Test Administration

A vast number of KSAs can be measured by a well-designed structured interview. However, as mentioned earlier, interviewing can be time-consuming and usually involves some costs. In addition, even in the best of cases, it remains a subjective process and biases can influence the interviewers. A common complement to interviewing that is relatively inexpensive and much more objective, is standardized testing. In this section, we will cover the most common tests used for employment decisions. These range of tests explore the candidates psychological profile, personality traits, intellect, knowledge and experience – all culminating with the final checks before selection.

Psychological Tests

HRM managers can draw from a wide variety of psychological tests to assess KSA’s.

Cognitive Ability Tests

A cognitive ability test measures intelligence. The most common types are IQ tests which measure general mental ability. Other tests can specifically focus on verbal ability, math skills, spatial perception, or inductive and deductive reasoning. The GMAT, a test often required for admission in MBA programs, is an example of a cognitive ability test. An example of a cognitive Cognitive Ability Test can be found here: Verbal Reasoning: Example Questions

Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests can measure abilities such as mechanical aptitude and clerical aptitude (e.g., speed of typing or ability to use a particular computer program). Usually, an aptitude test asks specific questions related to the requirements of the job. For example, to become a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, you need to pass the RCMP Police Aptitude Test, which is an aptitude test. The test measures memory, spatial abilities, prioritization, ability to multitask, decision-making, and listening capabilities. An example of the test can be found here: RCMP Entrance Exam

Personality Tests

Personality is a major psychological construct that is defined as patterns of individual differences in thinking, feeling, and behaving. These patterns are relatively stable across situations and over time. For that reason, they can be useful to make employment decisions because we can be confident that personality traits will manifest themselves in the workplace. Of the many personality theories that exist in psychology, the “Big Five” personality model is the most commonly used for employment decisions. It categorizes personalities into five broad dimensions: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience.

Extroversion focuses on how well people get along with others. Extroversion concerns sources of energy and the pursuit of interactions with others. In general, extroverts draw energy or recharge by interacting with others, while introverts get tired from interacting with others and replenish their energy with solitude. Someone who scores high on this trait is generally seen as being more assertive, outgoing, and generally talkative. Others see a person who scores high on this trait as being sociable — who actually thrives in social situations.

Agreeableness is a trait that describes a person’s overall kindness, affection levels, trust, and sense of altruism. A person who scores high on this trait is someone who is comfortable with being kind and friendly to others. Others see such people as being helpful and cooperative, and someone who is trustworthy and altruistic.

Conscientiousness can be described as the tendency to engage in goal-directed behaviours, exert control over one’s impulses, and overall thoughtfulness. Conscientious people have the ability to delay gratification, work within the rules, and plan and organize effectively.

Emotional stability, as the name implies, relates to the overall emotional stability of an individual. A person who scores low on this trait may be seen by others as being moody, irritable, and anxious. A person who scores high on this trait is seen as being more emotionally stable and resilient.

Openness to experience is a trait that describes a person’s preference for imagination, artistic, and intellectual activities. People who score high on this trait are seen by others as being intellectual, creative, or artistic. They tend to be forever curious about the world around them and are interested in learning new things. A person who scores high on this trait typically has a broad range of interests and may enjoy travelling, learning about other cultures, and trying out new experiences.

If you are curious about your own personality profile, there are a lot of free tests available on the internet. Here is one example:  The Big Five Project – Personality Test (outofservice.com). You may also explore the Meyers-Briggs test, widely used in identifying and understanding personality types.

Honesty and Integrity Tests

The increasing emphasis on corporate ethics and guarding against reputational damage has led to the use of honesty and integrity test.

Honesty and integrity tests measure an applicant’s propensity toward undesirable behaviours such as lying, stealing, taking illegal drugs, or abusing alcohol. Two types of tests assess honesty and integrity. Overt integrity tests ask explicit questions about honesty, including attitudes and behaviour regarding theft. Personality-oriented (covert) integrity tests use psychological concepts such as dependability and respect for authority. Critics have said these tools may invade privacy and generate self-incrimination. They also claim that candidates can interpret the questions’ intent and provide politically correct answers. However, many organizations are motivated to use them because the behaviours that these tests attempt to capture can have disastrous impact for their bottom line. For example, employee theft is an issue that can have a significant impact on a retailer. Thus, there is tremendous motivation from retail companies to prevent these behaviours in employees.

Physical Ability Test

For certain jobs, some organizations rely on physical ability tests. For example, to earn a position in a fire department, you may have to be able to carry one hundred pounds up three flights of stairs. If you use physical ability tests in your hiring processes, the key to making them useful is to determine a minimum standard or expectation, specifically related to the requirements of the job. An HR manager should also consider the legality of such tests because they run the risk of discriminating against women applicants or those with physical disabilities. Thus, physical ability tests need to show direct correlation with the job duties. Below is an example of the physical test used by the Alberta Wildfire department for assessing firefighter applicants.

