Pre-Employment Screening and Job Testing: Would You Pass?

pre-employment-screeningAs if landing an interview isn't hard enough, some job opportunities require a pre-employment screening that can assess candidates before they even present themselves. In some cases these tests reduce the number of candidates for convenience's sake to the hiring managers; however, in many cases the tests or assessments can filter out candidates who really are not a good fit. Everything from customer service to highly technical jobs require specialized skills and knowledge that can be tested.

A recent article by The Washington Post highlights some good tips for dealing with behavioral test including:

  • Find out as much as you can in advance about the test
  • Search for online practice tests
  • Ask about taking the test in another form if you think you'll do better
  • Don't over-analyze the questions or take them too literally

I have seen and taken tests that gauge your ability to multi-task or prioritize work. A key to "passing this test" is to understand first what activities/tasks the company would consider higher priority. Knowing as much as possible about the hiring company is always helpful. It is also important not to get flustered. Remind yourself this is a simple test and it is possible to do well in several ways (there's more than one right answer).

Some tests will try to assess your ethics and decision-making. How do you justify the decisions you make? Are they made based on what is best for you personally? Your team? The environment? The company? Again, it is important to know a little about the company's background and vision statement. Perhaps every decision they make has to pass a higher standard than you're accustomed to. Be sure to use sound logic and common sense. The company is just looking to see you have a good process and judgment. Don't second guess or over-analyze the questions.

Tests that address aptitude to the job can be subjective in nature. It is easy to get frustrated during the test and ask yourself, "Why are they asking me this? What are they going to do with the answers?" This type of pattern of thought will not help you. If you feel the test is unfair, you can stop and share your view, but you also are saying you do not want the job. In most cases, the test is designed to be fair and to reveal key elements to your abilities. And remember, legally, everyone competing for the job is taking the same test. Also, if it is culturally biased, the company opens themselves up to lawsuits. Obviously, this is not their goal.

Technical screening for any jobs requiring use of technology, from data-entry to high-tech, is becoming more and more common. Approaches to this include:

  • standardized tests taken on the Internet (or certifications) like Brainbench
  • self-assessments in different tool sets (there's no sense in inflating your ability in this assessment -- they will figure this out later)
  • technical problems to tackle (similar to a role play)
  • even a review of previous work done, like code, is not unlikely

For data-entry, administrative, and even some retail jobs, companies can choose to test on abilities using Microsoft Word, Excel, typing, and 10-key. Many jobs have specific technology requirements, like medical billing or drafting software. For call center positions, there are tests on sales and listening skills, and even etiquette. Evaluations can include factory environments as well. Programming and operating heavy machinery can be tested.

The best advice for handling specialized or technical screens is to make sure you are honest with yourself about your abilities. If you're not clear on the priorities regarding the job requirements (some skills may be more critical than others), then ask. You might find out doing poorly in one area of screening is not critical. The skill set may not be pivotal to being successful in the position, but a nice bonus in a good candidate. Obviously, if you are rusty in any area, get some practice and/or reacquaint yourself with the tools.

Bottom line: If you are applying to jobs that are a good fit for you and doing your homework, you are potentially well-positioned for the job, and the pre-screening should only propel you forward. Maintain this mindset during the process to avoid a negative downward spiral during this stage of the process. After all, once you pass the test, you know the job is within reach.

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Chris Winter

Some preemployment tests are irrelavant or have odd biases. For example I was asked if I knew anyone who used their hands or fists to fight or defend themselves and if knowing how to defend your self is a proper thing to do. I am an ex Marine and have relatives still in the service I also have family members who are police officers so of course I answered truthfully yet this disqualified me from the job.

April 29 2013 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm sorry, but my Bachelor's degree should be sufficient, and my Master's degree should be sufficient, as a demonstration of proficiency in my field of Computer Science. Especially for an entry-level position where they should expect to do a lot of supervised training in their -in-house methods and procedures. Don't get me started on the drug-testing that seems to go on for all positions now....or the crediit-reports being used to screen people for even lowly call-center jobs. I just cannot imagine that all those Indian employees at all those Indian call-centers are being cleared through Trans-Union and Equifax. But when the same call-center company decides it is the right thing to relocate their call-center service back to the USA, they start in on all the background tests.

March 22 2012 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It has been years since I have been in the job market, but I remember back then they would throw these test at you. At first I just answered the question with out thinking. then I realized, depend upon the company and the job I was looking for you had to make sure you picked the right one.
Question like "at a party would you. A sit in a corner and enjoy the drink. b. Sit in a corner and watch the other c. Go out and see how many people you can talk to.
Now if this was for a job in Sales C would be the answer, but other places in the company b might be the right answer.
So you can play their game if you are careful.

August 14 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carla Clapp

Sounds just like the post office.

August 14 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave Mayo

Who wants to be an employee? After a few years in the job market, you should be smart enough to understand that employers use you as a HUMAN RESOURCE. This means you are expendable when there is no further need for you. Then you start the "cycle" all over again. The alternative is to do what America does best. America offers the right and freedom to use your abilities to offer people something of value in return for compensation or reward. If you think you have nothing, why are you looking for a job? An employer wants your value, but does not want to pay you for it nor does the employer want to keep you around after you have outlived your usefulness. I am retired. Helping people keeps me busy after a long history of being a successful entrepraneur and Paralegal. It is like but I am not affiliated with that organization. You must be 21 years of age but there is no age ceiling, there is no gender restrictions, people around the world are benifited because the enabling corporation that rewards me for helping you is welcomed in over 80 countries around the world. It is not a hoax, not a scam, I can not help everyone because I offer my consultations and mentoring for FREE and my time is limited. This enabling company has enjoyed the support of millions of independent business people and independent business peoople have enjoyed the support of the enabling company. If I can help your further contact Mayoaid

August 14 2010 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dave Mayo's comment

What can you do when the potential employer springs one of these test on you during your interview? This kind of thing has happend to me at least 3 times. All these people did when they called for the interview in the first place was to simply set up a time and a day for the interview.

August 14 2010 at 12:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had to take a personality test for a Real Estate firm and everytime time you did anything they would say that is in your personality. I am much more than what they said. It was weird working in a company where you were noted for your personality test and not what you are really like. Test don't tell the whole thing.

August 14 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm out the door when an employer gives those. They twist the questions and ask the same ones over & over!!

August 14 2010 at 10:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most of these tests are filtered and modified to follow principles of psychological HR not believe in them at all. Correlations
can be done in better ways with more objective results ! Most hiring decisions based on these tests in my experience did not follow the exams at all in actual work performance and experience with the employee, perhaps the
employing organization could benefit from these expensive tests ?

August 14 2010 at 9:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom L

I think the original question referred to invasive "psychological" tests such as the MMPI and the Humm-Wadsworth test. These try to strip you psychologically naked, but both are deeply flawed "tests," based entirely on a long list of "correlations." For example, if a man likes tall women, he at risk of being judged as one who sets fires. Using tests like these should be prohibited by law. They are just too invasive. If the company recruiter cannot decide on a hire through the interview process and the use of references, then they are the ones being "caught short."

August 14 2010 at 9:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When you say "FedEx," please be specific on which division you work for. The Express division does not have such policies.

August 14 2010 at 9:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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