Although there are potential risks in the use of pre-employment tests, they continue to be one of the most popular and effective tools to help managers make good hiring decisions. If you currently use them, or are considering doing so, here are three things you really need to know to help you avoid legal trouble and to help you hire better people.
ONE: Using a bad test
By “bad test”, we mean one that hasn’t been shown as valid and reliable. Validity refers to how well it does what it’s supposed to do. Reliability refers to how consistently it measures what it measures and performs over time. A bad test may also be missing evidence that shows it’s fair to different groups of test takers. There are specific tasks a test publisher should accomplish before making a test available. The statistical procedures are clear and well-known. Once these steps have been performed, they should be clearly explained in a technical manual for the user. If you can’t get such documentation from a publisher, don’t use the test.
TWO: Using a good test, but one that’s not related to the job
If you’re using a highly valid test of math skills, but using it to help select people for a job that doesn’t require math, you’re looking for trouble. However, if you’ve demonstrated that strong verbal skills are related to success as a writer, the use of a vocabulary test will help you select better employees for this position. Be sure you’re choosing the right tests for the right positions.
By “good test”, we mean one that is valid and job-related. If you don’t have enough people in a particular job to perform a proper job analysis and relate the key job behaviors to test results, make sure the test meets the validity requirements outlined above. If you do have a sufficient number of people in the job under consideration, the steps for a validation are as follows:
- Analyze the job using all available data about the job. This includes discussions with subject matter experts, a review of all written material (e.g., job descriptions) and observation of people performing the job. This should result in the definition and documentation of the competencies needed for success and an outline of key duty areas. Based on this information, choose a good test that measures essential job competencies
- Administer the test to all incumbents.
- Gather performance measures on incumbents. These may include performance reviews, sales (or other quantitative) results, and any other performance and effectiveness metrics.
- Relate performance ratings to test results. This is accomplished through the use of various statistical procedures.
- Develop the success profile.
- Set the cutoff score to minimize adverse impact on protected classes and ensure fairness to all.
Larger and more successful companies generally approach testing the right way. Not necessarily because they’re more sophisticated, which they sometimes are, but more out of self preservation. Many of them have found that it’s much less costly to use good tests validated in their own environments than to pay the legal fees and penalties involved in defending themselves from (sometimes justified) lawsuits.
THREE: Using the test the wrong way
Even if you have the most valid and reliable test in the world, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on it. Structured behavioral interviews, reference checks, work samples and general background checks should also inform your decision.
You should be consistent in your use of tests, interviews and all other components of your selection process. Always be sure to accommodate special needs as outlined in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and stay aware of current EEOC guidelines. You should periodically review the cutoff score used for the test to make sure it is set at the appropriate level and that you have no adverse impact. Your selection system should not discriminate on any basis but job performance.
Michele I. Mobley