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Many companies across all industries use some type of testing as part of their hiring process. Some of the tests are purely practical, measuring an applicant’s specific skills or knowledge, whereas others are more intangible, designed to measure aptitude (ability to learn) and identify personality traits. But one thing we know for sure – employment testing takes time and costs money. Are aptitude and personality tests worth the investment?

What’s the Point in aptitude or personality testing?

The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) notes that, “An organization that makes good hiring decisions tends to have higher productivity and lower turnover, which positively affects the bottom line.” It reduces risk of hiring the wrong people, which can negatively affect employee morale and waste management and training time and other resources.

There is no question that skills and knowledge testing can winnow a pool of candidates, making it faster and easier for HR to choose the most-likely individuals for further consideration (and, occasionally, further testing). However, experts disagree on the usefulness of aptitude and, especially, personality tests when it comes to predicting an applicant’s performance. Nonetheless, many companies swear by them.

The SHRM says the best way to assess abilities is through demonstration.

  • Can the candidate perform the tasks? Does a customer service candidate have the requisite computer and keyboarding skills to keep up with phone contacts and the spelling and grammar skills to respond professionally to email contacts? Can the warehouse candidate safely perform the necessary physical tasks?
  • Does the candidate have the right knowledge? Future training aside, does the bookkeeping applicant know (and can they properly) the basic principles of accounting?

Ah, but will your prospective new sales person, accountant, IT team member or bank manager trainee fit in and be a positive contributor to the company’s future? That’s harder to predict, because it is harder to measure attitudes, motivation, emotional intelligence, character, persuasiveness, or even someone’s personal interests.

So, should you use these tests?

The upside of aptitude and personality testing

When used in conjunction with other tools such as resumes and interviews, employment tests can help hiring managers and supervisors make better candidate comparisons and decisions. As noted earlier, testing can be particularly helpful in filtering out less-than-optimal applicants as well as identifying those who have greatest potential, saving one-on-one time for those most likely to succeed.

Thanks to technology, many tests can be administered online. This allows candidates to take the test from home or some other “neutral” (and therefore less stressful) location, at a time that works for them. It also works “hands-free” for HR staff. Any number of candidates can take a test simultaneously or within a short timeframe, without staff intervention. Results are tabulated and reported to HR staff electronically. The hiring process can move forward much quicker.

Aptitude tests are generally considered accurate when it comes to predicting success potential, but only “fairly accurate” in identifying someone’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Along with predicting overall potential, they can pinpoint areas in which an otherwise great applicant may need additional training or mentoring once hired. In some instances, testing may even reveal that a candidate would be a good choice for some position other than the one they applied for.

There are potential benefits for test-takers, too. In addition to the convenience of online testing, well-constructed aptitude tests can give prospective new hires a clearer picture of what their job will involve, helping them decide for themselves if they will be a good fit. Furthermore, the questions asked on aptitude and personality tests can be pretty interesting, even fun to contemplate in some instances, giving candidates a chance to learn something new about themselves.

The downside of aptitude and personality testing

Despite all the advantages these types of tests can bring to the hiring process, experts warn there are inherent pitfalls, too.

  • Due to the nature of the testing, aptitude and personality exams can be more expensive and time-consuming to create, administer and analyze. Whereas it is pretty straight-forward to match skills and knowledge testing to a particular job, that’s not so easy with tests that seek to measure or detect intangibles. What attributes even constitute “success” in a given position?
  • As with all types of tests, changing company needs and goals and, especially, changing job descriptions mean tests must be regularly reviewed and revised to remain relevant.
  • Aptitude and personality tests can feel more intimidating to candidates, causing some people to perform poorly.
  • Applicants cannot fake skills or knowledge, but they can fairly easily game aptitude and personality tests, providing answers they think are desirable rather than honest. This, of course, renders results useless.
  • It is possible to over-evaluate applicants, looking for aptitudes and personality traits that will bring the company more of the same. Innovation and forward thinking require diversity of every type, so hiring only candidates who fit inside the current box can effectively stymie both day-to-day productivity and future growth. A person’s intense desire to grow and succeed could be far more valuable long-term than whether or not they have precisely the “right stuff” according to your test.

Tips for employers

First and foremost, be sure you understand the legal implications of any type of employment test, especially those designed to measure/predict aptitude and personality traits. It is essential to adhere to legal requirements for administering the tests as well as using the results, which means test must not only be relevant but reliable, valid, and equitable.

Don’t forget that some states have their own regulations in addition to federally-set standards. You don’t want your attempt to improve the hiring process to backfire with litigation that could cost your company money and reputation.

Be sure tests are designed to fit certain positions, so you can expect greatest relevance and value from the results. Use technology to administer tests whenever possible (and practical, depending on testing specifics). This not only saves internal staff time, it is more convenient for applicants and can help put them at ease.

Finally, consider advice from Neel Doshi , co-founder of The Vega Factor and proponent of building high-performing business cultures. He suggests that personality tests are most valuable when used as a “motivational tool” for existing employees instead of as a litmus for potential employees. This removes the fear factor, he says. Test results can be used positively by employers and employees to learn more about their natural preferences at work. In turn, that deeper insight can be used to boost productivity as well as job satisfaction.

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