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Types of Employment Tests

Introduction  

Hundreds of tests are available to help employers in making decisions.  In the section on Information to Consider When Creating or Purchasing a Test there is a discussion of what one needs to consider in choosing what test to use.  In this section, general types of tests are described and their general pros and cons related.   Tests discussed in this section are ones for which some general evidence of validity has been provided.  A test is valid if the inferences made based on the test score are accurate (e.g., if we are correct in concluding that how well the individual does on the test tells us how well he/she will perform on the job).   Some tests, such as graphology and polygraphs, have little evidence of validity for employment decision-making purposes and thus are not discussed here.   All of the tests discussed here have been demonstrated to relate to one or more critical employment outcomes. 

Before deciding that a particular type of test is what you want, however, you should first establish a) does testing make sense (see section on Employment Testing Overview) and b) what it is you want to assess (see section on Establishing an Effective Employee Testing Program).   The determination of what it is you want to measure with the test should precede the determination of how you are going to measure it. 

1.      Assessment Centers
Assessment centers can be designed to measure many different types of job related skills and abilities, but are often used to assess interpersonal skills, communication skills, planning and organizing, and analytical skills.  The assessment center typically consists of exercises that reflect job content and types of problems faced on the job.  For example, individuals might be evaluated on their ability to make a sales presentation or on their behavior in a simulated meeting.  In addition to these simulation exercises, assessment centers often include other kinds of tests such as cognitive ability tests, personality inventories, and job knowledge tests.  The assessment center typically uses multiple raters who are trained to observe, classify, and evaluate behaviors.   At the end of the assessment center, the raters meet to make overall judgments about peoples performance in the center. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes (e.g., promotion rates).

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

  • May be viewed positively by test takers who see the close relationship between the test and the job.

  • Can provide useful feedback to test takers regarding needed training and development.

  • Focus more heavily on behavior demonstration than simply assessing characteristics.

  • Use trained raters.

  • Are typically less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

  • Can be costly to create and administer.

  • Require more labor (e.g., assessors, role-players, etc.) to administer than most other methods.

  • Require more time to administer than most other methods.

  • Can be difficult to keep calibrated or standardized across time and locations.

2.   Biographical Data

The content of biographical data instruments varies widely, and may include such areas as leadership, teamwork skills, specific job knowledge and specific skills (e.g., knowledge of certain software, specific mechanical tool use), interpersonal skills, extraversion, creativity, etc.   Biographical data typically uses questions about education, training, work experience, and interests to predict success on the job.  Some biographical data instruments also ask about an individuals attitudes, personal assessments of skills, and personality.    

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Can be administered via paper and pencil or computerized methods easily to large numbers.

  • Can be cost effective to administer.

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes (e.g., turnover, performance).

  • Are typically less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

  • Does not require skilled administrators.

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

 

 

  • May lead to individuals responding in a way to create a positive decision outcome rather than how they really are (i.e., they may try to positively manage their impression or even fake their response).

  • Do not always provide sufficient information for developmental feedback (i.e., individuals cannot change their past).

  • Can be time-consuming to develop if not purchased off-the-shelf.

 

3.      Cognitive Ability Tests

Cognitive ability tests typically use questions or problems to measure ability to learn quickly, logic, reasoning, reading comprehension and other enduring mental abilities that are fundamental to success in many different jobs.  Cognitive ability tests assess a persons aptitude or potential to solve job-related problems by providing information about their mental abilities such as verbal or mathematical reasoning and perceptual abilities like speed in recognizing letters of the alphabet.   

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes (e.g., performance, success in training).

  • Have been demonstrated to predict job performance particularly for more complex jobs.

  • Can be administered via paper and pencil or computerized methods easily to large numbers.

  • Can be cost effective to administer.

  • Does not typically require skilled administrators.

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

  • Will not be influenced by test taker attempts to impression manage or fake responses.

 

  •  Are typically more likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

  • Can be time-consuming to develop if not purchased off-the-shelf.

 

4.      Integrity Tests

Integrity tests assess attitudes and experiences related to a persons honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, reliability, and pro-social behavior.   These tests typically ask direct questions about previous experiences related to ethics and integrity OR ask questions about preferences and interests from which inferences are drawn about future behavior in these areas. Integrity tests are used to identify individuals who are likely to engage in inappropriate, dishonest, and antisocial behavior at work. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes (e.g., performance, inventory shrinkage difficulties in dealing with supervision).

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals who are less likely to be absent, or engage in other counterproductive behavior.

  • Send the message to test takers that integrity is an important corporate value.

  • Are typically less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

  • Can be administered via paper and pencil or computerized methods easily to large numbers.

  • Can be cost effective to administer.

  • Does not require skilled administrators.

 

  • May lead to individuals responding in a way to create a positive decision outcome rather than how they really are (i.e., they may try to positively manage their impression or even fake their response).

  • May be disliked by test takers if questions are intrusive or seen as unrelated to the job.

