Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

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Pre-employment Tests: Make the Grade — or at Least the Cut

You’ve done everything you can think of to prepare for your job interview, but minutes into the meeting, you’re caught off guard by one of the first things your interviewer says: "Later today, you’ll be taking a series of tests."

Tests? Aren’t those supposed to be part of your collegiate past?

Not necessarily. Increasingly, organizations large and small are using various forms of preemployment testing to assess candidates.

You may already be familiar with screening procedures like drug testing and background checking. But in these difficult times — when employers can’t afford to make hiring mistakes — organizations are turning to preemployment tests that evaluate characteristics like these:

  • Your Ability to Perform a Certain Job: Using job simulations, employers can get a real sense of how you might react to specific job-related tasks.
  • Your Ability to Fit the Organizational Culture: Some preemployment tests are designed to measure how well you’ll assimilate into the company.
  • Your Natural Talents: Many assessments examine your natural abilities — how effectively you can develop computer programs, for example, or whether you write well.
  • Your Personality Traits: Are you a good team player? Can you manage your time well and organize your daily activities? Can you be trusted with confidential information? Organizations use a variety of assessment tools to measure such attributes.

Preemployment tests come in many different forms, ranging from ones you fill out under time constraints to ones you input into a computer. Some tests put you in situations where you role-play with others.

Whatever the format, preemployment tests are here to stay. Here’s what you can do to prepare:

Expect to Be Tested

You already go to interviews expecting to be questioned about your education, experience and skills. Similarly, expect to participate in some form of preemployment testing — then you won’t be surprised.

Be Honest

"A lot of these tests have scales that are able to detect when respondents aren’t answering honestly," says Dr. Charles Handler, founder and president of Rocket-Hire, a New Orleans-based consulting firm. "More often than not, you’re not going to be able to fool them."

There are some instances where you might actually succeed in faking your way through a particular test, but that’s the equivalent of "winning the battle but losing the war," says Dr. Steven Hunt, a Portland, Oregon-based strategic human resources consultant.

"At the end of the day, you’ll end up stuck in a job that’s probably a bad fit for you," says Hunt, who, with Handler, coauthored a Workforce magazine article on hiring assessment tools. "If someone says to you, ‘Do you like sales?’ and you say yes but you really hate sales, then what good have you done for yourself?"

Approach Each Test Positively

"Preemployment testing shows that the company you’re interviewing with has really thought through what it wants in the person for the job," Hunt says. "Remember, too, that preemployment testing generally works better than a more unstructured employee selection process. Getting the wrong job is bad for you, the company and the whole economy. Preemployment testing is intended to prevent all of that."

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

More than likely, you won’t ever learn the results of the preemployment tests you’ve taken, Handler says. Also understand that the tests are created to put most respondents in the 50th percentile.

"You’re not expected to score 100 percent," Hunt says. "So don’t freak out about your performance. Just do the best you can."

You can’t really study for preemployment tests, and you certainly can’t expect to ace every one you take. But you can make sure they don’t catch you off guard or intimidate you in an already nerve-wracking interview situation.

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