ensure that your test is functioning as planned. After hiring applicants who completed the selection test, compare their job performance with their test result. This can help you determine the accuracy of your test. You should also monitor which candidates are performing well on your test and which candidates are performing poorly on your test. This can help you discover the reliability of your test and eliminate any unconscious biases that may exist.


What are types of selection test?

Types of Selection Tests – Aptitude Test, Achievement Test, Personality Test and Interest Test.

What is selection method?

Both internal and external recruitment may use interviews, application forms, aptitude tests , group tasks, presentations and role-playing tasks to help select the best candidates for the job.

What is selection interviewing?

A selection interview is a free-flowing and open-ended process used to determine if you are suitable for a specific job opening. Although it is generally less structured than an Oral Exam, they are often more similar than different.

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