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The 5 Biggest Myths About Pre-Employment Assessments

July 7, 2015

Employee assessments are becoming more and more prevalent these days, which is certainly a good thing. More and more companies buying into assessments means that the overall quality of their workforces are increasing. There was even a cover article in TIME Magazine about the increased use of pre-employment assessments. The problem we’re noticing is that with assessment usage increasing, the number of myths about them is also increasing. I want to take a few minutes to set the record straight, so here are the 5 biggest myths we’re hearing about employee assessments:

Myth 1: Tests don’t predict job performance.

Tests that are well designed and job-related are actually quite predictive of job performance. Of course, there are many factors that contribute to job success. Some of these are related to the individual in question and some aren’t. Therefore, there always is going to be some level of inaccuracy in the prediction of almost any future behavior. Can you be 100% sure of how you will feel tomorrow and what will happen to you? Given that inherent variability, professionally developed and validated tests consistently and accurately predict things like performance ratings, turnover, sales, accidents, productivity, errors and a wide range of other behaviors well into the future.

Myth 2: Interviews are more accurate than assessments.

Here’s something that is true: well-designed interviews are more accurate than poorly designed tests. Well designed and validated tests tend to be at least as accurate as highly structured interviews, provided that those interviews are conducted by trained interviewers. Valid assessments are substantially more accurate than unstructured interviews. Tests and interviews are like engines and wheels. They both add a lot to effective prediction and should both be included in a good hiring process. Tests benefit from their higher level of consistency and reliability.

Myth 3: You can fake your way through tests.

Self-report assessments, like personality or biodata, are subject to impression management on the part of the test taker, but so are interviews. Most candidates tend to present themselves in a positive light. We expect them to do that. Most well-designed personality and biodata scales also assume that and take it into account. Faking is a very challenging task and most candidates do a poor job of it. In some studies when individuals are instructed to fake, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% of them fake in the completely wrong direction.

Myth 4: Tests increase your likelihood of a lawsuit.

Without question, the most frequently challenged selection tool is the unstructured interview. They represent somewhere around 57% of all challenges. They are also the least likely to withstand scrutiny and ultimately end up going against the defendant. Some tests, like cognitive ability or psychomotor (physical ability) tests, are more likely to be challenged than others such as personality or biographical inventories. In many situations, consent decrees require that the organization replace more subjective hiring processes with more structured solutions, which often involve testing.

Myth 5: Some people are just good at taking tests.

This has always been an interesting one to me. I guess it’s probably true. Some people are better at taking tests. I know that I always did better on tests when I studied hard and knew the subject matter. Some people are better at taking interviews as well. But what you find, by and large, is that the people who do better on tests and in interviews also do better on the job. People who get overly nervous and underperform when they take tests also tend to get very nervous and underperform in other stressful situations, like sales calls or emergencies. I certainly hope that if I ever need surgery, the surgeon who is working on me was good at taking tests and performing well under stress.

Hopefully, that helps put to rest some of the myths around employee assessments. What other “facts” have you heard surrounding employee assessments?

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Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.