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Pre-Employment Tests, Interview Skills & Hiring

By Michael Mercer, Ph.D.
Jul 26, 2007, 15:55

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You readily can use pre-employment tests and work simulations to hire job applicants with enough intelligence be productive employees.  This helps you reach your goal to assess job applicants so you can decide which one will be fantastic employees who are

+  Productive

+  Profitable

+  Dependable




I bet you hired some job applicants who had all the behaviors you sought.  They turned you on in the interview.  They had the right interpersonal skills, personality traits, and motivations.  You felt excited to hire the applicant with many great behaviors. 


But – after that new employee worked for your company for about 2 weeks – you realized the person had the IQ of tire pressure!


That very nice person did not have the brains to

1.  learn the job

2.  correctly handle problems and situations on-the-job


Oops!   At that moment, you thought to yourself, “When they passed out brains, that nice person forgot to stand in line!”




You can avoid making such hiring blunders.  You simply need to

*  find out how smart your successful employees are

*  hire job applicants as smart as your successful employees



The best ways to predict if a job candidate possesses the intelligence level needed to do a job are

>  Pre-employment tests

>  Work simulations


The easiest – and most customizable – way to predict an applicant’s brainpower is to have the applicant take mental ability tests.  In my 20+ years of research and experience, I found five crucial mental abilities the tests should measure: 

1.  Problem-Solving

2.  Vocabulary

3.  Arithmetic

4.  Grammar, Spelling & Word Use

5.  Handling Small Details


In fact, large-scale meta-analytic research on hiring methods found mental abilities tests had the highest correlation for correctly predicting if an applicant can do a good job.  Behavior tests also predict well, according to the research.  So, an efficient, easily customizable way to help you hire the best is for applicants to answer both (a) mental abilities tests plus (b) behavior tests.


You also can add an additional job skills evaluation method called work simulations. 




Since it takes about four years to research and validate a highly useful pre-employment test, you are best to start by using an already created test.  Then, your goal is to find out what test scores your successful employees get on the test.  After all, you want to hire applicants who have the same amount of intelligence as your best employees in each job. 


Beware:  Some people tell you to use “national norms.”  That makes little sense.  “National norms” foolishly are based on who-knows-what quality of employees – not only top performers.  Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to test your company’s successful employees in 15 – 25 minutes?  Then, you will discover “benchmark” test scores customized for your company’s successful employees.  After all, those are your best employees, and you need to hire applicants with similar qualities.


After you do the “benchmarking study,” you then can have job applicants answer the same mental ability tests.  When a candidate gets test scores similar to your successful employees, that applicant has the brains to do the job.  You can seriously consider that person.


However, an applicant who gets test scores different than your best employees is someone who may not have the needed brainpower.  You probably want to throw their application or resume in the garbage, and then find someone better.




Many managers incorrectly assume they should hire only highly intelligent employees.  What a monstrous mistake!  Instead, focus on hiring applicants who get test scores similar to test scores of your best employees in each job. 


Keep this in mind:  (A) Few jobs require high levels of intelligence, for instance, executive positions and jobs needing super-smart people.  (B) Some jobs need average intelligence levels, for example, many professional and mid-management jobs.  (C) Most jobs require only a below-average to average level of intelligence. 


The book “The Bell Curve” presented hundreds of pages on research proving this point.  Summary:  Intelligence is on a bell curve – with some people below-average, some average, and some above-average.  Each job requires a person with intelligence at a certain point on the bell curve.  


For example, my research on pre-employment tests prove most productive factory workers have only below-average to average intelligence.  My research also shows most executives score very high on mental abilities tests.  Think about it:  Would you take a productive factory worker and offer that person an executive job?


The reverse also is true.  You should not take an applicant who scores super-high on the intelligence pre-employment tests, and put that brilliant person into a low-level job requiring low intelligence test scores.  If you did that, the brilliant employee would feel bored within two months!  The highly intelligent person will fit better in jobs intelligence at the high end of the bell curve. 




First, see which applicants score similar to your successful employees on the mental ability tests and behavior tests, plus impress you in interviews.  Then, you know which applicants you may seriously consider hiring.  Then, you can do a work simulation.


In a work simulation, you can see if an applicant can do key job skills.  Make sure they are job skills you definitely want the applicant to have before you possibly hire the person. 


Here are examples of work simulations I customized for companies I consult to.

+  Sales Rep applicants – role-play a sales call on a prospective customer

+  Driller applicants – take pile of items on ground and efficiently stack items on pick-up truck

+  Project Manager applicants – design project management plan plus give presentation on it

+  Customer Service Rep applicants – handle simulated calls from customers

+  Secretary/Assistant applicants -- type, make spreadsheets and do online searches


Importantly, keep the work simulation very similar to the real work the applicant would do, if hired.  Make a rating sheet to assess how well (or poorly) the applicant did on work simulations. 




Remember:  Your goal is to hire the best.  To succeed, you need to hire applicants who get

1.  mental abilities test scores similar to your best employees’ test scores

2.  behavior test scores similar to your best employees’ scores

3.  excellent ratings on work simulations of key job skills


You often find it tough to locate job applicants who do well on all three crucial forecasts.  But, it is tougher, time-consuming and expensive if you hire a second-rate employee who does not have enough intelligence to be a fabulous.  So, make sure you hire applicants who are intelligent enough to be productive, profitable, and dependable employees.



© Copyright 2007 Michael Mercer, Ph.D.,



Michael Mercer, Ph.D., is nationally recognized as a pre-employment testing and hiring expert.  Dr. Mercer created the “Abilities Forecaster™ Test” and “Behavior Forecaster™ Test” which many companies use to hire the best.  His five books include “Hire the Best – & Avoid the Rest” and “Turning Your HR Dept. into a Profit Center.”  You can receive a free subscription to his Management Newsletter, plus his free 14-page Special Report on how to hire the best, at phone = (847) 382-0690 or


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