This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
A pre-employment assessment is a tool companies use to determine a candidate’s ability to perform core duties of the role. Many organizations have shifted to this hiring approach, moving away from degree requirements. While it’s important for you to ensure applicants have both hard and soft skills, pre-employment assessment tests allow you to test on the exact duties of the role, giving you a better way to gauge potential new hires’ abilities.
Types of Skills Assessments
Pre-employment skills testing is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires you to focus your testing on the individual position and what’s most important for that role. There are many types of assessments, each used to evaluate skills in different ways.
A soft skills test, often in the form of a personality test, measures a candidate’s attributes and demeanor. This assessment can be good for roles that manage people, as you want someone who has strong communication skills and can relate to others and integrate well. Soft skills can be harder to test, which is why some of your interview questions should address soft skills to make sure you have the full picture.
This type of pre-employment skills assessment can be the most beneficial for you as it tests the core skills necessary to do the job. You can test in many areas, including spreadsheet or database skills—our free Excel test examines jobseekers’ spreadsheet skills. Other areas to test are knowledge of IT, math, typing, and other hard skills that a candidate should possess to perform the job successfully.
For positions in which a hard skills test may not reveal everything you need to know, try using a real-life example test, wherein you create questions based on events that recently occurred at your company. Almost like a case study, you can use this to determine a candidate’s ability to take decisive and quick action, comparing it to how you handled the actual event. It gauges a candidate’s actual job performance through critical thinking.
A cognitive ability test measures how applicants think and approach difficult situations. Oftentimes, it is game-based and timed. While the questions have little to no direct correlation to the job duties, the test lets you measure a jobseeker’s ability to think critically about a situation in a timed environment. Especially for people managers or workers dealing with customers regularly, seeing how they react to stressful situations can help you gauge their level of skill and how they would perform in the role.
We often don’t think about an interview as a pre-employment assessment, but it is, and it’s one of the most effective. When you use a structured interview process, you ask the same targeted questions of each applicant, letting you evaluate everyone based on answers to the same questions. A good interview can expand on the other pre-employment assessments and help you dive deeper into a candidate’s ability to do the work and fit into your organization.
More of an approach than an actual skills test, a combo pre-employment assessment utilizes two or more tests to evaluate jobseekers. Many times, companies use this as a tiered approach, first giving a relevant skills test and then, if the applicant passes, doing an interview and a more detailed assessment. While this may delay the time it takes you to fill the role, it can result in a better outcome as you’ve tested the candidate multiple ways, ensuring their competency.
Check out our top pre-employment assessment tools.
How to Conduct Targeted Skills Assessments
Finding the perfect candidate requires a thoughtful approach in your hiring. Consider the following steps for adding pre-employment assessments to your process.
1. Determine Which Skills to Test
Think about the position you need to fill. Review the job description closely and extract the half dozen or so most important skills a worker must possess—these are what you need to test. Using the testing options listed above, assess candidates by tailoring the tests and your questions to the specific skills necessary to perform the job successfully.
For an administrative position, you may need to test typing skills. There are many online tests you can use to gauge accuracy and time, giving nearly instantaneous results. For an IT position, however, you may need to test on more intricate computer systems and languages. This could require a specialized test that you build yourself and grade manually.
2. Decide on Test Types
I recommend the combo approach, which includes at least one pre-employment assessment test plus an interview. This helps you evaluate candidates from different angles and can eliminate any who may have been able to cheat their way through the test.
If you’re crafting your own test, keep it to about 10 questions. This doesn’t overwhelm the candidate and won’t take you too long to review. Vary the questions by having some text responses, multiple choice questions, and analytical questions. We also recommend giving a time limit but making it reasonable, so you can get the best results possible.
Compliance Note: When building your own skills test, do not ask questions unrelated to the skills necessary for the job (e.g., age, gender, religion, and nationality).
3. Assess When & How to Administer the Test
When to send the assessments out depends on the position. If you’re hiring an admin, administering a pre-employment test right after reviewing their resume can be an effective way to screen candidates and only interview the most qualified. For other positions, you may need to conduct a phone screen first, then send a pre-employment assessment test.
Moreover, how you deliver the pre-employment assessment test and how long until you receive the results depend on the exam type. A typing test can be done via a website link, and results are available in minutes. An Excel test, on the other hand, is something you may email to the candidate and get back within two days. The more complex your test and detailed your questions, the longer you’ll need to wait for results.
4. Interpret the Results
The outcome of a pre-employment assessment goes into the overall evaluation of the applicant, and your next steps depend on the test’s purpose. If it was a requirement for them to apply, use the results to determine whether to grant them an initial interview. In other cases, you’d have conducted a phone screen before sending the test out, and with the results, you decide whether to move forward with the hiring process.
Conducting interviews allow you to follow up on candidates’ test results with additional and targeted questions to help you gauge their skill level even further. You will also see their reaction and thought process in real time, giving you insight into whether they truly possess the skills necessary.
Why Companies Hire by Skill
A resume can tell a story about an applicant, but it never gives you the whole picture and doesn’t indicate the proficiency they have with each of their skills. Education used to be a central focus for hiring, as companies expected that if a candidate had a certain degree, that would mean they have a certain level of skill relevant to the job. However, the number of job postings focused on skills is rising, while the number of postings requiring a degree is falling.
By focusing on pre-employment assessments and not just resumes, you can:
Gauge a Candidate’s Skill Objectively
With the skills-focused trend, you can objectively and accurately determine a candidate’s skill level. Looking at a resume, you may conclude that they have all of the skills required to do the job. But to what proficiency? If you need an Excel expert, for example, simply seeing a resume with Excel experience doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.
Expand the Applicant Pool
As a recent study suggests, companies have been shifting focus to relevant skills instead of degrees to help expand their applicant pool. This shift began in earnest in 2017 as the demand for workers outpaced supply and staff gained more power. It was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as organizations became even more desperate to find skilled talent.
Most of the jobs where degree requirements are fading and skills assessments are increasing are mid-skilled positions. According to the study, from 2017 to 2019, companies reduced degree requirements for almost half of middle-skill positions, including those in IT and managerial roles. Degree requirements still exist for many higher-level and highly skilled positions, though they are fading slightly there, too—just not as fast.
Reduce the Time to Hire
Hiring employees can be a time-consuming process, and finding ways to shorten the period it takes you to fill an open role can benefit your bottom line. Using pre-employment assessments can help you screen unqualified applicants by giving you insight into each one’s ability to do the job. This also reduces the number of interviews you’ll need to conduct, giving you more time to focus on the most highly qualified candidates.
Locate Candidates for Other Jobs
Using a skills assessment doesn’t always mean you reject jobseekers who don’t meet the needs of the role. Sometimes, candidates are overqualified or have skills better suited for another open position. A pre-employment skills assessment can help you identify these applicants and shorten the hiring process for other positions.
There is inherent bias in the hiring process, which can impact a hiring decision. The more weight your company gives to a skills assessment, the less likely hiring bias will occur due to age, gender, and other factors that could violate employment laws.
When you focus on a skills assessment, you take bias and subjectivity out of the equation—either the candidate has the skills you’re testing for or they don’t. This makes your hiring process more consistent and objective and less open to legal scrutiny.
Read our article on skills-based hiring for more insight into how to change your approach.
Pre-employment skills assessments can be a great tool in your hiring process. You shouldn’t rely solely on them to screen candidates, but they can help you narrow your list of applicants down to only the most qualified and get the right person in the seat faster.