Tech & Work

The problem with employee assessment tests

According to recent statistics, the use of employment assessment tests has increased 300 percent. Here are some problems with those kinds of tests if not properly implemented.

According to recent statistics, the use of employment assessment tests has increased 300 percent. Here are some problems with those kinds of tests if not properly implemented.

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I wrote a blog for IT managers about how some companies use employee assessment tests to better evaluate candidates before making a job offer. While some companies justify the use of these test to avoid turnover costs and all the emotional upheaval that comes with making a poor employee choice, the tests themselves often present challenges.

For one thing, a manager may depend too heavily on the test results. Even if he is impressed with a candidate during the interview process, he may be reluctant to hire him if he scored negatively on a personality test. If he hires someone regardless of the test results and things don't work out, he could place his own job at jeopardy. As a result, most managers will choose the candidate that represents the least amount of risk.

Many people, however, question the viability of such tests. For example:

  • Test answers can be manipulated. Who in their right mind wouldn't know the "correct" way to answer test questions like, "How thorough are you?" or "Are you persistent, or do you give up easily?" Why would you ever admit to not being thorough in your work?
  • Behavior is context sensitive. If you're given a hypothetical situation and asked to choose your reaction from a list, that doesn't necessarily mean you will react similarly to another situation.
  • A behavior or personality type that is desirable in one job may not be in another, yet most companies use the same tests when hiring for any job. For example, a sales position may call for extroverted behavior while a position for a code writer may not.

Of course, not all tests are the same either. The Myers-Briggs test, one of the most reliable and most commonly used, is a little more sophisticated. Its questions are designed to elicit responses that determine thinking styles like whether someone is intuitive or likes to consider the facts. The possible responses to the questions don't readily lend themselves to manipulation nor are there really any indications of answers that may be preferable. Here are a couple of examples:

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F). Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

I've read that the use of employment tests has risen about 300% in the last few years, so I hope that those companies implementing them are careful about the ones they choose.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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