HR Tip of the Week

Posted on  |  Hiring and onboarding

Pre-Employment Tests: The Benefits and Risks

Pre-Employment Tests

The costs of a bad hire are high. To help make better hiring decisions, some employers use pre-employment tests to further evaluate job applicants. These tests are designed to assess a candidate’s skills and suitability for the position. Common pre-employment tests include:

  • Cognitive tests - assess reasoning, memory, perceptual speed and accuracy, math skills, reading comprehension, or knowledge of a particular function or job.
  • Physical agility tests - measure applicants’ strength and stamina by asking them to perform actual or simulated job tasks (e.g. moving a 50 pound piece of equipment).
  • Personality tests - measure the degree to which a person has certain traits or dispositions (e.g. dependability, cooperativeness).
  • Drug tests - determine whether an applicant recently used illegal drugs.
  • Job simulations - assess performance and aptitude on particular tasks (e.g. testing how many words per minute an administrative assistant can type).

Whether you are considering using pre-employment tests, or have already incorporated them into your hiring process, here are some points to consider:

Nondiscrimination Considerations:

Your pre-employment testing must comply with all applicable federal, state, and local nondiscrimination laws. This means you may not design or use the tests to discriminate against applicants on the basis of a protected characteristic (race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age or another protected class).

  • Be consistent. All similarly situated applicants should be subject to the same tests. For example, if physical agility is essential to perform the job, you should test both male and female applicants applying for the position.
  • Assess impact. Employment tests should be job-related and consistent with business necessity, and generally should not disproportionately exclude applicants in a protected class. If your selection process screens out a protected group, determine whether there is another test available that would be equally effective in predicting job performance without excluding the protected class.
  • Validate tests. Before implementing pre-employment tests, it’s a best practice to validate the tests for the positions and purposes for which you plan to use them (see the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures for information on validating tests). Review tests when job requirements change to ensure continued validity.

Reasonable Accommodation Requirements:

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and similar state laws, applicants with a disability may require a reasonable accommodation during pre-employment testing in order to have an equal opportunity to be considered for a job. For example, an otherwise qualified individual with a sight-related disability may need to take a written test in an alternative format, such as in large print, or may need a reader, in order to have the same opportunity to apply for the position.

Special Considerations for Pre-Employment Drug Tests:

Drug testing is regulated by federal and state laws. Typically, employers wait until after they have extended a conditional offer of employment and applicants consent to the testing as a condition of employment. Make sure your drug testing program complies with all applicable laws. Even if your company isn’t subject to specific requirements, it is a best practice to follow the guidelines established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The SAMHSA guidelines can be found here.

Remember that results of the testing may be considered personal health information, and you should take into account all confidentiality and privacy issues when sharing and storing any drug test results.

Special Considerations for Personality Tests:

Use caution when designing personality tests and make sure your tests are not used to discriminate against applicants with mental disabilities or another protected characteristic. If you use personality tests, determine the personality traits necessary for the job and design a test that can accurately measure candidates in those areas.

Some personality tests may have the ability to identify a medical condition, such as mental illness. If so, these tests are subject to the ADA’s medical exam restrictions and you must wait until after you have extended a conditional offer of employment before administering such tests. Keep in mind your obligations to maintain confidentiality of the test results.

In addition, some states prohibit and others restrict employers from using honesty and integrity tests when making hiring decisions. Under federal and many state laws, most employers are prohibited from subjecting applicants to a polygraph test. State law may also prohibit certain questions on privacy grounds. In general, you should not use personality tests as your only gauge when making hiring decisions.


Use care when designing and administering pre-employment tests and understand the benefits and risks. Never pull something off the Internet and use it in your hiring process without first evaluating whether it is appropriate for your company and for the specific job. Prior to implementing pre-employment testing, consult legal counsel as needed.

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