Why cognitive ability test is increasingly becoming important for pre-employment screening?


Pre-employment screening is an important process while hiring a suitable candidate for a particular job role. In this process the recruiters or the organization verifies the information which the candidates have supplied through their applications and resumes or CVs. In pre-employment screening, recruiters use different tests, tools, methods, activities or tasks to verify the information and learn more about the candidates and their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and how suitable they are for the position or job the organization has to offer them. Pre-employment screening till now primarily consisted of administering some IQ or knowledge tests, resume screening, and requiring candidates to do some job-related tasks to assess their skills. However, the trends are now changing. Today, in the modern world of technological advancement marked by changing working environments, cognitive ability tests which help assess a candidate’s ability to adjust to change and other important competencies are also becoming increasingly important part of the pre-employment screening tools. 

General cognitive ability ‘g’ is the “ability that consistently differentiates individuals on mental abilities regardless of the cognitive task or test” (Jensen, 1998). General cognitive ability is often referred to as general intelligence. This general intelligence is also known as g-factor and is a construct made up of different cognitive abilities. It is what is common or underlies all mental abilities or skills such as those related to spatial, verbal, numerical and mechanical abilities. Cognitive ability has also been defined as “general mental capability involving reasoning, problem solving, planning, abstract thinking, complex idea comprehension, and learning from experience” (Gottfredson, 1997). 

Cognitive ability tests are also called mental agility tests and often measure various aspects of general intelligence. Cognitive ability tests are tests which measure or assess abilities related to thinking or the thought process such as reasoning, perception, memory, verbal ability, mathematical ability, abstract thinking, speed of thought, problem-solving and decision-making. Cognitive ability tests are increasingly becoming important for pre-employment screening because these tests help in estimating an individual’s potential to use mental processes, to solve problems in the workplace and the agility to learn and acquire new knowledge at work. Cognitive ability tests give reliable results and are a good predictor of job performance and training success for a variety of work profiles. They assess how well a potential candidate can adapt to change and solve complex problems related to work. Cognitive ability tests help recruiters assess a potential candidate’s attention span and how well the candidate can focus on the job and commit to work.

Cognitive ability tests are designed to measure various mental skills. These may include attention capacity of an individual and how quickly and accurately can the individual pay attention to the details while they process new information, problem-solving and critical thinking skills and how accurately can an individual solve complex and logical problems and draw conclusions, and the individual’s ability to analyze. These tests also measure an individual’s ability to make effective decisions. Many cognitive ability tests measure an individual’s numerical reasoning skills or the individual’s ability to interpret and use numerical data, spatial reasoning or the individual’s ability to understand and find reasons to different spatial relations between objects and space, and, reading comprehension or the individual’s ability to understand the key elements while going through a piece of text. 

Recruiters have understood the importance of using cognitive ability tests during pre-employment screening and have started using them increasingly in the hiring process because according to research they are brilliant predictors of job performance and success in career. Frank L. Schmidt in 1998 found that cognitive ability was the strongest predictor of job performance out of various recruitment methods including education level and qualification, job experience, knowledge and IQ tests, and interviews, both structured and unstructured. Cognitive ability tests are also important for pre-employment screening because high score of an individual on a cognitive ability test is likely to indicate higher and faster capacity of the individual to learn, and in turn, higher is the individual’s capacity to adapt to the ever-changing work environments. These tests also give important information about the ability of an individual to multi-task and handle multiple projects at a particular time.

Cognitive ability test is becoming important for pre-employment screening because it adds more clarity to the assessment process by assessing those abilities which cannot be assessed through the CV or work experience. Resumes or CVs provide information about what the individual has already achieved, but not what the individual is capable of achieving. Cognitive ability tests do not measure the individual’s knowledge of a particular subject or field; these tests rather measure how the individual thinks. It also simplifies and speeds up the process of recruitment. These tests are also cost-effective according to Frank L. Schmidt (1998), because using cognitive ability tests in the pre-employment screening helps recruiters avoid the tedious and costly process of interviewing the bulk of candidates for a particular position, and in turn, it also saves a lot of time. 