 

5.      Interviews

Interviews vary greatly in their content, but are often used to assess such things as interpersonal skills, communication skills, and teamwork skills, and can be used to assess job knowledge.  Well-designed interviews typically use a standard set of questions to evaluate knowledge, skills, abilities, and other qualities required for the job.  The interview is the most commonly used type of test.  Employers generally conduct interviews either face-to-face or by phone.  (For more information on this topic, see the article entitled, Effective Employee Interviews).   

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Are expected and accepted by many job applicants.

  • Provide an opportunity for a two-way exchange of information.

  • Provide a measure of skills such as oral communication skills not measured via paper and pencil or computerized tools.

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes, if properly developed and administered (see article on Effective Interviews).

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

  • Are typically less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

 

  • May be affected by different kinds of rating errors and biases by interviewers.

  • Are often more time-consuming to administer than paper and pencil or computerized tools.

  • May be practically less useful when a large number of individuals must be evaluated because of administration time.

  • Can be costly to train interviewers.

  • May be difficult to keep interviewers calibrated and the interview process standardized.

  • May lead to individuals responding in a way to create a positive decision outcome rather than how they really are (i.e., they may try to positively manage their impression or even fake their response).

 

6.      Job Knowledge Tests

Job knowledge tests typically use multiple choice questions or essay type items to evaluate technical or professional expertise and knowledge required for specific jobs or professions.  Examples of job knowledge tests include tests of basic accounting principles, A+/Net+ programming, and blueprint reading.  

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes, such as job performance.

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

  • Are typically less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

  • May be viewed positively by test takers who see the close relationship between the test and the job.

  • Will not be influenced by test taker attempts to impression manage or fake responses.

  • Can provide useful feedback to test takers regarding needed training and development.

 

  • May require frequent updates to ensure test is current with the job.

  • May be inappropriate for jobs where knowledge may be obtained via a short training period.

  • Can be costly and time-consuming to develop, unless purchased off-the-shelf.

7.   Personality Tests

Some commonly measured personality traits in work settings are extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, optimism, agreeableness, service orientation, stress tolerance, emotional stability, and initiative or proactivity.  Personality tests typically measure traits related to behavior at work, interpersonal interactions, and satisfaction with different aspects of work.  Personality tests are often used to assess whether individuals have the potential to be successful in jobs where performance requires a great deal of interpersonal interaction or work in team settings.   

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences for a number of organizational outcomes.

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

  • Are typically less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests.

  • Can be administered via paper and pencil or computerized methods easily to large numbers.

  • Can be cost effective to administer.

  • Does not require skilled administrators.

  • May contain questions that do not appear job related or seem intrusive if not well developed.

  • May lead to individuals responding in a way to create a positive decision outcome rather than how they really are (i.e., they may try to positively manage their impression or even fake their response).

  • May be problematic for use in employee selection if the test is one used to diagnose medical conditions (i.e., mental disorders) rather than simply to assess work-related personality traits.

8.   Physical Ability Tests

Physical ability tests typically use tasks or exercises that require physical ability to perform. These tests typically measure physical attributes and capabilities, such as strength, balance, and speed. 

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences regarding performance of physically demanding tasks.

  • Can identify applicants who are physically unable to perform essential job functions.

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities, by minimizing the risk of physical injury to employees and others on the job, and by decreasing disability/medical, insurance, and workers compensation costs.

  • Will not be influenced by test taker attempts to impression manage or fake responses.

  • Are typically more likely to differ in results by gender than other types of tests.

  • May be problematic for use in employee selection if the test is one used to diagnose medical conditions (i.e., a physical disability) rather than simply to assess ability to perform a particular job-related task. 

  • Can be expensive to purchase equipment and administer.

  • May be time consuming to administer.

  • May be inappropriate or difficult to administer in typical employment offices.

 

9.      Work Samples and Simulations

These tests typically focus on measuring specific job skills or job knowledge, but can also assess more general skills such as organizational skill, analytic skills, and interpersonal skills.  Work samples and simulations typically require performance of tasks that are the same or similar to those performed on the job to assess their level of skill or competence.  For example, work samples might involve installing a telephone line, creating a document in Word, or tuning an engine.  (For more information on this topic, see the article entitled, Work Samples and Simulations).   

Advantages

Disadvantages

 

  • Have been demonstrated to produce valid inferences regarding ability to perform the job.

  • Can reduce business costs by identifying individuals for hiring, promotion or training who possess the needed skills and abilities.

  • Are less likely to differ in results by gender and race than other types of tests (depends on particular skills being assessed).

  • May be more accepted by test takers due to the obvious link between the test and the job.

  • Less likely to be influenced by test taker attempts to impression manage or fake responses.

  • Can be used to provide specific developmental feedback.

  • Can provide test takers with a realistic preview of the job and the organization.

  • Does not assess aptitude to perform more complex tasks that may be encountered on the job.

  • May not assess the ability to learn new tasks quickly.

  • Often not conducive to group administration.

  • May require some level of job knowledge and therefore may be inappropriate for jobs where knowledge may be obtained via a short training period.

  • May be difficult to keep updated.

  • May be expensive to administer.

  • May be time consuming to develop and to administer.

 

 

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