Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Job Search Guide: Strategies for Professionals

Chapter Nine

Employment Testing

[Ability Tests] [Skills Testing] [Assessment Centers] [Personality and Interest Inventories] [Honesty or Integrity Tests] [Medical Examinations] [Drug Tests]

Some employers use tests or other assessment tools as part of their screening process. In most instances, these instruments are given as part of the prescreening process, but sometimes they are given after hire. Below is a listing and a brief description of the types of assessment tools that employers may use.


Ability Tests

Ability tests are designed to predict future success, both in job training and job performance. Employers use these tests to obtain an indication of your potential to learn and perform particular job responsibilities. Although ability tests are seldom used for job applicants who are professionally trained or hold advance degrees, you may encounter them as part of the screening process. Some employers administer ability tests after hiring an applicant to determine specific placement within the company.

Two classes of ability tests that employers administer are:

General Ability Tests - measure general abilities such as verbal, mathematical and reasoning skills. These are skills that contribute to success in many different types of jobs. For example, many professional jobs require you to read and comprehend written material, so the employer might administer a verbal ability test.

Specific Ability Tests - measure more narrowly defined abilities directly related to specific areas of job performance. For example, you might be asked to take a mechanical ability test if you are applying for an engineering position or a job with an architectural firm. For a position that requires working with electronic equipment, you might be asked to take an electronics ability test.

Usually, both classes of ability tests are timed and in a multiple-choice format. You probably took similar types of tests in high school or when applying for college. You can't study for ability tests, but you might familiarize yourself with the testing process by taking tests from textbooks or test preparation books. Work within time limits to get comfortable with the testing process.


Skills Testing

Skills tests can measure specifically what you know about and can perform in a particular job. These tests are designed to test your mastery of tasks. Employers administer skills tests when they are interested in filling a position with an applicant who can "hit the ground running" and perform the tasks of the job as soon as he or she starts. These tests are more often administered to applicants applying for non-managerial positions, as opposed to managerial, professional positions.

Skills tests can be in a written or work sample format.

If the test is in a written format, you may be asked specific questions about particular job tasks. For example, if you are taking a skills test for tax accountants, you may be asked to answer questions about filling out tax forms. Or if you were applying for a personnel position, you might be asked questions about conducting an interview.

If the test is in a work sample format, you will actually perform portions of the job. For example, if you were applying for the tax accountant position, you would actually complete a tax form. If you were applying for the personnel position, you would actually conduct the interview.

You can prepare for skills tests by "studying up" and practicing skills that you think are important to the job for which you are applying. For example, if you took courses in college that apply to the job, you might want to reread some of your notes or review text books. Or you might want to review projects that you completed on a former job that related directly to the new position.


Assessment Centers

If you are being considered for a professional or managerial position, your potential employer might send you through an assessment center. In most assessment centers, you are asked to complete several standardized exercises that are designed to simulate job situations. These exercises are aimed at measuring higher-level management, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Examples of assessment center exercises include:

In-basket test. You are asked to sit at a desk and sort through materials left in an in-basket. Based on the information presented, you might be asked to prioritize work responsibilities, make recommendations for a plan of action, or solve a specific problem. You can be asked to provide a written response to the in-basket exercise or to present a verbal response.

Leaderless group discussion. You and a group of applicants are asked to solve a problem. Your performance is being evaluated based on the behaviors you exhibit during the ensuing discussion to solve the problem. The employer might be trying to evaluate your leadership abilities, that is, looking at whether or not you take a lead role in the discussion. They might also try to evaluate if you are a good team player and seem to interact well with other group members.

Role-play exercise. You are asked to meet with a "mock employee" and help that employee solve a particular problem. The employee is usually played by an assessment center facilitator trained to act out and provide information about a problem he or she is having at work. Before you meet with the employee, you are given background information about the problem. Examples of situations you might be asked to deal with are tardiness, missed deadlines or a problem related to a particular work project. Your performance can be judged on behaviors demonstrated, advice given, or in general how well you helped the employee solve the problem.

