Types of Pre-Employment Tests

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Is it legal for employers to conduct pre-employment tests and background checks on job applicants? The short answer is yes. Companies can test applicants for employment. The longer answer is that the tests must be non-discriminatory and the tests must be properly administered and validated.

If you're being considered for a job and have been asked to take some kind of test, you may be wondering what the test is for, how it will influence your chances of being hired, and perhaps whether it's even legal. Here, to help put such requirements into perspective is a brief overview of pre-employment testing.

Key Takeaways

  • In general, employers can ask applicants to perform various tests, as long as those tests are related to the job and are not discriminatory.
  • Lie detector tests are illegal in most situations.
  • Common pre-employment tests include personality tests, skills tests, cognitive tests, and emotional intelligence tests.

Legality and Function of Pre-Employment Testing

Employers often use tests and other selection procedures to screen applicants for hire. Some of these tests are closely focused on job-related skills and abilities, but others collect personal information for various purposes and are somewhat controversial.

While legitimate concerns exist, pre-employment tests are legal, provided the company does not use the test results to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, disability, or age (that is, to exclude applicants only because they are 40 years of age or older).


Employment tests must be valid and must relate to the job for which you're applying.

A major exception is lie detector tests, which are illegal in most circumstances, both before and during employment, thanks to the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).

The type of testing discussed here is distinct from the testing required to earn professional certifications and licenses. The difference is that certifications and licenses are required by law or by industry standards, and are not part of the hiring process for individual employers.

Types of Employment Tests

Employment tests may look at who job candidates are, what they can do, or whether they can safely perform the physical tasks of the job. Ideally, these tests serve as tools for the hiring manager, and a way to avoid bias in hiring.

Personality Tests

Personality tests assess the degree to which a person has certain traits or dispositions or predict the likelihood that a person will engage in certain conduct. Ideally, the objective is to determine if a candidate will be a good fit for the job and the company. The goal of employment personality testing is to hire people who fit the profile of the ideal employee the organization is seeking.

Talent Assessment Tests

Employers use talent assessments to help predict a new hire’s job performance and retainability. The focus is on potential skills and abilities, as distinct from either personality or developed skills revealed by an applicant’s work history. These types of tests help answer questions about whether the applicant will be successful if he or she is hired.

Cognitive Tests

Cognitive tests are used to measure a candidate's reasoning, memory, perceptual speed and accuracy, and skills in arithmetic and reading comprehension, as well as knowledge of a particular function or job. Cognitive function is roughly what most people mean by “intelligence." Employers may use your test results to determine how well you'll do at your job.

Emotional Intelligence Testing

Emotional intelligence (EI) is an individual’s ability to understand his or her own emotions and the emotions of others. Strong emotional intelligence is important for most jobs and critical for some, since emotionally intelligent people have the ability to work well with colleagues, interact with the public, and handle disappointments and frustrations in a mature and professional way.

Pre-Employment Physical Exams

Employers may require a pre-employment physical examination to determine the suitability of an individual for a physically demanding or potentially dangerous job. Pre-employment physicals are used to determine whether an applicant has the physical ability and stamina required to do the job.

Physical Ability Tests

Physical ability tests measure the physical ability of an applicant to perform a particular task or the strength of specific muscle groups, as well as strength and stamina in general.

Drug Tests

There are several types of drug tests that candidates for employment may be asked to take. The types of drug tests which show the presence of drugs or alcohol include urine drug tests, hair-drug or -alcohol testing, saliva drug screen, and sweat drug screen. It is important to note that while most alcohol tests determine whether the subject is currently intoxicated, nothing equivalent exists for any drugs. Drug tests determine whether the subject has used certain chemicals any time in recent weeks or months.

English Proficiency Tests

English proficiency tests determine the candidate's English fluency and are typically administered to candidates whose first language is not English.

Sample Job Task Tests

Sample job task tests including performance tests, simulations, work samples, and realistic job previews, assess a candidate's performance and aptitude on particular tasks. Think of these as something like an audition.

Tests for Restaurant Jobs

Restaurants may test job applicants as part of the screening process to determine how much they know about the business, and how well they would be able to handle the job.

Background Checks and Credit Checks

Criminal background checks provide information about any arrests or convictions you have on your record. Credit checks show your prospective employer what your credit profile is like, including any past-due accounts now or in the past, how much your credit and loan balances are, and how many loans and credit cards you have.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are two commonly used pre-employment tests?

Drug tests and personality tests are two commonly used pre-employment tests you may encounter when you're applying for jobs.

What are pre-employmen tests?

Pre-employment tests are assessments that employers use to judge whether a candidate will be a good fit for a job opening. Tests types include personality, emotional intelligence, job-related skills, and drug use.

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  1. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Employment Tests and Selection Procedures."

  2. Florida Polygraph Association. "Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988."

  3. Sesame. "11 Types of Pre-Employment Assessment Tests."

  4. Talents.ai. "Talent Assessment Test."

  5. Criteria Corp. "Emotional Intelligence Tests."

  6. iprospectcheck. "A Guide to Pre-Employment Drug Testing & Screening [2022]."

  7. Criteria Corp. "Pre-Employment Tests for Restaurants."

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