Preemployment testing has been around for some time now, at least a few decades in some form. The process helps prescreen potential hires before they interview. Many changes are coming to this process thanks to new technology, and it can potentially help both employer and candidates.
One of the reasons that preemployment tests haven’t—until recently—evolved very much in the past 2 decades is that the science that many of them are based on is relatively settled. Much of the basis behind preemployment testing stems from studies that are decades old. For example, it has long been known that cognitive aptitude tests are one of the best predictors of work performance. These tests tend to focus on long-recognized categories for classifying cognitive abilities:
- Logical and reasoning-based problem solving, including identifying patterns, making sound judgments, and regulating emotions while moving toward a goal;
- Perception and interpretation of external stimuli;
- Ability to sustain focus on a single task in a distracting environment;
- Short- and long-term memory;
- Verbal comprehension; and
- Processing of spatial distances and differences.
Because of their ability to predict performance outcomes in a wide array of organizational settings, it makes sense that these tests are a key part of preemployment screening; they represent the skills you want in any employee. They demonstrate a person’s ability to thrive in a high-stress environment, their growth capacity, and their ability to develop independence across tasks. A person with poor cognitive abilities is often screened out early on because he or she demonstrates that he or she loses focus, can’t comprehend complex instructions, or lacks logical problem-solving skills. As these have been identified decades earlier, they remain a key part of preemployment screening.
While cognitive abilities tests are important in terms of identifying key employment skills, new research in the study of personality is beginning to find its way into behavioral tests designed for employers as behavioral traits are attracting particular attention.
- Emotional intelligence: The concept of emotional intelligence is somewhat hard to define, and even those who study cannot agree on exactly what it entails. Inc. recently summed it up as “the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.” To that end, emotional intelligence is essentially about being self-aware: knowing your emotions during a situation and understanding them so that even in heated situations, you don’t lose your cool. At the same time, it’s the ability to empathize and to read other people so that you know when and how to react most constructively in a given situation.
- Grit: Grit may be known by other colloquial variations, including “stick-to-it-iveness.” From a more clinical perspective, this may simply be seen as rebranding the term “conscientiousness”—a known quantity when examining the textbook “big five” personality traits. Whatever you want to call it, this trait demonstrates a methodical perseverance that works to tirelessly to get the job done through hard work, organization, and deliberate goal setting.
Despite the relatively nascent fields of research on emotional intelligence and “grit,” these two areas are gaining more interest from employers who want to assess for these qualities. It will likely be a long time, however, before the science in these areas catches up with that of cognitive ability.
Tomorrow we’ll hear more on preemployment testing, especially on unconscious bias and new technologies.
Josh Millet is the CEO and founder of Criteria Corp., a preemployment testing company founded in 2006 that creates software for employers to gather objective data on job candidates with aptitude, personality, and skills tests.