When The Testing Experts Aren’t “Expert” (or Don’t Believe Everything That You Read Online)

Despite the assertions of some (so-called) experts online, pre-screening and personality tests are not subjective, ambiguous, discriminatory, biased or detrimental to hiring.  They’re a tool, like any other, and can be misapplied or used incorrectly.  That, however, is not a failing of the test but rather of the user.

While doing research for this article I found many articles that were full of inaccuracies (based mostly upon personal opinions, and purely anecdotal examples) cautioning people not to trust or to use assessments.  One author[i] states authoritatively, that, “When you google “psychometric tests for hiring” and “aptitude tests for hiring”, you get two kinds of search results. 90% of the articles that come up are from providers of psychometric tests – the people selling the tests.  The second kind of search results are courses on “how to ace a psychometric test”, essentially a parasitic community of vendors selling a solution to the very challenge the community created in the first place. It’s a racket.”

That’s simply a lot of nonsense and personal opinion being passed off as fact.  Other articles[ii] like, “No, I won’t take your pre-employment assessment. Here’s why.” are filled with misleading, biased, opinion more than with anything else.

Speaking as one who has been in the industry for over a quarter-century, it’s upsetting to see just how much misinformation is out there, and how many well-intentioned people are offering up ‘expertise’ on subjects that they actually know very little about.

There is a great deal of erroneous conclusion being offered up as ‘fact’ about pre-employment and personality assessments, and their use.  Some authors[iii] cast aspersions on “the people selling the tests” by implying that we’re disingenuous, hopelessly biased, and motivated mostly by self-serving ulterior motives.  Others simply don’t know what they’re talking about, and offer up their personal opinion as fact.[iv]  I’m not suggesting that these folks have bad intentions.  In fact, they seem to be genuinely interested in helping others.  Unfortunately, their biases and ignorance have led them (and probably others) astray.

Since I am indeed one of “the people selling the tests” I’d like to share my 25+ years of experience and expertise with you, and provide some factual, reliable, and accurate information about assessment products.  Personality tests have been around for close to 100 years and the research on personality has been conducted and replicated in thousands of studies around the world.  The Harvard Business Review offers a good, brief history on personality tests for those who are interested.[v]

Wonderlic (a testing firm in business since 1937 that has administered over 200 million assessments) conducted several surveys about testing and consumer attitudes in recent years.

Their 2021 survey[vi] of over 1000 hiring managers revealed that:

  • Talent professionals who use cognitive, personality, and/or motivation-related assessments were 3.7 times more likely to rate their quality of hires as “excellent” than those who don’t use assessments.
  • Talent professionals who don’t use hiring assessments were 2.9 times more likely to say they felt hiring would be difficult or very difficult in 2022 than those who do.
  • Similarly, hiring managers who don’t use pre-employment assessments were exactly 2 times more likely to have the same pessimistic outlook.
  • Additionally, more than 85% of both groups of respondents said assessments help them identify the potential of non-traditional candidates.
  • 84% said assessments help to more quickly identify top candidates, and
  • 83% said assessments can help reduce turnover.

In an earlier 2013 survey[vii] in which 91 of the respondents were from companies that don’t use pre-employment tests, they found that “when properly implemented, pre-employment tests streamline the recruiting and selection process, allowing hiring managers to evaluate more candidates per position.”

It’s absolutely true that no test is perfect or a panacea.  No test should ever supersede one’s own judgement or replace other, standard, vetting processes.  Testing is not, and should not be, the gateway to employment.  What tests do offer is the ability to confirm what’s on a resume or stated in an interview, and drill deeper into an individual’s capabilities, deficits, and accurately predict on-the-job behaviours.

Let me address some of the myths[viii] and erroneous assertions about tests being bandied about by some of the internet’s so-called experts.[ix]

