Pre-employment testing: what is it and can it really help you in recruiting the right candidate for your business?

When meeting with a client recently, I was asked about whether testing candidates was worth it.  And the answer is yes and no, depending on the type of test and the context.

Pre-employment testing has the potential to provide valuable insight on a candidate, but if used incorrectly can damage the relationship between candidate and employer, or lead to poor hiring decisions.

From the onset, you need to be clear about exactly what you aim to achieve from the test, and at what stage of the recruitment process you’ll use it.  This needs to be communicated to candidates so they understand the purpose of such tests.  Equally tests should never be considered in isolation – they are part of the process and can help to inform a decision rather than determine it.

If you do a quick google of the type of tests, you will see a whole raft; from aptitude tests and ability tests to personality questionnaires and skills tests.  The category is not important but what is important is what you want to know about the candidate from the test and how it applies to the role.  Below we explore a few of the outcomes from the tests and how it can help you in finding your next candidate.

Screening candidates early on to reduce the long list

Tests can be used early on in the recruitment process to rule out those candidates that don’t meet a certain level.  This can often be a short numerical or verbal reasoning test taken at home with a minimum threshold that candidates have to meet.  This can help to save time in the recruitment process but at this early stage should be short and simple to avoid putting off potential candidates.

Testing the candidate’s raw intelligence

Numerical, verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests can also be used later in the recruitment process to determine a candidate’s general intelligence.  This can be an indicator of job performance but is not a direct correlation.  General intelligence will not identify a candidates capacity for learning or whether there is a cultural fit.  For example, a highly capable candidate may perform well on an ability test but lack the right behaviours to fit well into your business.

Enabling the candidate to demonstrate their specific skills[1]

Skills-based tests measure candidates skills, for example; problem-solving, analytical skills, numerical skills, presentation skills, or anything else which is essential within that particular role.  These practical skills-based tests require investment from the candidate and employer.  Candidates may need time to prepare and each will need to be scored in a fair and transparent way by the recruiting manager, with specific feedback offered to both successful and unsuccessful candidates.  Therefore this kind of test is always better later in the recruitment process.

Seeing how a candidate would respond in a real job role scenario[2]

This can be used to test how a candidate would respond in certain situations.  The scenario is presented to the candidate either written or visually and they must choose how they would resolve or deal with the situation.  Scenario-based tests can be specific to the role and can give an indication of their leadership skills or behaviour in difficult situations.

Understanding what motivates and drives a candidate

These assessments can be broader than personality questionnaires.  They can explore a person’s behaviours, what they value and their response under stress.  They have been shown to provide a good indicator of performance and the cultural fit within the organisation.  There is not a right or wrong answer, but different ‘profiles’ can be better suited to different roles.

At Talent Gateway, we use Hogan assessments as a powerful way of providing a non-biased assessment of a candidate’s soft skills.  Hogan’s widely respected suite of assessment tools are designed to assess a candidate’s values and motivations, main personality characteristics, and potential ‘derailers’ – characteristics which emerge only under stress and which are unlikely to be exhibited through interview discussions. Unlike simple skills tests, the assessment can provide actionable insight into the candidate’s likely behaviour in a specific work environment. This is essential if you share our view that the ‘fit’ between the candidate’s motivations and values, and your organisation, has a huge impact both on their success and their performance in the role.

We recommend the use of these tools prior to final interview, to guide discussions with short-listed candidates.

Are they worth the investment?

Tests can be a useful indicator as to how a candidate will perform in a role or as screening questions early on and a combination of different tests can be used.  However, you must ensure you consider the candidate journey, and at which point you want them to complete a test.  Furthermore, the limitations of any test must be understood.

If you are clear on what you want to achieve, tests can be an accurate predicator of performance and help guide your discussions with candidates.

[1] Pre-employment testing, Workable,

[2] Assessment Methods, SHL,