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Business Basics
This Is A Test
Scott Reeves, 06.09.05, 6:00 AM ET

NEW YORK - Relax, the battery of tests your prospective employer requires are designed to assess job-related skills and won't peer into the darkest corners of your soul.

There is no way to prepare for the tests except to get a good night's sleep. Answer the questions forthrightly and let your talent shine.

"The questions on the assessments are non-threatening," says John Saterfiel, owner of Saterfiel and Associates in New Orleans. "It's always best to answer the way you honestly feel, because there are methods to check that you're giving direct answers."

Check out some examples of pre-employment test questions.

Saterfiel, who has administered tests, which he calls "assessments," for 13 years, says the process benefits both sides by matching the employer's needs with the candidate's skills and interests.

Such testing isn't cheap and in most cases is given only to candidates who have successfully jumped initial hiring hurdles. The assessments aren't like the military's aptitude tests, which are designed to quickly sort out large numbers of people for an appropriate assignment.

Employers looking for a top executive need to know the candidate's leadership ability, confidence level and interpersonal skills. A sales representative must be good at meeting people and building relationships. A candidate taking a test is presumed to have the smarts to handle the job, but the employer often uses the tests in an effort to find the right "fit."

Typically, the pre-employment tests can be completed in less than an hour, but some require 90 minutes. Most are Internet-based, but a few still use paper and pencil. Cost to the employer can range from less than $100 to $3,000 per test.

"The assessment is just one piece of the hiring puzzle," Saterfiel says. "We recommend that it comprise no more than 30% of the decision-making process."

The "Achiever" pre-employment assessment parses out mental aptitudes and personality dimensions.

The first section gauges learning, judgment, problem-solving, knowledge of basic business terms, knowledge of current events, general vocabulary, ability to handle numerically related tasks quickly and accurately, and interest in mechanical problems.

Personality dimensions assessed include energy, drive, ability to handle tension and stress, integrity, reliability, dependability, work ethic, ability to plan and use time wisely, interest in meeting and interacting with other people, self-confidence, ability to handle pressure, assertiveness, competitiveness, mental toughness, ability to ask questions and motivation.

A skill test to assess attention to detail or ability to check for errors may be given to clerical candidates, but most tests given to high-level candidates are designed to assess personality traits, not job-related knowledge.

A personality test may contain 100-300 statements and ask the candidate to mark all that apply. The test may come in two parts: How you see yourself and how others see you. It's important to note that there are no "right" or "wrong" answers, but the same question may be asked several ways to determine the truthfulness of the candidate's responses.

The same mental test can be used for prospective CEOs and truck drivers. A truck driver applicant who performs well is likely to be bored by long hours on the highway, and a CEO applicant who does poorly may have missed his calling on the loading dock.

Saterfiel says good assessments are based on a large sample size and provide accurate data for both men and women across a range of ages, backgrounds and educational levels.

A test's validity doesn't mean that it has received the stamp of approval from the government, but that it accurately measures what it sets out to gauge.

But this raises a few basic questions: What is personality? Can it be measured? If so, can it be reduced to a score? Does personality relate to job performance?

The short answer is another question: Who knows? But many employers find such testing helpful and use it as one part of the hiring process.

Don't be spooked by the tests. The ancient Greeks said there were four basic personality types: sanguine (cheerful and optimistic), choleric (hot tempered and aggressive), phlegmatic (lazy and dull) and melancholy (sad and pessimistic). There's little reason to think that today's shrinks and test writers have nailed the core of personality any more accurately than the ancient Greeks. In any case, the tests required by a prospective employer are unlikely to make or break your job prospects.

Saterfiel says that much misunderstanding stems from the failure to distinguish between clinically oriented psychological tests and pre-employment assessments.

"The employer seeks to assess overall potential," he says. "This is a two-way street: The employer has to be satisfied with the prospective employee, and the candidate has to be satisfied with the company."

So, if the pre-employment test seems silly or intrusive, keep sending out resumes.

View some examples of pre-employment test questions.

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