Article from

Pre-Employment Tests, Interview Skills & Hiring
By Michael Mercer, Ph.D.
Jul 6, 2009, 15:00

Companies using my pre-employment tests often ask how to decide which applicants should take the tests.  I generally respond:

1.  Do not give pre-employment tests to every applicant. 

2.  Most companies test the top 3 – 5 applicants for each job opening.


This article tells you about a quick, 15-minute method you can use to figure out which applicants you should have fill-out pre-employment tests.




Research shows pre-employment tests are the most accurate way to predict how a job applicant may perform on-the-job.  In contrast, most interviewers make incorrect and subjective judgments about job applicants.  And reference checks often prove unreliable and fail to help much.


Reasons pre-employment tests prove highly useful are tests are research-based, objective, and can be custom-tailored for each job in your company.  In sharp contrast, interviews are not created from research, horribly subjective and, thus, interviewers usually inaccurate predictions.


With this pre-employment tests able to help you, you benefit from including tests as a prediction method if you crave to hire the best.




Managers all-too-often waste immense time and energy on applicants they should not even consider. 


If pre-employment tests are not given early in the selection process, managers often make this time-wasting, energy-draining, stupid mistake:

1.  30 – 60 minutes – reviewing and thinking about applicant’s resume or application

2.  30 – 60 minutes – discussing applicant with other managers

3.  1 – 2 hours – interviewing applicant

3.  1 hour – thinking about interview

4.  1 – 2 hours – talking about interview with other managers


Total time used or wasted on one applicant = 4 – 7 hours


After investing 4 – 7 hours of expensive management time on one applicant, then the manager might decide to give pre-employment tests to the applicant.


If pre-employment test scores indicate it is a great applicant, then the manager is happy. 


But if pre-employment test scores indicate the applicant should not be hired, then the manager suddenly realizes s/he wasted 4 – 7 hours of time on an applicant who was not worth it. 


At that point, some managers feel foolish they did not test the applicant earlier, rather than wasting 4 – 7 hours considering a loser. 


But other managers get emotionally committed to hiring anyone they spend 4 – 7 hours on, despite lousy pre-employment test scores.  They fret, “I spent 4 – 7 hours on that applicant.  Plus, I don’t want to find more applicants and then spend 4 – 7 hours on them.  So, I think I’ll ‘shoot the messenger’ – that is, ignore test scores clearly indicating this applicant should not be hired.”


In either case, managers easily can avoid this quandary – plus avoid wasting 4 – 7 hours considering an applicant who is not worth considering.


How?  By giving pre-employment tests early in the hiring process, rather than late in the process.


So, the question arises:  How can a manager quickly determine which applicants they should have take pre-employment tests – before they invest 4 – 7 more hours on them?




Pre-employment tests, at most companies, are given to the top 3 – 5 applicants for each opening. 


You can use a 15-minute brief initial job interview to decide which applicant is worth testing. 


What should you ask in this 15-minute job interview?  Ask bio-data questions.  “Bio” does not refer to biology.  Instead, bio in bio-data means biographical information.  You want to ask applicants if they have bio-data similar to bio-data of your best employees.




A janitorial company asked me how it might decide which applicants should fill-out the dependability pre-employment test.  They explained the job is (A) very physical, (B) indoors, and (C) required teamwork.  Also, they felt sick and tired of wasteful turnover and absences.


I suggested they start each brief bio-data interview with a polite warning, e.g., “If we hire you, but later discover you gave dishonest information in our hiring process, then your dishonesty may be used as a reason to fire you.  Also, you need to tell me names of your boss and boss’ boss for each question I ask about your work history.  I need their names, because we may contact them to verify what you tell us.”


Remember, as I repeatedly recommend in my “Hire the Best – & Avoid the Rest” book, that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.


I recommended the cleaning company ask these bio-data questions plus more: 

1.  “What were your previous jobs?” [to see if jobs were indoors, physical, and in teams]

2.  “How long did you stay on your previous jobs?” [to look at turnover potential]

3.  “Why did you leave each job?” [to gauge turnover reasons]

4.  “How many absences did you have in your jobs?” [to check absence potential]

5.  “How much pay did you earn in each job?”


The pay question helped them focus on considering only applicants who earned less that the company pays.  Why?  Because employees who earn more than their previous job are happy with their pay, but employees earning the same or less feel dissatisfied and may turnover.


Pre-employment tests were given only to applicants who had bio-data needed to succeed at that company.  Then, if an applicant got wonderful test scores, the company proceeded to do time-consuming prediction methods, e.g., in-depth interview, background checks, job observation, and more. 




A company wanted to hire great sales reps.  I helped managers there fill-out my detailed Bio-Data Questionnaire.  I discovered the company’s best reps had bio-data in common, including (1) earned B.A.’s from state universities, (2) had only one or two full-time jobs before applying at this company, (3) those were sales jobs, (4) they stayed in each job over three years, (5) earned less at previous employer, (6) worked part-time in high school and college, and (7) other interesting bio-data. 


From this information, I created a custom-tailored brief bio-data interview.  It ascertained if an applicant had bio-data similar to the company’s best sales reps. 


Pre-employment tests were given only to applicants whose bio-data was similar to the company’s best sales reps. 


The pre-employment tests – to make hiring decisions even better – were custom-tailored so the company easily saw which applicants got the same test scores as its best sales reps.  


Applicant’s with pre-employment test scores similar to the company’s best sales reps later went through a grilling in a two-hour interview, work observations, role-play, reference checks, and more.  Those who did well on bio-data, pre-employment tests and all other prediction methods usually were offered jobs.  The result is the company now has a highly productive sales force.




Pre-employment tests should be given to your top 3 – 5 job applicants. 


Determine who takes pre-employment tests by starting with a brief, 15-minute bio-data interview.  Applicants who have bio-data similar to your best employees are the ones you have take pre-employment tests. 


When pre-employment test scores of an applicant are the same as scores of your best employees, then invest hours of your valuable management time in lengthy interviews, job observations, role-plays, reference checks, and other prediction methods.


Pre-employment tests and a 15-minute bio-data interview saves many hours of expensive management time as they help you hire the best.





Michael Mercer, Ph.D., is a highly regarded expert on (a) pre-employment tests and (b) hiring the best.  His 5 books include Hire the Best – & Avoid the Rest™.  Dr. Mercer created three pre-employment tests – tests that help companies hire outstanding employees:  (1) Abilities Forecaster™ Test, (2) Behavior Forecaster™ Test, and (3) Dependability Forecaster™ Test.  You can get – at no cost – 14-page recommendations on “How to Hire Winners” plus subscribe to his Management Newsletter at