Assessment centers are expensive to set up so they are mainly used by larger public and private sector companies which can afford them. However, in recent years, assessment centers have gained in popularity. Many private consulting firms have been set up to design assessment center exercises. Even if you are applying to a smaller company, you might be asked to participate in assessment center-type exercises.


Personality and Interest Inventories

Some employers administer personality and interest inventories to job applicants. Employers administer these types of measures because they are looking for applicants with particular interests or personality traits and because they have found that employees with these characteristics are successful on the job.

Unlike ability tests, personality and interest inventories attempt to assess non-cognitive, underlying characteristics of individuals. These inventories can help an employer evaluate your motives, needs, values, goals or dispositions. Personality inventories, such as the California Psychological Inventory and the Hogan Personality Inventory, can he used to assess such characteristics as self-confidence, sociability and flexibility. Interest inventories, such as the Strong Interest Inventory or Holland's Self-Directed Search, can be used to help assess whether you are creative, social, enterprising or investigative.

Unlike many other types of tests used for personnel selection, there are no right or wrong answers to personality and interest inventories. You are asked to answer questions about things you like or do not like to do. For example, you might be asked about what type of activities you like to do in your spare time or if you prefer working with groups of people rather than by yourself. Employers can use personality and interest inventories to assess your creativity, leadership abilities or level of self-esteem. When completing a personality or interest inventory, you might notice that some of the questions seem similar or are just being asked in a different a way. Repeated or rephrased questions are included to make sure that you are answering questions truthfully and are not "faking."


Honesty or Integrity Tests

Employee theft is an increasing concern among many organizations. In today's competitive marketplace employers do not want to worry about employees who are dishonest and might be prone to theft. Employers are particularly concerned about hiring "honest" employees when their job responsibilities include handling cash or merchandise.

To help ensure they hire honest employees, employers administer integrity tests. Usually, there are two types of questions asked on these tests. The first type asks about illegal or dishonest behaviors you may have exhibited in the past. For example, you might be asked if you have ever walked out of a restaurant without paying the bill. The second type asks about your attitudes toward dishonest behavior. For example, you could be asked about your views on punishing shoplifters. On an integrity test, you also might be asked questions about past involvement with drugs or alcohol.

Like personality and interest inventories, questions are sometimes repeated on integrity tests to check for "faking." Also, studies have shown that on many integrity tests, it is difficult to "cheat"; in other words, it is difficult for the applicant to figure out which is the "right" answer. Like all selection instruments, the best way to respond to questions is in a truthful, professional manner.


Medical Examinations

Medical exams are given to determine whether you have a physical condition, which would prevent you from performing the job. It is illegal to give a preemployment physical exam or to ask about disabilities on the application. Physical exams, however, may be given after a job offer has been made. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives the disabled rights that prevent them from being unjustly rejected for a job. If you have a disability or medical condition which you think may pose barriers to your being hired, your state Vocational Rehabilitation Agency can offer assistance.


Drug Tests

Drug tests indicate the presence of illegal drugs. An increasing number of companies are using drug tests to screen candidates for all job categories, including managers and professionals. You should be aware that some medications, and even some foods, can produce a positive reading even though you have used no illegal drugs. It is important to inform the employer of any such medications you have taken recently. Also be aware that drug tests may not be completely accurate. If you are told that your sample indicated drug use but you know you haven't used any illegal substances, ask if there is a formal appeals process. Tell them that you would like to take the test again. Perhaps you can ask if there is another, more sophisticated test you can take.

Go to Table of Contents, Handling Your Job Loss, Managing Your Personal Resources, Assessing Your Skills, Experiences and Interests, Researching the Job Market, Conducting the Job Search, Networking, Writing Resumes and Cover Letters, and Employment Interviewing.

Thanks for the feedback! It will help us improve your experience.