The pros and cons of assessment tests in the workplace

Assessment tests, which measure an employee’s ability, aptitude, and personality, can help companies better understand the skills and personalities of applicants. There’s no denying that they can be helpful – but they’re not without controversy. If you’re not careful, you could be discriminating against a good portion of your applicant pool.

Here’s what you need to know about assessment tests in the workplace.

There is no one-size-fits-all

 There are, in fact, several types of assessment tests that employers can use during the hiring process, including:

  • Aptitude tests, which look at how well an employee might grow into their new job by measuring how fast they pick up new skills
  • Achievement tests, which assess skills in specific areas
  • Personality tests, which look at how well a person fits in and to what extent they’re able to reach compromises, resolve conflicts, and work as part of a team

According to Psychometrics Canada, which develops assessment tools for companies,

personality tests can measure up to 30 different types of personality traits. Most commonly, though, they look at characteristics like collaboration and teamwork, ambition and leadership, work style (detail-oriented and dependable), flexibility and ability to adapt to change, stress tolerance and emotional resilience, problem-solving, and analytical thinking.

You need to tread carefully

 Questions that probe personality, aptitude, and adaptability to change can sometimes take on, or appear to take on, a personal attack, which could be discriminatory.

In the U.S., for instance, there are court cases where applicants have brought potential employers to court for asking personal information that is then used to omit candidates. To help employers on this side of the border from making those mistakes, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has published A Guide to Screening and Selection in Employment. It outlines how to make the interview process fair and compliant with human rights, pointing out, for example, that questions regarding an applicant’s place of birth or height and weight have little, if nothing, to do with the person’s ability or skill, and could be used to screen out applications from certain groups such as visible minorities or women (who tend to be smaller and lighter than their male applicant counterparts). The guide offers a step-by-step guide on what not to ask, and offers alternatives for finding out the information relevant to the job in question.

Similarly, the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) specifies that personality tests, or psychometric and psychological testing, should not be done until an applicant has been given a conditional offer of employment. Even then, though, the OHRC says it can be tricky in that behavioural profiles can discriminate if the test identifies or classifies an applicant on religious beliefs, personal interests, attitudes, and values.

You need to first know what you’re looking for

 Per the OHRC, any test put into use by an HR department or hiring manager should be a bona fide method of assessing an applicant’s ability to do the job. This goes for the initial job interviews all the way to the assessment tests, and any tests should be tailored to making that person better suited to or more successful at fulfilling those duties.

According to the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management, the purpose of assessment tests is to help the employer predict how well an individual will perform on the job. This is important for many reasons, because, as the SHRM points out, “hiring the wrong people can be expensive, and selection errors can have a negative impact on employee morale and management time, waste valuable training and development dollars, and reduce employee productivity and a company’s profitability.”

So before launching into assessment test mode, take the time to ensure you know exactly what kind of employee you want for the open position, and the assessment test should work in your favour. Pretty soon, you just might land the best person for the job.

See also:
Eight interview mistakes hiring managers make
What you need to stop asking in interviews (and what to ask instead)


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