Using Tests to Work

Tests are widely used by employers. For example, about 41% of companies the American management Association surveyed tested applicants for basics skills, defined as the ability to read instructions, write reports, and do arithmetic adequate to perform common workplace tasks. However some testing has actually fallen off a bit. For example, 67.6% of the respondents require employees to take job skills tests in 2002, down from 70.6% in 1999. About 29% of the respondents required some form of psychological measurement in 2001, versus 33% in 2000, 33.4% in 1999.

Tests are not just for lower level workers For example consultants McKinsey & Co., flew 54 MIT MBA students to Miami for two days of multiple choice business knowledge tests, case oriented case studies, and interviews. Barclays Capital gives graduate and undergraduate job candidates aptitude tests instead of first round interviews. In general, as work demands increase (as represented by increasing skill requirements, training, and pay) employers tend to rely more on testing methods in the selection process.

Employers don’t use tests just to find good employees; they also use them to screen out bad ones. This can be important. By some estimates, 75% of employees have stolen from their employers at least; 33% to 75% have engaged in behaviors such as theft, vandalism, and voluntary absenteeism almost 25% say they’ve had knowledge of illicit drug use among co-workers, and 7% of a sample of employees reported being victims of physical threats. Occupational fraud and abuse reportedly cost US employers about $400 billion annually, or about nine dollars per day per employee or 6% of annual revenues. No wonder prudent employers test their applicants.

Testing isn’t just for large employers. For example Outback Steakhouse (which now has 45,000 employees) began using pre-employment tests in 1991 just two years after the company started. The testing is apparently quite successful. While turnover rates for hourly employees may reach 200% in the restaurant industry, Outback’s turnover ranges from 40 to 60%. Out back is looking for employees who are highly social, meticulous sympathetic and adaptable and uses a test to screen out applicants who don’t follow the Outback culture. This personality assessment test is part of a three step pre-employment interview process. Applicants take the test, and managers then compare the candidates’ results to the profile for Outback Steakhouse employees. Those score low on certain traits (like compassion) don’t move to the next step. Those who do, move on to be interviewed by two managers. The latter focus on behavioral questions such as, What would you do if a customer asked for a side dish we don’t have on the menu?

Tests come from test publishers, who provide various services to facilitate the testing process. One service is automated scoring and test interpretation. Some tests, such as the 16 PF personality profile, must be professionally scored and interpreted. The 16 PF is a 187 item personality profile psychologists use to measure management characteristics including creativity, independent, leadership, and self control. Wonderlic, Inc. lets an employer administer the 16 PF. The employer then faxes or mails the answer sheet to Wonderlic which scores the candidate’s profile and mails or faxes back the interpretive report in one day. Today, psychologists also easily score many psychological tests, including the MMPI personality, online or using interpretive Window based software.

Computer Interactive Testing:

Computerized testing is increasingly replacing conventional paper and pencil and manual tests. In a large manufacturing company, researchers developed a computerized testing procedure for the selection of clerical personnel. They constructed eight test components to represent actual work performed by secretarial personnel, such as maintaining and developing database and spreadsheets, answering the telephone, filing and handling travel arrangements. For the word processing test, applicants had three minutes (Monitored by the computer) to type as much of a letter as possible; the computer recorded and corrected the manuscript. For the travel expense form completion task, applicants had to access the database file, use some of the information in it to compute quarterly and transfer this information to the travel expense form.

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