Should you scrap candidate screening tests?

April 7, 2021

Candidate screening tests can be a good way to remove unqualified applicants from your recruitment pipeline early on in the hiring process. But not everybody is convinced that they’re always helpful. Should you be using screening tests as part of your hiring process?

Plenty of candidate screening tests to choose from

One thing you’ll never struggle with when it comes to candidate screening tests, is having enough to choose from. There are dozens of test types, each with hundreds of testing methods – it’s a struggle to know which, if any, is right.

So let’s start by looking at some of the basic types of test that exist:

  1. Personality-based screening. In an age where soft skills are becoming more important than ever, employers are increasingly turning to variations of personality tests, to try to find the right cultural match for their teams. Whether you’re looking for extroverts or introverts, reds greens or blues, personality testing – in theory – helps you to predict how an individual might behave in a professional setting.
  2. Cognitive-based screening. Some employers believe that it is important to hire employees who score well on intelligence-style tests, as a measure of their cognitive ability. For example, how quickly they can recognise patterns, solve puzzles, or position shapes. Of course, the most common argument to this, is that IQ-style tests don’t often tell you much about how well a person can do a particular job.
  3. Competence-based screening.  Many employers will ask candidates to sit through a screening test relating directly to their skillset, or to the job they will be expected to perform. For example, a programmer might be asked to do a coding test, to ensure they know the stuff they claim to know.

Screening tests can be found at all stages of the recruitment process. Often, HR will look to place them at the application phase, as a way of getting rid of time-wasters and saving time manually screening. But some types of screening will likely be more suitable at a later stage, for selected candidates – especially tests relating directly to the job role, or expensive screening services which charge on a per-applicant basis.

Screening to hire for your culture

Some advocates of candidate screening tests say it’s a great way to work out whether or not a new employee is likely to fit in with your existing culture. This, in turn can raise the overall quality of your workforce.

A while back, I spoke to business coach Stacy Caprio, who told me that personality-type tests can help you determine a good culture-fit.

“They allow you to see how someone will approach work and relationships in a work environment, in ways they may not tell you in the interview” she explains.

But while many employers advocate the benefits of personality and ‘soft skill’ testing, there’s an argument to be made that it creates unnecessary bias.

Do candidate screening tests cause unnecessary bias?

When you’re asking a candidate to complete a screening test before you’ve even met them, then you may well be causing perpetuated bias. After all, your interpretation of what test results mean, may not be an accurate measure. And you may find yourself shunning people who would have been a great fit.

This is why, according to some experts, candidate screening tests “stunt diversity of thought”. But that’s not the only area where unnecessary bias can exist with screening assessments.

You see, some recruiters report that candidates attempt to provide the answers that they think the hiring manager is looking for, instead of providing a true reflection of themselves. This can not only be misleading in the case of the individual applicant, but it can further skew data for future applicants using the same testing system.

Potential barrier to entry

Another consideration with any type of screening test, is that they may limit the number of applicants actually making it through your pipeline. It’s a simple game of numbers – and the more resistance you apply in the earlier phases, the fewer numbers you’ll get at the later stages.

This of course can be a good thing or a bad thing. After all, the idea of screening tests in the first place is to weed out unqualified candidates. But in a candidate-driven marketplace – one where there are more jobs than applicants – you probably want to remove as many barriers to entry as you can get away with.

Of course, it’s hard to say whether or not we’re still in a candidate-driven marketplace. The effects of covid-19 are still settling in, but it certainly feels as if there are more job-seekers than vacancies right now. So perhaps employers can afford to be more picky.

Apply the three-question rule before you decide

If you’re wondering whether or not candidate screening tests are a good idea for your own recruitment efforts, then these three questions might help you decide:

  1. How many other companies want to hire the same person?
  2. Are they competing in the same geographical area?
  3. Are you offering significantly better salary or benefits?

If you have the upper hand, you may wish to apply some cautious screening to your process. Of course, remember that geography is less of a restriction in the current climate – and will likely remain that way in the future. Organisations are realising that they can hire employees from anywhere in the country, now that they’ve got used to the reality (and benefits) of managing a remote workforce.

Want to improve recruitment? People HR’s applicant tracking system helps you attract and retain top talent.

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