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Testing Skills & Aptitudes

Administering Personality Tests

You can educate and train employees on certain skills, but you can’t teach a good attitude – which is why employers often test for personality. The right attitude can make up for shortcomings in skills, especially if the applicant’s personality fits your company’s culture. Personality tests can also alert you to potential issues and help you avoid negligent hiring lawsuits.

A word of caution, however: Administering personality tests can sometimes create legal issues, typically due to discrimination. Certain questions or wording, for example, can cause a disparate impact against applicants with mental illnesses or disorders. Other questions may involve information you shouldn’t have access to, such as religious beliefs. How you administer tests may be discriminatory against applicants with physical or learning disabilities, too. To make sure personality tests are helping your business instead of harming it, here are a few best practices to consider:

Use tests designed specifically for pre-employment screening. If you’re using a personality test that wasn’t created for employers, it may include non-compliant questions or ask for sensitive information. Instead, opt to use a personality test specifically targeted for pre-employment screening, which should avoid any inappropriate questions.
Review questions to make sure they’re not discriminatory. Questions that ask about mood swings or happiness levels could accidentally uncover an underlying mental illness such as bipolar disorder. Focus instead on situational or behavioral questions, such as, “What would you do if you caught a coworker stealing?” Ethical questions are typically safe, too. To determine if a question is inappropriate or discriminatory, ask yourself if you’d ask the question during an interview. If you wouldn’t, consider removing the question.
Administer personality tests later in the hiring process. Many large corporations ask applicants to submit personality tests with their initial application. Unless the results are critical to the position, wait until later in the hiring process – after the interview, for example – to conduct these tests. You’ll have a much broader view of candidates by then and will have other ways to evaluate them.
Test all applicants. In general, whatever application process one candidate goes through, all candidates should go through, including tests. If you want to administer a personality test for one applicant, you must administer the test for all applicants to avoid discrimination.
Make reasonable accommodations for applicants with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines strict rules for hiring and testing applicants with disabilities. As an employer, make sure you’re following these procedures and honoring any reasonable accommodations that applicants request.

Testing Candidates with Disabilities

Pre-employment testing is an important step in the hiring process. Without it, you don’t know for sure if candidates can perform at the levels they say they can. When testing applicants with disabilities, however, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

In 1990, the ADA was passed to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. Public and private employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the ADA, which applies to all stages of employment, including job application procedures and hiring. To ensure you’re meeting ADA requirements, here are some best practices for testing candidates with disabilities:

Keep it relevant to the job. Instead of testing applicants on skills they may need for the position, try to limit your tests to skills that are essential to the job. The fewer tests you administer, the lower your chances of inadvertently discriminating against anyone.
Use validated tests with verifiable results. Skill or personality tests that are designed to be pre-employment tests are typically compliant with ADA requirements. If you develop your own test, it may not be compliant. Also, only use tests with clear, verifiable results. This way, you can use the outcome to prove hiring decisions were nondiscriminatory.
If you test one applicant, test all applicants. Generally speaking, if one candidate is asked to do something, all candidates should be asked to do something, including taking tests. Picking and choosing certain applicants to test is discriminatory behavior.
Tell candidates about tests ahead of time. By informing candidates of tests beforehand, you give them time to request accommodation, if necessary. Even if applicants don’t need accommodation, they may need time to prepare in other ways, such as bringing along special glasses, hearing aids or other equipment.
Honor requests for reasonable accommodation. Unless it would cause undue hardship to your business, you are required to meet requests for reasonable accommodation. This may include altering tests so applicants with disabilities don’t have to use their impaired skills, unless the test is designed to measure that particular job-related skill. For example, it’s okay to give a timed writing test to an applicant with a learning disorder if he or she is applying to be a copywriter, which requires writing skills. The writing test would need to be altered, however, if he or she were applying for a web design position where writing would not be essential to the job.
Conduct physical tests only if absolutely essential. You may ask applicants to perform physical agility or fitness tests, but only if they are essential to the job. If you work in a warehouse, for example, employees may need to lift heavy objects occasionally, but you can only test job applicants on this ability if lifting heavy objects if a job requirement.
Only conduct medical tests or examinations after a conditional offer of employment has been made. If your business requires a medical test or examination prior to employment, you can only examine applicants with disabilities after you’ve made a conditional employment offer. You cannot perform any medical tests, including certain psychological exams, before an offer has been made.

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Shanna Wall
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Compliance Attorney, ComplyRight
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