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.

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