Another reason why cognitive ability test is increasingly becoming important for pre-employment screening is because cognitive ability tests help in a bias-free selection of the candidates. Often other methods of assessments like interviews and resume screenings, lead to subjective judgment or assessment of the candidate by the recruiters, whether intentionally or unintentionally. This prevents objective assessment of job-related traits and criteria. Cognitive ability tests help in objective assessment of an individual’s mental abilities and skills, which lowers the chances of recruiters being biased towards any individuals and even reduces the effects of prejudice, if any, in the process of hiring. This objective assessment of all the candidates also positively motivates the candidates towards working in the company. 
Hiring the right candidate for the job helps with job retention as well. This is because the right employee will enhance the employee’s productivity and job performance and this will benefit both the employee and the organization. Thus, this leads to better commitment towards work and also less chances of the employee being fired by the organization, and in turn the usage of the cognitive ability tests in the pre-employment screening helps with job retention of the employees. Using cognitive ability tests has also helped the recruiters make better informed decisions and that is one of the major reasons for increasing the use of these tests.

Cognitive ability tests used as part of the pre-employment screening process help with the challenges faced by the organization in the hiring of a large number of employees. According to a 2007 study by Martin Carrigan, University of Findlay published in the Journal of Business and Economic Research, the effectiveness and accuracy in choosing the right employees within the recruiting and hiring process is vital in achieving the organization’s strategic goals, as well as minimizing employer liability. As a result, pre-employment testing has shown that the results provided are crucial in the recruitment and hiring process. 
However, during the administration if the cognitive ability tests, there are some problems which are faced at times in the hiring process. The candidates can at times develop test anxiety due to non-exposure to such tests in online format. For this the candidates should be provided opportunity to get acquainted with test format and do some sample questions. Good assessments like, Predictive Index Learning Indicator test, allows the organizations to do this for candidates who are not much exposed to such assessments in past. Another concern which organizatons have is students copying answers from each other while doing the assessment. Again, there are various ways to deal with it. The way Predictive Index assessments deal with it is by ensuring that no two tests will have the same questions. The systems pulls out questions from the question bank and hence both the questions and order is changed for each assessee. Moreover because of the limited time of just 12 minutes and target of 50 questions there is not much to gain by trying to copy from someone else. Any time to spent to copy accurately will lead to loss of time and hence lesser attempts.   

Thus, to make the pre-employment screening and recruitment process more effective, it is important for the organizations to club cognitive ability tests with other skills and intelligence tests so as to get a complete assessment of the candidate’s competencies both technical and other social ones. Only using cognitive ability tests in the pre-employment screening is not the right method of screening out candidates because they do not asses the knowledge and other technical skills required for the job. Recruiters also need to clearly list out the skills required for a particular role and give an accurate job description. They then need to select the most appropriate cognitive ability score or level required for performance on the given role. A resume screening, brief introduction to the process and contacting the candidates before administering the cognitive ability tests helps break the ice and reduces anxiety. Organizations should also make an effort to use culture-fair cognitive ability tests such as Predictive Index Cognitive Test, so that the process is free from culture bias and no particular culture has an advantage over the other. 

Using cognitive ability tests are cost-effective ways to hire employees and these tests help companies save a lot of time and energy which is otherwise spent in long hiring procedures. It is important for the organizations to use cognitive ability tests in the pre-employment screening in the hiring process so as to hire candidates who are not only technically sound for the job role but also have the ability to adapt well to change and respond well to training. A good set of cognitive ability tests combined with other technical assessments help companies hire competent employees who are well suited for a particular job role, are highly productive and committed towards achieving the organization’s goals. Cognitive ability tests are thus becoming increasingly important for pre-employment screening because they help the organizations hire the best fit employees for their business, in turn enhancing the productivity of the teams to get superior outcomes.

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