Job Knowledge Test

A job knowledge test measures the candidate’s level of understanding about a particular job. For example, a job knowledge test may require a software engineer to write or debug a section of code in a given period of time or may ask candidates to solve a case study or specific business problem related to the job.

Work Sample Test

Work sample tests ask candidates to show examples of work they have already done or to produce a new work (product) sample. In the advertising business, this may include a portfolio of designs, or for a project manager, this can include past project plans or budgets. When applying for a pharmaceutical representative position, a “brag book” might be required. A brag book is a list of recommendation letters, awards, and achievements that the candidate shares with the interviewer. Work sample tests can be a useful way to test for KSAs. These work samples can often be a good indicator of someone’s abilities in a specific area. As always, before looking at samples, the interviewer should have specific criteria or expectations developed so each candidate can be measured fairly.

Final Steps in Test Administration

Once the interview is completed and testing occurs, there are a few final checks that can be performed, for example, checking references, criminal records, and social media presence.

Reference checking is essential to verify a candidate’s background. It is an added assurance that the candidate’s abilities are parallel with what you were told in the interview. While employment dates and job titles can be verified with previous employers, many employers will not verify more than what can be found in the employment record because of privacy laws.  Written consent is obtained before contacting a reference.

Criminal background checks may be used for employees who will be working in positions of trust or dealing with vulnerable populations such as the young, old or disabled. Since criminal background checks can easily breach human rights law and privacy issues, it is best that employers demonstrate that there is a bona fide occupational requirement for conducting one. Employers must receive written consent from their prospective employee before performing any sort of criminal background check.

Social media checks are now performed by a majority of organizations.  According to a recent survey, 70 percent of employers screen candidates’ profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn before hiring. Employers are searching for the following when researching candidates via these social networking sites:

  • Information that supports their qualifications for the job (61 percent)
  • If the candidate has a professional online persona at all (50 percent)
  • What other people are posting about the candidates (37 percent)
  • Any reason at all not to hire a candidate (24 percent)

Here are some tips from Monster.com as to how to ensure that your social media profile does not impede your chances of obtaining your dream job.

Combining The Information

So far, we have seen that HR managers have access to many tools, data sources and tests will be used to help select new employees. In the vast majority of cases, multiple tools and the HR manager and hiring manager will have to decide how to combine the results of these different tools in order to make a decision. In this section, we discuss three methods that can be used to arrive at that final decision.

Clinical Approach

A clinical selection approach involves reviewing the information, and based on what has been learned from the candidate and the information available to them, the best candidate is selected. Since interviewers have a different perception about the strengths of a candidate, this method leaves room for error. One consideration is the risk of disparate treatment, in which one’s biases may result in not hiring candidates based on their age, race, or gender.

Statistical Approach

In this approach, a selection model is developed that assigns scores and gives more weight to specific factors if necessary. For example, for certain jobs, the ability to work in a team might be more important, while in others, knowledge of a specific computer program is more important. In this case, a weight can be assigned to each of the job criteria listed. With the statistical approach, there is more objectivity than with the clinical approach. Statistical approaches include the compensatory model, multiple cutoff model, and the multiple hurdle model.

Compensatory Approach

This approach allows a high score in an important area to make up for a lower score in another area. For example, if the job is a project manager, ability to work with the client might be more important than how someone dresses for the interview. This method allows for a fairer process and can limit disparate treatment, although it may not limit disparate impact. A compensatory approach may work like this: you and the hiring team review the job analysis and job description and then determine the criteria for the job. You assign a weight for each area and score ranges for each aspect of the criteria, rate candidates on each area as they interview, and then score tests or examine work samples. Once each hiring manager has scored each candidate, the hiring team can compare scores in each area and hopefully hire the best person in the best way.

Figure 5.2. Sample Selection Model, with Sample Scores and Weighting Filled In

Job Criteria Rating* Weight** Total Comments
Dress 4 1 4 Candidate dressed appropriately.
Personality 2 5 10 Did not seem excited about the job.
Interview questions
Give an example of a time you showed leadership. 3 3 9 Descriptive but didn’t seem to have experience required.
Give an example of when you had to give bad news to a client. 0 5 0 Has never had to do this.
Tell us how you have worked well in a team 5 4 20 Great example of teamwork given.
Score on cognitive ability test. 78 5 390 Meets minimum required score of 70

* Rating system of 1-5, with 5 being the highest

** Weighting of 1-5, with 5 being the most important

Multiple Cutoff Approach

This approach requires that a candidate must achieve / receive a minimum score level on all selection criteria. For example, a candidate for a firefighter position may be required to have a score of at least 3 out of 5 on each criterion. If the candidate scored low on a “physical ability” test he or she wouldn’t get the job in a multiple cutoff approach regardless of how well they did in the other tests.

Multiple Hurdle Approach

This approach is similar to the multiple cutoff approach, but instead of having all of the candidates complete all of the tests, you only have candidates complete one test and if they achieve or exceed a preset score, they move on to the next test. This reduces the number of candidates as the process progresses – toward the finish line..

Combining the information culminates in a discussion and selection, typically involving HR and the hiring manager.


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