Pre-Employment Tests

Cite this article as:"Pre-Employment Tests," in The Business Professor, updated November 23, 2019, last accessed July 9, 2020,


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Employers regularly use standardized tests to evaluate, select, and eliminate candidates for employment positions. The purpose of the tests is to measure attributes of the applicant, such as personality, cognitive ability, emotional intelligence, skills, health fitness, financial stability, etc. It is important to note that these tests cannot be discriminatory in nature. To guide companies, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission established the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures of 1978 to help employers in the process.

Below are the most common types of employment tests.

Cognitive Tests

These tests focus on a person’s cognitive ability. The most commonly known cognitive ability test is the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test. You can think of these tests as measures of a person’s ability to reason through situations and recognize patterns. In the employment context, cognitive tests are used to screen job applicants based upon their aptitude to learn to perform the functions of the job. They are regularly referred to as “Aptitude tests”. Some other cognitive tests focus on the ability to organize large amounts of information, memory, reasoning, spatial perception, the accuracy and speed of information recall, speed in conducting calculations, etc.

Skill-based Tests

Skills tests require an individual to demonstrate the skills they possess. Unlike cognitive tests, which focus on the ability to learn, skills tests seek to determine what specific, functional abilities you already possess. These tests are generally oriented to test an individual’s ability to perform specific tasks relevant to the job or position. A skill-based test might include your ability to type, write computer code, speak a language, complete mathematical calculations, etc.

Personality Tests

These tests seek to identify an individual’s personal traits or determine the likelihood of an individual to act in a defined manner or engage in specified conduct. The purpose of the employment context is to determine whether an applicant’s personality will function well in a particular position. A commonly-employed personality test is focused on an applicant’s integrity. These tests seek to identify an individual’s propensity toward dishonesty or other undesirable behaviors, such as stealing. These are known as personality-oriented or covert integrity tests. It is not obvious to the applicant that integrity is being tested. Overt integrity tests ask specific questions about integrity to gauge an individual’s responses.

Emotional Intelligence Tests

These types of tests seek to identify an individual’s ability to recognize and understand her own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence can be thought of as a skill or as another type of cognitive ability. In any event, employers use these types of tests to determine whether an individual will be a good cultural and personality fit within the organization. It can also be an important ability for delivering the employer’s value proposition, such as with physicians or salespeople.

Physical Ability Tests

These seek to determine whether an individual has the physical attributes necessary for a position of function. It might include strength, speed, agility, stamina, etc. These are often focused on an individual’s ability to achieve a particular level of performance, such as carrying a firehose up 10 flights of stairs. These are closely related to medical examinations. These are used to determine whether an individual meets the minimum physical requirements to perform the required job duties.

English Proficiency Tests

These are common tests to determine whether an individual has the ability to meet minimum standards for speaking, reading, and writing in the English language.

Drug Tests

These are generally screenings done by an employer prior to bringing on an employee. The objective is to determine whether the employee has used a controlled substance. The employer worries that an employee who is regularly under the influence of drugs will make decisions that lead to liability for the employer.

Background Checks

These are screenings conducted by an employer to verify information about a job candidate and to discover any aspects of the applicant’s history that could exclude her from the position. For example, an employer might be reluctant to hire someone who was convicted of theft to manage company property or inventory.

Credit Check

This is a screening of an applicant’s personal financial history. Employers seek to identify any financial characteristics or actions by an employee that could disqualify her from a position. For example, an applicant with a history of failing to make bill payments may not be a good candidate to evaluate creditworthiness in loan applications.

Polygraph (Lie-Detector) Tests

These tests are used to identify whether an individual is answering a question honestly. They are generally used by the Federal State Government (or contractors to the State or Federal governments) to screen employees who will be dealing with highly-confidential or sensitive information.

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