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The Pros and Cons of Pre-employment Testing

March 1, 1997
Related Topics: Staffing and the Law, Featured Article
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homas W. Hirons, industrial sociologist, in Mansfield, Ohio, says:
"Before any organization makes a decision to use pre-employment testing, I recommend HR first examine the risks of violating the ADA, FMLA, Drug Free Workplace Act, EEO and Affirmative Action. Next, consider the reliability of the test itself, test administrator and testing vendor. Lastly, check into the real reason your organization has turned to testing. Are you concerned about group consensus or appeasing a demanding supervisor? These are extremely important considerations in the basic hiring process.

"I’ve had no problem with basic-skill pre-employment testing. Can an applicant add, subtract and spell? Is he or she PCliterate? Pre-employment testing in terms of an applicant’s character, however, is risky.

"I’ve seen groups and committees make hiring decisions solely based on pre-employment testing. In other words, group and committee dynamics were in such turmoil that members couldn’t trust their own instincts and took the easy way out in making important hiring decisions. The hiring process of any organization is a vital indicator of the organization’s decision-making process and learning ability.

"If an organization wants to make pre-employment testing just one of the tools, that’s OK. But our culture is very test-biased and testing dependent, so keeping pre-employment testing in check often is difficult. We test every type of human behavior imaginable starting from first grade. Employment hiring and workplace human behavior vary in different professional settings. Organizations that hire based on sound human resources practices that have developed over time within the organizations are much better off in the long run than with any form of pre-employment testing."

Greg Marvel, human resources director for Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District, in Oakland, California, says:
"Pre-employment testing is one of the most valuable HR tools available today. The reality is that most employers can ill afford to make the wrong choice in an employment selection, as the costs of training and investing in a new employee have skyrocketed.

"Every professional human resources position I’ve held during the last 20 years has utilized pre-employment testing to help narrow large applicant pools and differentiate between levels of knowledge and skills among candidates. As HR practitioners, we must not forget the ultimate purpose of any pre-employment test is to serve as a predictor of success on the job and provide the best candidates for our client departments.

"I always have managed recruitments with the attitude that applicants who got through one of our tests had received our ‘seal of quality,’ and that our customers (the department or work site with the vacancy) could reasonably expect final applicants could do the job.

"Of course, those of us who do pre-employment testing (whether written, oral or performance) must always remember that there must be a nexus between the duties of the job and the tests given to determine knowledge, skills and abilities.

"As the modern human resources department migrates to a strategic business partnership with its internal customers, the bottom line becomes ever more important. Some might argue that pre-employment testing is an expensive luxury that organizations can’t afford. I disagree. Each hiring decision will ultimately cost tens of thousands of dollars in salary, training and benefits. The cost of pre-employment testing is small when viewed in this light, and a successful program will ultimately bolster the bottom line of any organization."

Workforce, March 1997, Vol. 76, No. 3, p. 125.

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