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To Test Or Not to Test? A Guide to Pre-employment Aptitude and Psychological Testing – Wendy Ferguson

A Commentary by Wendy Ferguson – BHRLR, CPHR

Technological advancements in the HR realm provide today’s employers with powerful tools whereby they can obtain personal and confidential information about potential employees. It’s now commonplace for employers to require prospective employees to take pre-employment aptitude and/or psychological tests. ‘Psychometric tests’ are meant to measure individuals’ mental capabilities and behavioural style and supposedly predict future work behaviour and suitability. Sure, this type of screening is permitted in certain circumstances ̶ when the test is to measure the individual’s true ability to perform real job requirements. Otherwise, it is prohibited and grounds for discrimination.

I can comment personally on at least two recent instances where I encountered what I would consider to be questionable pre-employment testing practices. 1) A Canadian-based organization sought me out for an HR management role based in a remote northern BC location. After the initial discussion, the recruiter wanted to immediately schedule interview 2 and 3, but indicated that after interview 2, I should expect 6 hours of psychological testing, consisting of 4 hours of online testing and 2 hours in person with their company psychologist. It was “standard company practice”, she said. Dumbfounded as to why their candidates were required to endure 6 hours of intense psychological assessment, I politely declined. Unsurprisingly, a year later they were still advertising for the role. 2) I came across another global organization that conducted pre-employment personality testing with the goal of balancing 4 personality types amongst their teams. One leader disclosed to me that even when she felt that she had a star candidate for her job openings, she felt pressured by her company’s mandated practice to select a candidate from the “right” personality box, rather than the candidate’s skill set and past experience for the job. It’s disconcerting and I expect this to be a growing problem given technological advancements.

Proponents claim that psychometric testing measures a candidate’s suitability for a role and that information collected can identify hidden characteristics of candidates that may be difficult to extract from an in-person interview. There are equally just as many sceptics when it comes to psychometric testing. Many adversaries will say the tests are not a reliable indicator of future job performance…that they are a waste time, money and company resources and they have no place in modern hiring practice. Validity is of primary concern, because if the test is not tailored to each specific job in the organization then it isn’t accurately reflecting the needs of that role and that is where an employer can get into trouble.

Employers must tread very carefully in this area because of our strict privacy and Human Rights law. The aptitude requirements MUST be based upon the qualities and abilities directly required for the specific job. Prior to conducting any pre-testing, I recommend carefully considering:

1) Is the type of pre-employment testing permissible under Human Rights legislation?
2) Assuming it is, can the employer establish a valid and useful relationship between testing results and the genuine functions of the job in question?
3) Does the pre-employment test contain any employment equity barriers?

Alberta Human Rights legislation states, “A personality test or psychological examination may screen out a candidate with a mental disability. Such testing is not acceptable unless the employer can demonstrate that the disability would prevent an applicant from performing the key duties of the job.” The Human Rights Act goes on to say that employers are responsible for protecting the privacy of all testing information and that normally it is not necessary to share a new employee’s test results with his/her direct supervisors.

Any employer utilizing psychometric testing not only runs the risk of making a hiring decision based on unreliable or irrelevant information, but open themselves up to a Human Rights violation claim. Again, in order for this form of testing to be legal, an employer must be able to show that the test results relate to the exact requirements of the specific job. If that can be accomplished, then by all means proceed. Otherwise you are wasting your resources and putting your organization at risk. I highly recommend considering your current practices and acquainting yourself with the Alberta Human Rights Act or contacting their offices for further information.



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