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What Is A Pre-Employment Aptitude Test? A Guide For Recruiters

Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale April 26, 2021
Pre-Employment Aptitude Test

Pre-Employment tests are becoming more and more mainstream in the recruitment processes of many companies, from the largest multinational businesses down to startups and SMEs - and choosing the right tests (and the right time to implement them) is almost an art.

With hundreds of applicants for every role advertised online, the work of a recruiter can be tedious - hours of paper sifting, reading CVs and cover letters, calling applicants and arranging interviews - only to find that the candidates who had a great CV did not have the right skills, aptitude or personality to do well in the job they applied for.

This is where a pre-employment aptitude test can make a real difference - and why as a recruiter you should be considering them for every role you advertise.

What is a pre-employment aptitude test?

To make the right hiring decisions, recruiters need to collect a lot of information about candidates. The information gathered needs to be honest and objective, and be a true representation of the mental abilities, skillset, and personality fit of the applicant.

The pre-employment aptitude test can provide all this information in a specific, concrete and data-driven manner. Pre-employment aptitude tests are an efficient and effective method of gaining insight about your candidates, their strengths, their aptitudes and their behaviours.

The right tests can predict future success in the role, look at particular skills, and find out if the applicant has the behavioural traits that the role requires.

Unlike CVs, cover letters and interviews, professionally developed and rigorously tested aptitude tests are objective and standardised, removing bias and effectively ruling out the applicants who do not demonstrate the required aptitudes and behaviours.

Types of pre-employment aptitudes tests

There are countless pre-employment aptitude tests available from a number of well-known publishers. Some are for general use, some are bespoke assessments created for a particular employer - so no matter the role you are recruiting for, there will be any number of relevant assessments.

The pre-employment aptitude test(s) that you choose will depend entirely on the job, the business area and the wider industry that you are recruiting for.

To understand more about the pre-employment aptitude tests and where they work best, it's helpful to split them into subcategories.

Cognitive Abilities

Cognitive abilities are the inherent traits that candidates have, sometimes described as brain power or general intelligence. Assessments in this category might include problem solving, critical thinking, and the ability to learn.

Cognitive abilities are hard to assess with a CV or even through an interview - so using cognitive ability assessments makes it easier to demonstrate that the candidates who move forward through the application process have the required level of cognitive abilities.

It is worth noting that cognitive abilities assessments are considered to be the most reliable indicator of job performance.

Most suited for: Mid- and high-level roles (although can be beneficial at every level).

Personality/Behaviour

Personality tests are becoming more popular as a tool in the recruitment process, but there are still some concerns and misgivings about how important the data they provide is.

Modern personality tests look for traits that determine whether an employee will fit into the company culture, and whether they will feel comfortable and confident performing the job role.

In these tests there are no right or wrong answers, and they no longer represent the dichotomy of personality (like the Jungian 'types') - since even between two opposite descriptors, humans tend to measure on a sliding scale.

Personality trait tests are an accurate predictor of job and culture fit.

Most suited for: customer service and sales roles.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence tests are used to establish the way a candidate interacts with others, takes leadership roles, and makes good decisions.

Although not as developed as other assessments, there is a strong correlation between high emotional intelligence and success in certain roles - and emotional intelligence assessments can highlight candidates who might be most suited for a management role.

Most suited for: Leadership

Skills

The skills test covers a wide range of assessments. Some can be broad - like communication or maths skills, while others are for specific, measurable skills that are necessary in the role.

In general skills tests, candidates will demonstrate their effectiveness against a pre-agreed level, while in 'micro-skill' tests like programming or typing, recruiters are provided with a snapshot of a candidate's skill level in that moment.

General skills tests are accepted to be a reliable indicator of performance in entry-level positions, but it is worth noting that a specific skill assessment does not indicate strong performance, merely the level of skill that the candidate has.

Most suited for: Entry-level roles (general skills), assessing current abilities (micro-skills).

Risk

Risk-taking behaviour might be beneficial in a role where candidates will need to think outside the box or make quick decisions, but there are many roles where risk-averse applicants are preferable.

Risk tests can take the form of integrity tests, and assess whether a candidate is likely to take part in any counterproductive work behaviours, or struggle to adhere to rules and authority.

Risk-level testing is more predictive than background checks.

Most suited for: entry-level positions where problems like absenteeism or safety concerns could be especially dangerous (construction, manufacturing, etc.)

