May 21, 2014

Pre-Employment Tests: Why Did I Fail?

woman shouting into smartphoneThis post is for my fellow job seekers: Don’t all of you just hate pre-employment assessments? You know, the timed tests most employers require you to take before moving forward in the hiring process? I know I sure do.

I remember applying for my first job back in high school and having to take a 30-45 minute pre-screen assessment. I was applying for the role of a bagger—you know, the “paper or plastic” gal—yet the assessment required me to (using a calculator) convert percentages and decimals and  complete complex equations. By the time I was finished, I thought I’d applied for some sort of mathematician apprenticeship as opposed to a minimum-wage, after school part-time job pushing carts and bagging groceries. And since that time I’ve left many a pre-employment test thinking, “What in the world did those questions have to do with the duties of the role?”

My good friend actually experienced a similar “confusion” after applying for an internship. He was required to take a test for a summer human resources internship he’d applied for, a role he was told would weigh heavily on basic administrative duties (even simply licking stamps, the hiring manager had explained to him).

The test allotted 30 minutes to complete 37 questions; no big deal, my friend is thinking. The company obviously wanted to determine the applicants’ speed among other things. Yet, after the first few questions, he quickly realized that this test wouldn’t be as simple as he thought.

The pre-screen was filled with mathematical equations, most which required a calculator and more than the 1 minute and 23 seconds necessary to spend on each question to complete in time.

The results? Unfortunately, he ended up not finishing the test…and not moving forward in the hiring process. And the only thing the hiring manager told him was, “you did not pass.”

Don’t you just love when employers tell you “we regret to inform you” but fail to explain “why”? Am I the only job seeker who has ever felt this way?

I’ve read the stories and can understand why pre-employment tests are important during the hiring process (even though I dislike them). In fact, a whitepaper by Criteria Corp. lists the following four benefits of implementing pre-employment screening:

-Higher productivity

-Increased employee retention

-Reduction in costs associated with turnover (e.g., hiring and training costs)

-Increasing the defensibility of the hiring process by using objective data

It also says:

Professionally developed and properly validated employment tests can help a company’s hiring process by increasing the likelihood of hiring candidates who will perform well on the job. When properly implemented, a pre-employment testing program can lead to higher productivity, because test results can be accurate predictors of future job performance. Tests are among the most accurate means of predicting performance because they are an objective means of determining the extent to which a candidate has the capacity to perform well at a given job.

I’m sure any employer would agree with these statements. Yet, if pre-screening candidates via testing is so vital to recruitment success, wouldn’t employers think it’s also helpful to help rejected job seekers be successful in the future by pointing out the error in their ways?

Sure, we’d rather get the “we regret to inform you” email than never hearing anything back about a job application, but oftentimes—and especially in the case of pre-employment assessments that determine a job seeker’s “fate”—it’s much more helpful to understand “why” we were passed over.

In the case of my friend, the hiring manager said he failed. What exactly does this mean? Did he fail because he did not finish the test or did he fail because his responses were incorrect and did not align with those of the “ideal” candidate? *Sidenote: The hiring manager originally told him that the test did not count against applicants, so hence the confusion.*

How are the tests measured and/or scored? What are their objectives? Is there anything a job seeker can do to improve his or her scores, or even prepare for a pre-employment assessment?

I know that this information would be extremely helpful for me before and after completing a pre-employment assessment. That way I could 1) adequately prepare for the test and 2) not repeat my mistakes when applying for a similar role. Yet, now that I think back, perhaps it’s not so much the hiring manager’s failure to inform me of the whys as it was my failure to ask this information.

What do you think? Should hiring managers offer more details when it comes to failing applicants and pre-screen assessments?

Read more in Assessment

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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