IQ Tests, Aptitude Tests, Personality Profiles: Do They Really Lead to Better Hires?

By BLR Founder and Publisher Bob Brady

Preemployment Testing: BLR’s founder discusses whether it actually does lead to better hires.

In the last 30 years, I’ve hired a lot of people as BLR has grown from an idea to its present 250 employees. Hiring people is about the hardest thing to get right that there is. Interviews, resumes, recommendations are all helpful, but it is still so darn difficult to make good decisions. Anything that can add another shred of evidence is welcome, in my book.

If you lined up 10 HR professionals, you would probably get 10 different answers to the question, “Should we use employment tests?” And their CEO’s would probably give 10 different answers. (Since I’m both an HR professional and a CEO, I feel entitled to throw barbs at both.) In my opinion, tests are a very good thing, well worth their modest cost.

I was first introduced to the granddaddy of employment tests, the venerable Wonderlic test, back in the early 1970s, when it was the subject of considerable litigation. Several employers were accused of using the test to discriminate against minorities. For the most part, the test was found not to discriminate, provided that it is used for its intended purpose and that certain procedural practices are followed.

I was curious about the test and, on investigation, found that it is a quick, remarkably simple and easy-to-administer instrument that gives a very reliable indicator of a person’s “cognitive ability” (similar to, but not exactly “IQ”). At BLR, we’ve used it for decades as part of our screening process, and it has proven to be a very effective way to take some of the risk out of hiring.

The Wonderlic has a fascinating history, related to me by Charlie Wonderlic, grandson of the founder/author. Grandfather Wonderlic was a trained psychologist who, during the Great Depression, found himself working for a savings and loan company. He had to hire numerous clerical people, so he devised a simple test that would help him evaluate their employability. As a trained social scientist, he kept meticulous records of people’s scores and their success as employees, thereby “validating” the test. Eventually, he quit the savings and loan industry and founded the company that bears his name today.

Many managers are reluctant to use tests because of concerns about their legality and their validity. Those are serious issues that have to be investigated and resolved, but there is almost universal agreement that tests are a great way to get underneath the surface veneer of an applicant and find things out before making a hiring mistake. We use a personality profile that helps us assess such things as whether an applicant has sales or supervisory aptitude. We also do drug testing of all applicants, and we have some specialized tests for positions such as proofreading, where a unique skill is essential.

The legal regulations governing tests are not that complex. You can get a primer on these rules, for both state and federal jurisdictions, in our products “What to Do About Personnel Problems [in Your State] and HR.BLR.com (which includes analysis of state and federal regulations for all 50 states plus D.C.).

My e-pinion: If you’re not yet using them, put these tests to the test. They might just work out for you.

Agree? Disagree? Use the Share Your Comments button and put your “e-pinions” to the test.

  • andyk78499

    I have been subject to testing many times and to great extents, including the Wonderlic. I agree with what you have written for most candidates, however, there are a certain number including me who become skilled at such tests and whose scores, since those may be included in norms, may bias standards for others.

    For example, when I took the Wonderlic at a company where I was interviewing, I scored 49 out of 50. As you point out, the questions on the Wonderlic are relatively simple. And, it is a speed test. I would attribute a good deal of my score to simply having developed testing skills over the years, not to any other innate ability different from people.

    Also, as you further point out, tests are not perfectly predictable. I once worked for a firm that used an hours long battery of tests (everything except the MMPI) plus a lengthy interview with a staff PhD psychologist. Even with this, occassionally some one would test out as a potential super star only to fail dramatically when it came to doing the work they were hired to do.

    There even exists an old book by Martin Gross that explains all the standard tests, what the tests look for, and how to take them to appear to be what you want.

    Andy Klemm

  • Carljazz1

    As an educator and practitioner in the HR profession, I agree with Klemm.

    Some employment tests can be valid indicators of performance, however in the short term. A test cannot and will not ‘predict’ either personality or future/long term performance. If they could, it would be telling us that people cannot change.

    Thank you,

    Carl Jaskolski

  • rwatring

    I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Brady. I have been in HR since 1969 and have seen sweeping changes in the way HR goes about assessing talent. When I entered the field, I believed that the greatest value we provided was the ability to predict whether or not a person would be successful in a position. Unfortunately, I fear HR has given up on that challenge. With tests, you can at least determine if a person has the aptitude to learn and perform certain tasks. By using personality tests, you can see how well a person will relate to your customers and others in your organization. Using values test, you can see if a person’s value system is in line with the goals of the organization. By using ‘honesty’ tests you can actually predict ethical behavior and can predict the degree to which a person will ‘fit’ into a company’s culture. By using ‘motivation’ or interest tests, you can determine if the candidate has more than a passing interest in the kind of work you are offering.

    HR professionals must be experts at talent identification and candidate selection. HR needs to be able to predict future successful performance. To do this, we need as many selection tools as can be validated.

  • politics*

    Our company is seeking to hire an internal applicant for a HR Business Analyst Position. To assess the potential candidate’s skills, an assessment test was designed to determine if the desired candidate could take a set of raw data, based on a particular situation, and produce a meaningful report for Senior Management. To perform this test you had to be familiar with Microsoft Excel. Four people applied for the job. When they learned that an assessment test would be given, they were outraged. One applicant withdrew her name. I was quite surprised at the negative reaction to an assessment test. Out of the 3 candidates who took the test, 2 have degrees in Finance and Accounting, not one of them did well on the test. In one case, even though the applicant had all the information he needed to complete the report, he made up his own numbers? The one who performed the worse, who works in HR, went to her supervisor and complained and was approved today to go to the next stage in the process. Go figure. This was an eye opening experience for me.