Why do pre-employment aptitude tests matter for recruiters?

pre-employment aptitude tests recruitment

It is a sad, but true fact that CVs are notoriously unreliable in gathering relevant and honest information about a potential employee.

With misleading statements and even outright lies about experience, responsibilities and skills, it is not simple for even the most seasoned recruiter to pull enough information out of a resume.

Interviews - especially unstructured ones - can be entirely too subjective to make a demonstrable impact. Selecting the right candidate without referring to any unconscious bias is made much harder when the interviewer is not asking the right questions.

Recruiting, therefore, requires a lot of inspired guesswork to make sense of what might be an overinflated CV, and delicate handling of interviewees to get accurate information. But that is where the right combination of tests can make a real difference.

Objective and standardised testing allows candidates to demonstrate their inherent abilities and general intelligence, as well as prove their skill level in relevant areas. Using one or more pre-employment assessments will allow recruiters to select only those candidates who have reached or exceeded an agreed upon score in the tests.

Pre-employment aptitude tests give concrete results. Not only in terms of the scores achieved by the candidates, but also in time and financial costs.

Streamlining the workload of the recruitment team makes it a simple job to reduce the ever-growing candidate pool, only put forward the employees who score well enough on the assessments, and reduce the risk of a bad hiring decision.

How Widespread is Pre-Employment Testing?

Pre-Employment aptitude testing is a tool that has grown almost exponentially in the last decade - so it is no surprise that according to the American Management Association (AMA), 70% of employers use some sort of pre-employment skills testing before making a new hire.

Businesses like Google and Facebook are interested in the programming and coding skills and knowledge of employees, so will not employ anyone in a software-related role without a skills test.

The AMA also suggests that as many as 46% of employers use psychological and personality tests as part of their hiring process - and on current employees to work on training and development.

The Big Four accounting firms use pre-employment testing to look for candidates who meet their exacting standards, but also to highlight potential employees who might be better suited in other roles.

While the data used for these statistics is based on the experience of the member businesses of the AMA (so larger businesses), there is a similar trend even among SMEs.

The Value of Aptitude Test Data

recruitment stats

As a recruiter, whether you are working internally for your business to recruit new hires, or part of an agency working on behalf of client businesses, you need to understand the value of the process.

How much is a recruiter's time worth? According to recruiter.com, a recruiter spends around 63% of their time on the phone. According to Forbes, in-person interviews take at least 40 minutes - not including the prep time needed before, and the follow up afterwards.

It is in time saved, perhaps, that the most obvious value of the right pre-employment tests can be found. If a recruiter can find out the exact skill level of the applicants, that recruiter can put forward the right calibre of potential employees ready for interviews.

The second important value proposition of pre-employment testing is the predictor of job success. The cost of rehiring after an employee leaves goes up enormously depending on the level of the role - from around 16% of salary for entry level position, to more than 200% for top-level roles.

If the right pre-employment tests are used, the prediction of role performance and job fit should mean that the employee chosen will be happy, productive, and (most importantly) successful, negating the need for any rehiring costs.

Preparing Your Candidates for Aptitude Tests

If you are adding aptitude tests into your recruitment processes, there are a few simple steps that can be taken to ensure that all candidates are ready to demonstrate their abilities, skills and personality in the right way.

Firstly, it is important to choose the right tests. It is not a case of 'one size fits all' when deciding - although it might be the case that you can pick an off the shelf test and get the results you need, one of the most important things to consider is that it has to be 'job-related' to ensure the data provided is relevant.

The second consideration is when to administer them. These tests are known as pre-employment tests - but that doesn't pinpoint when in the recruitment process they should come. In most cases, aptitude tests are used early on in the process, usually before even telephone interviews - and this works out well to slim down a candidate pool into something more manageable.

Using assessments early on also weeds out any applicant who is effectively CV bombing and applying for every available role - they are not likely to complete an assessment if they are not interested in the role.

It is really important that throughout the recruitment process you keep the applicants informed - and this is just as important when it comes to introducing assessments. Let the candidates know what to expect from the test, and what is expected of them in terms of performance.

Highlight where you can find any resources to allow them to practice - perhaps the publisher's website - and give them straightforward tips to help. After the assessment, be sure to provide feedback in whatever form is most appropriate - this might be a simple message, an in depth discussion of strengths, weaknesses, and improvement - or something in between.

Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale April 26, 2021

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