What is a pre-hire assessment?
Employers use pre-hire assessments to discover more about people before they hire them – it’s that simple. Where a traditional hiring process will often have a combination of initial application, CV screening, interviews etc, pre-hire assessments give employers another data point to base their decisions on.
What are the most common types of pre-employment tests?
While they all serve a shared purpose – to show you more in your candidates – they come in different shapes and sizes, and often measure different things. Here are the common types you’ll find on the market:
Personality assessments, as you might’ve guessed, aim to measure candidates’ unique personality. There’s no right or wrong here, so it’s not strictly a test – this is why we tend to use the word “assessment” here instead.
Providers of these assessments will often map candidates’ responses automatically against an ideal framework of what ‘good’ looks like. This gives employers an actionable data point to base their decisions on.
Going a bit further, we can separate the world of personality assessments into two parts:
- Self-report: This type of assessment gets candidates to respond to statements about their own personality. An example might be “I enjoy working as part of a team”, and the candidate will be asked to say how much they agree. It’s basically a questionnaire, usually completed online.
- Behavioural assessments: Here, there’s no questions or statements to respond to. Instead, candidates show their personalities in action by completing a series of online tasks – often based on neuroscience research. Because candidates don’t actually need to know their own personalities here, we can call this type of assessment a ‘no-knowledge’ assessment. This no-knowledge aspect makes behaviour-based assessments especially handy for graduate/early careers hiring, where candidates rarely have much relevant work experience.
Unlike personality assessments, aptitude tests are just that – tests, designed to measure some part of our intelligence (or cognition). That means these are all about whether candidates’ responses are right or wrong – there’s no real inbetween.
These are the common aptitude test types you can expect to see out in the wild:
- Numerical reasoning: In short, how quickly and accurately does a candidate process numerical data? This might involve chart interpretation, numerical sequences, currency conversion and more.
- Logical reasoning: Also known as critical or inductive reasoning, this can include anything from interpreting text to working with numbers, or even shapes. Logical reasoning tests look at how candidates approach problems, identify patterns and make connections in different types of data. For example, a common exercise is to ask a candidate to read some text, and then ask them to choose the statement that best corresponds with that passage.
- Spatial reasoning: Spatial reasoning tests look at how well candidates can visualise 2D and 3D shapes, before generally asking them to differentiate or somehow manipulate those shapes. They might also include more advanced tasks, such as map-reading, or route-planning. We find these tests most frequently in STEM fields.
- Abstract reasoning: Logical reasoning is much like abstract reasoning, but with one main difference. While it still measures pattern-recognition, abstract reasoning requires no use of language or mathematics. The test will present a candidate with a sequence of patterns or shapes, and they’ll be asked to correctly pick out what comes next.
A skills test is generally used to measure what we call ‘hard skills’, like coding, or writing. While other types of pre-hire test will focus on some specific trait of personality or cognition, these focus entirely on ability in a certain area. Generally, employers would turn to a skills test to identify only one job-critical skill, rather than measuring many at the same time.
Why use pre-hire assessments?
The specific benefits will always depend on the particular type of assessment you choose. But, that said, there are three that are fairly consistent:
Today, many employers receive more applications than ever. For volume roles, it’s often hard to find fair, accurate, scalable ways to screen hundreds of applications per year. This is where pre-hire assessments come in. By giving employers a new data point, the right assessment can unlock faster decision-making and shorter, more cost-effective processes. Also, shorter processes help cut drop-out rates, meaning better access to a broader range of talent.
When it comes to CVs and interviews, there’s often a fair amount of interpretation involved. Some might even say ‘guesswork’. This can lead to a scenario where what looked like the right hire initially can actually turn out to be an unsuitable one. It’s an expensive scenario to have to deal with, as many hiring managers know.
With the right pre-hire assessment, employers can use deeper insight to more reliably establish a candidate’s suitability. That means they can rest assured that they’re always progressing the right people, based on the needs of the company’s role, culture, or both.
Departure from ‘gut-feel’
One of employer’s biggest challenges today isn’t just hiring well – it’s hiring fairly. In fact, we’ve found that half of all people leaders this year have prioritised tackling either unconscious bias or ‘gut feel’ this year. But this can be hard work, especially when application volumes keep on rising.
So, employers often turn to pre-hire assessments to give them truly objective data on their candidates. This way, they can feel comfortable that no candidate is unfairly screened out based on unfair criteria (like their name, ethnicity or educational background).
What can our pre-hire assessment measure?
