Hack Your HR: 5 Key Pre-Hire Tests for Employee Success

Know who you are inviting into your business.
Hack Your HR: 5 Key Pre-Hire Tests for Employee Success
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I’m a car guy. I’ve owned all types, from the latest-and-greatest to classics. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it's this: what a car looks like gives no indication of how a car runs. You need to look under the hood, or you’re setting yourself up to buy a lemon.

The same is true when hiring new employees. Maybe even more so.

After 16 years of running my own business, one truth has emerged -- you need to “pop the hood” on your prospective employees before hiring them, and adding tests into the screening process is the best way I’ve found to do it.

We’re not running people through a gauntlet of the famous “Google tests,” where we ask them how they would escape a blender if they were shrunk to the size of a nickel. These are time-tested personality and knowledge tests that directly apply to the work they’ll be doing if hired. Our company exists at the intersection of clothing and tech, so our employees always wear multiple hats. Thus, it’s crucially important we gauge a candidate’s abilities before making a hire. 

Related: 6 Easy Ways to Attract Your Perfect Hire

Our assessments are not just a test drive, they’re a 100-point inspection. While some companies will usher candidates through layer after layer of interviews, we incorporate pre-selection testing into our hiring process. These tests total about 90 minutes for senior hires. It's not a huge investment of time, and when comparing the time to complete and review the tests versus the negative impact that even one bad hire can have on your whole business, it makes perfect sense. The time investment from all parties is effectively put to use.

If you’re not currently utilizing testing or standardized assessments with your prospective hires, here’s a rundown to get you started, along with some reasons why I think it’s the only way to fly if you’re a business owner or hiring decision maker. Not every candidate gets every type of test; the mix is tailored to the role.

1. Work style/personality testing.

From the Myers-Briggs personality tests (standard amongst college guidance counselors and beyond) to the DiSC Profile (my favorite), there are a variety of different tests that help work out a potential hire’s personality and work style. This is helpful in broad strokes. If you are hiring an accountant, but their profile indicates that they are not process-oriented and they place a low priority on attention to detail -- well, you can see how that might work out.

Likewise, if the new hire will be joining an established team, you need to see how the team dynamic will be affected by the new personality being introduced. Work style profiling like the DiSC gives you a quick -- and shockingly accurate -- read on how people will approach their job if they’re hired.

2. General aptitude.

This is probably the most controversial type of testing since it’s something that everyone has done many times, but probably hasn’t done in a long time. Aptitude testing is indeed a measure of “smarts.” It’s not necessarily an IQ test, but if you’re hiring for a dynamic position with lots of details and moving parts, you may want to look into some aptitude testing to make sure that your potential hire will be able to handle the workload and accomplish the tasks. It’s not fair to set them, or yourself, up for failure when a simple assessment can give you clues to their level of performance before you sign the dotted line.

Related: Here's How to Interview Employees, and Find the Perfect Fit

3. Specific skill assessments.

If the job is all about Excel, give the Excel test. If the job is all about Photoshop, give the Photoshop test. You’ll need to take these results with a grain of salt since sometimes they will ask obscure questions -- not operational questions -- about software. One of the biggest red flags is finding incongruity. For example, if someone is a self-professed Excel genius but flunks the basic Excel skills assessment, it could mean they had a bad day, or it could mean there is a fundamental misrepresentation. Better to know that before they’ve been on the payroll for two months, and your books are shot to hell, right?

Bottom line: if a candidate says they’re an expert at X, this is the simplest way to prove it in a short amount of time without someone sitting over their shoulder and watching them work.

4. Customized testing.

At SCOTTeVEST we have a job position we refer to as an “Implementer.” We consider it a big compliment to refer to someone as an Implementer, since that’s the core of our business. It’s a multi-faceted position where the key skill is the ability to just figure it out. We devised an “Implementer Test” to quickly assess a broad base of skills and see if a candidate has the ability to adapt, work in multiple disciplines and think on their feet. The specifics of our test may not make sense at every other company, but developing your own custom test can definitely help your hiring process by gaining insights into a candidate’s adaptability or other soft skills.

5. Observational testing.

Once a candidate applies for a job, they’re under the microscope. Typos in resumes, being late for interviews, etc., are all bad. In my company, we think of the process of interacting with candidates as observational testing. Does it take two days to reply to an email? Not a good sign. Are questions we ask not fully or directly answered? Communication skills are suspect.

Yes, candidates are being judged, graded and bucketed based on how they interact at every step. The “wrong” candidates get caught up in this. The “right” candidates don’t even notice, because they’re the right candidates.

Related: Hiring Tip: Ask About the Candidate, Don't Talk About the Position

Whatever flavor of testing, assessment or pre-hire screening you undertake for your company, know that it helps. It helps give your HR team more data points about a candidate. It helps you to get a better sense of who you are inviting into your “home.” It helps you dodge bullets. It helps you sleep better knowing that even if an employee doesn’t work out, you did your due diligence and have some new ideas about how to screen better the next time.

While not all companies or roles need to have a full battery of tests as part of their interview and selection process, the more pieces of the puzzle you can discover before hiring, the better. You already use metrics, data points and purposeful experimentation in your advertising, marketing and financial forecasting, so why not in your hiring?

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