Pre-Employment Assessment Tests

Companies searching for top intern and entry-level talent in large urban centers such as New York sometimes find pre-employment assessment tests and exercises helpful in this age of talent scarcity. These tools can help ensure that candidates have the right skills, knowledge, experience and aptitude for an internship or open position, but do have limitations and challenges.

Knowledge and Skills Tests

The most common types of assessments include standardized tests to suss out skills and evaluate technical or theoretical knowledge. For example, an accountant candidate may be asked about basic accounting principles and expected to solve a problem in a mathematical context. An entry-level software engineer may be asked to complete a coding exercise and an art consultant might be given a design test. These tests are especially useful for jobs that require specialized knowledge and high levels of expertise.

But where interns are concerned, these sorts of job knowledge tests don’t consider motivation and learning ability. What if an internship candidate is a fast learner, can easily pick up skills and adjust quickly to new knowledge and ideas? You won’t discover THAT from a standardized test. On the flip side, a candidate may know a lot of information but have difficulty adjusting to new knowledge and processes. There is often a gap between acquired knowledge and the ability to apply it.

The Aptitude Test

The tests to indicate if someone has the aptitude to do a specific job have proven to be more effective in predicting a candidate’s job ability than interviews, or even past work experience. These can measure verbal reasoning, logical reasoning, problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making ability.

The Institute of Psychometric Coaching has numerical, logical, abstract, verbal and mechanical aptitude tests. The free tests offered online are not tailored to the specific job or internship you’re trying to fill, and if you want to drill deeper for a customized assessment test, you can do that, too, or develop your own like digital marketing firm Folio3 or art consultancy KBFA.

But standardized test demos are a great way to get acclimated to the process if you’ve never taken or administered an assessment test.

Writing and Editing Exercises

While these are not referred to as tests, asking an intern or entry-level candidate to complete a writing and editing exercise is an effective way to get a sense of written business communication skills. Companies can give candidates a podcast link and ask them to write a one-page summary of what the podcast was about and can be administered in an office or completed remotely. These exercises take about an hour and can show how clearly someone synthesizes and presents information in writing.

A Few Challenges and Cautions

With a variety of new screening tools and technology available to HR professionals, assessment tests can help minimize hiring risk and help identify candidates that are a potential match for an internship, open position and the organization. But pre-employment tests need to be selected and monitored with care to avoid litigation, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

While the tests are legal, testing clearly presents risks. Claims of discrimination have resulted in numerous lawsuits related to personality testing under the ADA, Title VII and the ADEA. Discriminatory tests that promote “disparate treatment” or “disparate impact” intentionally (and unlawfully) weed out candidates based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. For example, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a physical agility test intentionally designed to screen out female applicants has a disparate impact. And a personality test that intrudes too far into personal, sexual or religious matters might be illegal. These should be avoided at all costs!

Know the Questions; Take Your Own Tests! suggests that if hiring managers use assessment tests to narrow down an applicant pool, they should be familiar with the questions on these tests. Better yet, they should take the test and see how they fare! You don’t want the tests to become an out-of-sight, out-of-mind tool. With unemployment at an 18-year low, employers are struggling to find talent, and job and internship seekers are being selective about where they apply. If the tests have questions that are irrelevant to the position or become too time-consuming or lengthy, jobseekers may exit out of the test and look to the next potential employer. offers great advice about keeping candidates interested throughout the application and assessment process.

As Robert Sher, Founder of CEO to CEO and a Forbes Contributor notes, tests confirm that a candidate has the basic skills required and are designed to validate claims made during the application or interview process. He advocates a four-step process for HR to recognize candidates who excel at interviewing but are skills-deficient AND to really zoom in on diamonds-in-the-rough who struggle in an interview setting.

The U.S. Department of Labor also has a published guide to help employers think through a host of topics related to the quality, reliability and validity of pre-employment tests. And offers more resources and information about the legality of pre-employment tests, as well as test demos.

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