Our pre-hire assessment measures candidates’ unique behaviour and natural strengths, with a bit of cognition on the side. For personality, we can break down what we measure into five key groups (based on the OCEAN model):
Openness to experience
This group effectively looks at how candidates feel about novelty and uncertainty. Does a candidate react well to ambiguity, or frequent change? Or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, do they function best within an established structure? Also, this area can speak to candidates’ natural creativity.
At its heart, this group looks at impulse-control. Do candidates show strong self-discipline? Do they show accountability, and plan their work thoroughly before starting? Or, alternatively, are they prone to procrastination?
The old idea that you’re either an introvert or an extrovert is pretty much a myth. In fact, like everything in the world of personality, it’s a spectrum – few people will ever land at either extreme. In this group, we measure traits like optimism and sociability.
This one’s easy – does a candidate play well with others? Here, we measure traits like authenticity, politeness and altruism. These combine to showcase how naturally ‘agreeable’ your candidates are.
This one has some negative connotations attached, but we’re all neurotic in some sense. A big part of this group is emotional stability, but it also includes traits like resilience, and self-belief.
And, as we mentioned, our assessment also measures cognition…
You’ll remember from earlier that ‘cognition’ is closely linked to intelligence. Under this umbrella, our assessment measures traits like learning agility and concentration, but also the handy grouping of processing speed, capacity and consistency (among other traits).
Are there any limitations to pre-hire assessments?
Much like the benefits, the limitations of any pre-hire assessment depend largely which type you choose:
Traditional personality assessment (self-report)
There are two key limitations to traditional, question-based personality assessments:
When you ask candidates to talk about their own personality or behaviour (‘self-report’), there’s always a risk of impression management. In other words, faking. This stands to reason because, when there’s a job on the line, candidates will (often unconsciously) steer their responses to what they think you’re looking for.
This means that the data derived from any traditional personality assessment may not be quite as reliable as you’d think.
Providers of this sort of pre-hire assessment try to overcome impression management by disguising what they’re measuring. This way, it’s harder for candidates to know exactly what the ‘right answer’ might be. But this tactic introduces its own problems….
To disguise what each question is measuring, assessment providers often need to make them more vague. So, rather than saying “Would you say you’re naturally creative?”, they’ll say something like “Do you take a different route to work every day?”. But these clearly aren’t the same thing. As the statements get more elaborate to evade faking, they actually become less valid when it comes to measuring the traits you’re looking for. After all, is taking a different route to work all the time really a measure of creativity? We’re not so sure.
Self-report doesn’t just raise the issue of faking. It can also lead to a stressful candidate experience.
When you ask a candidate a question, or present them with a statement to respond to, they’re naturally inclined to have all sorts of thoughts – often at the same time:
- “What’s the question measuring?”
- “What’s the right response?”
- “What would be my honest answer?”
…and more besides. This means that questions, by naturally prompting more questions, often create anxiety. And, linking to the point about faking, it’s been proven that this is more likely when a candidate is under stress. So these drawbacks are really linked.
This is one of the reasons we’ve opted to ask precisely zero questions in our pre-hire assessment. To make sure you get clear, authentic insight, and to give candidates an experience they’ll remember for the right reasons.
As we’ve mentioned, aptitude tests measure aspects of what we’d usually call intelligence. This is great to know – but it isn’t everything. And it’s certainly not the only measure of potential, or the sole predictor of success in a given role or company.
So aptitude tests are missing a large part of the picture. That part, we believe, is behaviour. By measuring candidates’ behaviour, an employer can get a clear read on their unique personality, and the natural strengths they’ll bring to bear at work. This grants a deeper understanding of their potential.
So, aptitude is useful – don’t get us wrong. But it’s not everything.
Skills and expertise are a snapshot of what a candidate can do now, and so they’re a useful indicator of how quickly they’ll take to a role where such skills are needed. But they’re a snapshot of capability in the moment – they give little insight into candidates truest future potential.
And, what’s more, focusing solely on skills and experience can lead to biased selection. Those from more privileged backgrounds will generally have more opportunities to acquire skills, for example.
Skills – especially technical skills like coding – will always play a part in identifying great candidates. But, much like aptitude, they only paint a narrow part of a broader, more complex picture.
Might behaviour-based assessments be the answer for you?
We’ve built our assessment to overcome each of these limitations. So, if you’d like to learn more about how our engaging, intuitive tasks capture your candidates’ potential, we’d love to chat. Just reach out here.