5 Things College Students Need to Know About Employment Tests

You've heard about employer assessment tests, but what exactly do they test and why are they administered? Expert Kevin Greaney answers these questions and tells you how to prepare.

As a college student, you’re not unfamiliar with tests. But did you know that employers are increasingly using tests in the hiring process as well? In fact, according to 2012 data from the American Management Association (AMA), 70 percent of employers use some kind of job-skill testing. The use of employment testing as a way to pre-screen job candidates is growing every year.

This post covers five things you should know to do your best when faced with such assessments.

1. Why do companies use employment testing and pre-screening?

Two challenges many companies experience in the hiring process are: volume and quality. That is, they receive a high volume of applicants, but only a small percentage of them are qualified.

Consider these U.S. statistics:

  • There are 250 applicants for every open position
  • One out of three applicants misrepresents her skills on her resume
  • Employers report one out of every five hires is “bad or regrettable”

Pre-screening a large pool of candidates with the help of an assessment tool enables companies to save significant time and money. It narrows down the number of candidates hiring managers need to meet face-to-face and increases the chances of bringing in only those who are most likely to be a good fit for the role and the company culture.

2. How are employment tests administered?

Some tests may be administered one-on-one by a member of the company’s human resources department, or even by a trained psychologist. But in the vast majority of cases, the tests are multiple-choice or free-response, administered by computer or mobile device, such as your phone or tablet. You may be asked to be onsite at the company’s office, or you may be allowed to complete the tests remotely.

Increasingly, new technologies are making it easier for employers to evaluate a range of skills using shorter, cloud-based assessments that save time for everyone. Expect to see more of these tests administered through mobile devices. The process can be as easy as getting an email or in-app notification from a hiring manager, completing a test on your phone, and then moving on with your day.

3. What can I expect to be tested on?

Companies can test candidates on a wide range of dimensions, from cognitive abilities and critical thinking skills to personality traits, job knowledge, or situational judgment.

Recent (2012) data from the AMA show that:

  • 46 percent of employers use personality and/or psychological tests for applicants or current employees.
  • 41 percent of employers test applicants for basic literacy and math skills. ​ Increasingly, human resource professionals find that the key to effective hiring includes assessing not just personality but also emotional and practical intelligence, cognitive abilities, and traits related to attitude and character.

Employers across industries are increasingly looking to evaluate “soft” skills such as creativity, emotional intelligence, and motivation in objective ways. These kinds of skills are critical for knowledge workers (whether they are engineers, marketers, or researchers), since such roles often entail self-directed work as well as the ability to collaborate and interact well with colleagues.

4. What kinds of companies are using these tests?

Employment testing is more prevalent in large organizations. One reason for this is that the biggest companies often have the largest pools of applicants, and thus need the most help narrowing down candidates.

Testing is used across a range of industries, from hospitality to medicine to aerospace. The same type of test can be useful in different contexts. For example, an assessment that evaluates how well candidates can pay attention during repetitive tasks can be an important part of the hiring process for three different positions:

  • For a Concierge: The hiring manager needs to know the candidate can pay attention to each client’s needs, even though similar needs may arise throughout the day.
  • For a Doctor: The hiring manager needs to know the candidate can remember to perform routine tasks (like hand washing) many times throughout the day.
  • For a Pilot: The hiring manager needs to know the candidate can pay attention to critical dashboard indicators even when an aircraft is on auto-pilot.

5. How can I do well on employment tests?

The truth is, there’s no way to study for an employment test. Instead, we have two recommendations about how best to prepare. First, educate yourself about the kinds of tests you will be given and how they will be administered. Second, relax (get a good night’s sleep the day before the test), and come in prepared to give honest answers.

Lying or trying to read too deeply into each question can backfire. These tests often include an internal validity scale, so employers may be able to tell if your answers don’t match up. Plus, think of it this way: The tests are not only designed to help companies get the best candidates, but also for you to get matched with a position that will truly be a good fit for your skills and personality. If you give honest answers, you’ll be more likely to get matched with a job you’ll love.

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