Pre-Employment Testing Can Give Employers 'Fits'

Companies using pre-employment psychological and background screenings to find employees who fit


Have you heard about the tests that are giving employers "fits"?

Bruce McWilliams, general manager at Lee's Summit Honda, credits a 15-minute pre-employment psychological profile with reducing employee turnover and boosting sales at the car dealership.

Rich Mellor, a loss-prevention adviser and division vice president at Helzberg Diamonds, believes a pre-employment integrity and attitude assessment has improved staff quality and cut inventory shrinkage.

Jennifer Bosshardt, spokeswoman for Sprint Corp., says a pre-employment personality test is the efficiency tool the company needs to improve the odds of hiring successful workers in its cellular phone stores.

Pre-employment assessments - designed to predict the likelihood that an applicant will be a good "fit" in the job - are sweeping through the work world.

Used sometimes as a first step to reduce the size of the applicant pool and sometimes as a backup to reinforce or overrule job interviewers' instincts, these computerized or pen-and-pencil tests are gaining favor among employers.

Such testing, designed both for applicant screening and employment development, is believed to be a $400-million-a-year industry.

About 30 percent of all companies use personality tests to help make hiring decisions, according to a survey by Management Recruiters International, and the number is mushrooming.

Among job applicants, the embrace isn't quite as strong.

Rebecca Rose, a 43-year-old Kansas City woman with 12 years of experience as a flight attendant, is sure she has the customer-service skills to be a restaurant server or work in retail sales. But when she's taken pre-employment tests, she's been flummoxed at how to answer some questions.

"One store's test asked if anybody had ever annoyed you to the point that you wanted to sit on them," Rose said. "How do you answer a question like that? Of course some passengers have annoyed me. Did I want to sit on them? Yes. Did I sit on them? Of course not."

As more companies turn to pre-employment testing, established vendors and academicians who study the discipline warn against buying testing products from companies that lack the data banks or Ph.D.-level staff to justify their testing results.

Fritz Drasgow, past president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, said at the association's national conference in April that the explosion of pre-employment testing "can be boon or boondoggle."

"In any growing area, you get people who aren't reputable," Drasgow said. "There's no licensing or registration in this area. It's really caveat emptor... buyer beware.

"The purchaser needs to ask for the empirical data to support the product. You need a product that has good statistical analysis and good questions designed by industrial-organizational psychologists."

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