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Pre-employment Testing Usage Up

Amy Walker has for years advised clients in eastern North Carolina about using pre employment tests to assess potential staff.

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And the use of such testing is on the rise, she says. “I have a client for whom we evaluated more than 150 positions, and we had to examine what were critical skills and the frequency of them for each position,” notes this Raleigh, N.C.-based marketing manager for the North Carolina operations of Manpower Inc. (, Milwaukee, which places temporary and contract workers.


 Some of Walker’s clients are in general manufacturing, as well as assembly, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and finance. One company she advises is Raleigh, N.C.-based Gregory Poole Equipment Co. (, a distributor of Caterpillar Inc. construction, industrial and power equipment in the eastern regions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The company, which not only sells equipment and parts but also repairs and rebuilds heavy equipment, recorded $370 million in sales in 2006. 

“We firmly believe that assessments help, in the long-term, to ensure that the best-fit candidate will be successful,” says Poole Equipment Human Resources Director Michael Cranford. The company tests the leading two or three finalists for a position at the end of the selection process, he adds.

Hire talent

How valuable are assessments to Poole? First, it helps to get talented people on the team, Cranford says. And while test results may not be the determining factor in hiring new staff, “it’s a key factor.” Indeed, in situations in which two finalists are neck and neck, it might be the tie-breaker. “If the assessment [tested] skills are better for one candidate, the stronger one would get the offer,” Cranford states.

Mainly, Cranford uses assessments to screen potential sales managers, though he also uses them for parts-warehouse staff. With managers, skills he seeks to identify and rank include leadership, communication, inductive and deductive reasoning, customer-service interaction and personal-computer (PC) competency. In the PC assessment, a candidate’s ability to use Microsoft Corp.’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint get tested. He’s considering adding Microsoft Access and Outlook, as soon as Manpower makes such assessments available.

The managerial assessments take about 2 1/2 hours to complete. Through the tests, which Manpower administers, reading and writing skills also are evaluated, though indirectly. “Because of the volume of materials, reading skills will come out,” Cranford says. And if the candidate shows moderate, or higher, competency with MS Word, “we believe we can get the candidate through basic business-writing skills,” he adds.

But don’t assume people have any of the required skills, Walker cautions. For example, she says, a growing number of employers are now testing for such seemingly basic skills as proofreading, and even the ability to simply “follow instructions.”

Walker notes that Manpower currently has 400 different assessments, including information-technology ones. What constitutes a typical test for a potential hire? “Besides [job-specific] skills, employers also test for soft skills,” she explains. Those vary, but could include multitasking and problem solving. They could also include “everything from your ability to work with information, to working with people.” An applicant’s thinking styles may also be assessed. “Are you detail oriented, practical, forward thinking? Things like that,” Walker states. Employers also want to find out if potential employees are persuasive and conscientious, she adds.

Even with the information that assessments provide, Walker’s educated guess is that only one in three companies now use the tests, and “that’s probably somewhat generous.” Why? “It’s such a culture change to do this. Some worry that this will delay the hiring process. Some just don’t want to do it,” she observes. And though she doesn’t see—yet—many assessments for scientists and engineers, Walker believes it’s simply a matter of the marketplace becoming better educated about the value of such testing.  


C. Kenna Amos,

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