Recently, I was talking with a friend who was in the middle of applying for a position at a new organization. He mentioned that the latest stage of the application was an IQ test. I am always curious about employee assessment processes for organizations, so I probed a bit more and asked him what it consisted of. “Oh, you know,” he replied, “it asked me things like if I like working with other people, and if I lose my temper easily.”
My poor friend got an earful from me after that. Why? Because he was not describing an IQ test, he was describing a much more robust assessment. It may overlap with the concepts that are measured in an IQ test, but there are many more differences than similarities. This may sound like nitpicking or semantics, but hear me out: these differences will not only help you speak knowledgeably about testing options, but will also help you understand what you’re looking for when choosing an assessment.
- IQ tests measure intelligence, and that’s it. This one should be obvious, but it seems that the term “IQ test” serves as a catch-all for any test that an applicant might take during pre-employment. But, very few employee assessments are simply IQ tests. That’s because IQ tests tell us about your general ability to learn, and not much else. The best assessments will include a component of intelligence testing, but also tap into the other competencies that have proven relationships with job performance, such as motivational fit, positive attitude, and work ethic. This allows for richer detail and more information about the applicant beyond their learning capability.
- IQ test results consist of one number. The hype around IQ is like the SAT or GRE: everyone knows that your score is very important and says a lot about your intelligence...but no one really knows why. When a test boils down your entire range of strengths and weaknesses into one number, it can be difficult to feel like that number is truly representative of who you are. And though people attach a lot of meaning to these types of tests, they are just one piece of the puzzle. More robust assessments may include an overall recommendation or final score for an applicant, and include details like the trainability of certain competencies. They can identify the finer trends and provide a more detailed profile of the person.
- IQ tests have a higher risk of adverse impact. Certain subgroups that are legally protected have been shown to systemically score lower on IQ tests. The landmark Supreme Court case of Griggs V. Duke Power established that an organization could not use a general test (in this case, the Wonderlic) to hire for a specific job. So, an organization needs solid evidence that its IQ cutoff score directly relates to the job’s specific requirements, or the company needs to use a test that measures performance related to that specific job field. It is therefore more common, and certainly more fair, to see assessments that target job-specific competencies and ask job-specific questions.
In the end, IQ tests do share one important similarity with more robust employee assessments: their goal is to identify applicants who will perform well on the job. IQ tests simply do it on a narrower scale, provide less overall information, and come with a fair share of legal risks. While it is fine to use an IQ test as one step in your testing battery, it benefits both the applicant and the organization to focus on more robust assessments throughout the hiring process.