  • Many pre-hire assessments are irrelevant to the job at hand.
    • This is only true if you give a stock picking test to an applicant for an executive assistant role.  Some tools are designed measure things like cognition and reasoning abilities, or other work-style competencies like rule following, attention to detail, self-control, or multi-tasking skills which are transferrable abilities and relevant to a variety of roles.  The applicant’s ignorance of what’s being tested for or why doesn’t mean that the test is irrelevant.
  • Assessments make the hiring process even longer and more painful.  Pre-employment assessments don’t guarantee hiring quality candidates, the first thing you’re testing for is interest and willingness to submit to a stupid requirement.
    • In fact, the exact opposite is the case.  As studies like the ones above have shown, assessments streamline the process, help weed out unsuitable applicants, and ensure that those left standing have all been evaluated equally against the same set of criteria.  There might be an argument to be made to suggest that pre-screening tests delay things (slightly) for the applicant.  On the other hand, applicants who aren’t willing to take a 20- or 40-minute test for a job that will be paying them tens of thousands of dollars a year may just have told you everything that you need to know about their motivation, flexibility, and work ethic.
  • Assessments can be discriminatory.
    • If they’re cooked up by the company doing the hiring or badly misapplied, then yes, they can be discriminatory.  However, assessments must abide by equal employment opportunity laws to avoid any discrimination or adverse impact on candidates.[x]  Test publishers know this and build their products accordingly.
  • When you take an assessment, do you get the results back?
    • The presumption here is that applicants are entitled to see their test results.  They aren’t.  Employers don’t let applicants sit in on hiring committee meetings or hear what their references had to say about them either.  Why would they?  Nor are tests the gateway to employment.  Applicants should not be given their results because they’ve no right to them in the first place, they don’t know how the results are being used, and often don’t understand exactly what’s being measured, or why.  Giving applicants their scores only invites argument and justification over poor scores, and should be avoided at all cost.
  • Lots of companies sell pre-hire assessments, what makes them qualified to assess you?
    • Decades of established, internationally peer-reviewed research, industry and legal standards, as well as advanced degrees in Psychology, statistical analysis, and validations, proving that the tests measure what they say they measure, and that they do so reliably and accurately, are what make test-makers qualified.
  • I can fake a personality test pretty easily.
    • Yes, but to your own detriment.  Up to 63% of applicants admit to ‘faking’ on personality tests; 50% admit to exaggerating positive qualities, while 60% admit to de-emphasizing negative traits.  However, most tests include validity scales designed to detect response bias, and research indicates that Positive Impression Management (faking-good) scales are good at distinguishing between honest and faking-good respondents, demonstrating a high accuracy (80–83%)[xi].  It’s a well-known fact that people lie on their resumes too.  ResumeBuilder.com[xii] surveyed 1,250 Americans about what they’ve lied about when looking for a job. 72% admitted to lying on their résumé, most commonly about education and years of experience.  Therefore, should employers simply stop accepting resumes as well?  Probably not.

At the end of the day, assessments are a benefit to employers.  They’re effective, accurate, legal, and reliable.  No, they’re not perfect.  They can be used incorrectly, or their results misinterpreted or misapplied.  The fact of the matter, however, is that despite some valid criticisms, they do what they’re designed to do, do so consistently, and there is ample evidence to prove that employers who use assessments in their hiring process enjoy a higher success rate when selecting job candidates than organizations that don’t use tests.  The latter may be labouring under some of the misconceptions outlined in this article.  If so, they’re missing out, flying by the seat of their pants, and are more prone to on-boarding an unqualified or problem employee than are those who use assessment tools.

Take it from a ‘real’ expert.  The darned things work, and that’s simply a fact.

David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering over 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has over 2000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has 100s of assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us.  Please send comments about this article to dtowler@creativeorgdesign.com.


[i] Why I Don’t Use Aptitude Tests In The Hiring Process – https://www.brendanreid.com/blog-1/why-i-dont-use-aptitude-tests-in-the-hiring-process

[ii] No, I won’t take your pre-employment assessment. Here’s why. – https://medium.com/@amacduff/no-i-wont-take-your-pre-employment-assessment-here-s-why-59e9b6287df3

[iii] Why I Don’t Use Aptitude Tests In The Hiring Process – https://www.brendanreid.com/blog-1/why-i-dont-use-aptitude-tests-in-the-hiring-process

[iv] Pre-Employment Testing: Pros and Cons – https://resources.workable.com/stories-and-insights/pre-employment-testing#:~:text=Tests%20rarely%20give%20the%20whole,is%20to%20learn%20and%20improve.

[v] A Brief History of Personality Tests – https://hbr.org/2017/03/a-brief-history-of-personality-tests

[vi] New Report: Companies Committed to Using Pre-Employment Assessments During The Great Resignation Report Dramatically Better Hiring Results – https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20220216005267/en/New-Report-Companies-Committed-to-Using-Pre-Employment-Assessments-During-The-Great-Resignation-Report-Dramatically-Better-Hiring-Results

[vii] Why Some Companies Don’t Use Pre-Employment Testing – https://wonderlic.com/blog/assessments/companies-dont-use-pre-employment-testing/

[viii] 10 Myths About Pre-Employment Testing – https://xobin.com/blog/pre-employment-testing-myths/

[ix] Pre-Employment Assessments Have To Stop – https://www.dansgrowthnewsletter.com/p/pre-employment-assessments-have-to

[x] Predictive Assessments Give Companies Insight into Candidates’ Potential – https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/predictive-assessments-insight-candidates-potential.aspx

[xi] Detecting faking-good response style in personality questionnaires with four choice alternatives – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00426-020-01473-3#Sec22

[xii] 72 percent of people surveyed said they lied on their résumés — here are the most common fibs – https://www.businessinsider.com/most-common-lies-people-put-on-resumes-2023-1#:~:text=People-,72%20percent%20of%20people%20surveyed%20said%20they%20lied%20on%20their,are%20the%20most%20common%20fibs&text=ResumeBuilder.com%20surveyed%201%2C250%20Americans,education%20and%20years%20of%20experience.

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