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To Test or Not to Test: Compliant Preemployment Testing

To Test or Not to Test: Compliant Preemployment Testing

  • Jul 20, 2017

No one likes taking tests. They're the bane of every student’s existence. When a student graduates, he thinks his testing days are finally over and he can rest easy at night, knowing the nightmare of sitting at a cold metal desk in a starkly silent classroom staring blankly at a bubble sheet -- clock ticking, pencils tapping, classmate sniffing, mind swimming -- is behind him for good.

And then he's introduced to a kind of testing he never knew existed.

Preemployment testing.

Many employers are using preemployment testing to assess a candidate’s fit for a certain position. These types of tests can be extremely valuable. They can show an applicant’s aptitude for a particular skill or job requirement and tell you how well an applicant might fit with the position or your company as a whole.

However, there’s more to preemployment testing than you might think. There are hundreds of different available tests you could use, but a set of laws and regulations prompted by a series of court cases governs their use, and violation of these regulations could result in litigation against you and your company for using preemployment testing to discriminate. You don’t want that.

To help you and your company avoid lawsuits but still recruit and retain the best employees, here are a few things about preemployment testing to keep in mind:

Preemployment testing is regulated.

In 1970, the Supreme Court heard the case of Griggs vs. Duke Power Company, a case that began to change the face of the employment testing landscape. Duke Power Company, a power plant in North Carolina, was requiring employees and applicants to take an intelligence test in order to be hired or transfer to a higher paying position at the plant. The company employed a good chunk of minority employees who felt the requirements weren’t fair. The Supreme Court ruled that the intelligence test did not relate to the applicants’ ability to adequately perform the job at the company, and was therefore being used to discriminate against the minority employees and not as a true measure of ability.

This ruling opened the door for other lawsuits regarding the fairness of recruiting and hiring policies, which led to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the subsequent adoption of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) by the EEOC, the US Civil Service Commission, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice. These guidelines are meant to protect job applicants by making sure the hiring and screening process is fair for everyone. Though not in themselves law, they have been referenced by the Court in various judicial decisions. You may not be aware, but your use of preemployment testing is regulated by the UGESP.

The guidelines are lengthy and complex. Here’s the short version: be fair and don’t use testing to discriminate for any reason. Here’s the long version. For specific questions or to know how the UGESP applies to you, your employees, and your applicants, get in touch with an HR professional. You may not realize that some of your preemployment testing procedures could be discriminating against certain groups or individuals. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the laws and regulations and work with a professional to make sure you’re implementing them correctly.

Not all preemployment tests are created equal.

There are lots of preemployment tests out there, some consistent with UGESP and some not. The following two principles can help you determine how good a test is and whether or not you should use it:

The first is test reliability. Reliability refers to the consistency of a test. If a test is reliable, people with similar aptitudes or skills will receive similar scores on the test, or if a person took the test two different times they would receive a similar score both times. If a test isn’t reliable, the same person could take the same test two times and receive two vastly different scores. Which score is more accurate?

In addition to a test having adequate reliability, the test must be administered in a way that will help retain that reliability. For example, if you give a test to two otherwise similar candidates, but one test is administered in a quiet conference room at your office and the other is administered via email and the candidate tries to focus as his child is crying in the background and his dog is barking in the backyard, the two test scores could be vastly different, and not because of the applicants' aptitudes. Try to control for these differences by standardizing your test administration so you can fairly compare scores.

Equally (or perhaps more) important is test validity. If reliability is test consistency, validity is test accuracy. If a test is valid, it accurately measures what it says it’s going to measure. A valid preemployment test is one that actually does measure characteristics or aptitudes of a candidate that accurately reflect or predict his job performance. The questions on the test will relate to the actual purpose of the test, the test results will correlate to other tests that measure the same thing, and people with high test scores will be shown to actually perform well in the corresponding job. All those things (and many more) indicate that a test is actually showing what is says it will show.

The validity of preemployment tests is one of those aspects of employment testing that is pretty strictly regulated by the UGESP. Validity is a requirement of all preemployment tests. A test that shows low criterion validity, content validity or construct validity can constitute discrimination and get you into trouble. For more specifics on the validation process outlined by the UGESP, click here.

You won’t have to carry out your own reliability and validity analyses, unless you’re creating your own test (which you most likely won’t do). Most reliability and validity information is readily available online. If you’re considering using a test, make sure to research its reliability and validity. Test makers want you to know their test is reliable and valid so you’ll use it (they make money when you do), so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. If you can’t find reliability and validity data online, try requesting it directly from the test makers. If you still can’t track it down, that might be a little red flag warning you that the test may not be valid or reliable enough for your use.

A person is more than his or her test score.

The most important thing to keep in mind (other than all the provisions of the UGESP, of course) is that regardless of the tests you may use in your recruitment process, a person is more than his or her test score. A test score can be insightful, but it does not provide the complete portrait of a person.  Many other factors affect an individual’s performance on a test. It might have been abnormally cold in the testing room. They might have had a slow computer and not been able to finish all the questions in the allotted time. They might be a qualified, competent candidate and a perfect fit for your position, but not the strongest test taker. Likewise, a candidate may pass your test with flying colors, but they may lack the people skills, work ethic, punctuality, or simply the connection necessary to excel at your company. Use preemployment testing with caution. Allow a test score to be a piece of the picture, but never the whole thing.

Questions on using preemployment testing for your potential employees? Compliance can be tricky, but we’re here to help! Contact one of our expert HR representatives at (888) 407-1032 and we’ll help you get on the road to smarter HR.Contact Us | Zamp HR