How To Succeed In A Pre-Interview Assessment Test
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Testing times: How to get past *that* pre-interview test
If you’ve ever interviewed for a high-level job, you will recognize the piercing dread that accompanies a pre-interview assessment test. So much riding on these few questions. What are they looking for? What if I f*ck it up?
As if it wasn’t hard enough to sit in a room with your boss-to-be while trying to describe everything you’ve ever achieved in your life; now, you’re faced with an exam that takes you right back to high school. The prickles on the back of your neck. That slightly queasy, sweaty feeling. The beads of sweat running down your forehead.
You might have been one of those students who could write a brilliant essay but couldn’t perform well in written exams. Maybe you were the type of person who crammed information like a dude and aced multiple choice exams but simply couldn’t construct a written argument.
Some students sucked at both formats of exams but excelled at practical assignments. Whatever way your brain works, we all have test formats we’re great at and those we suck at. Fast forward to adult life, and your approach to assessments might be a roadblock for your flourishing career-to-be.
Not only do you fail the test, but you’ll also rarely be told why or be given tips on improving further down the line. It’s this reason that strikes fear into candidates’ hearts at the mere mention of a pre-employment test – you’re so seldom afforded the chance to get better at them.
Well, fear no more!
Team Vippi is here to decode the madness and help you mentally prepare for a pre-interview assessment test.
Why do companies run pre-interview assessment testing?
Seriously, how have people ever ended up getting jobs? These testing experiences are a nightmare, and so many people fail them. According to the American Management Association, 70 percent of employers run some kind of job skills testing.
Fewer companies (but still a considerable 46 percent) run personality and psychological assessments on candidates while hiring, and 41 percent run basic literacy and math tests.
The Harvard Business Review put the most recent figure even higher for companies with over 100 employees running a pre-interview assessment test – 76 percent. And they expect this to climb to 88 percent in the coming years.
We live in a data-driven society, and it’s that emphasis on data that drives the need for pre-employment testing. Just like AI software can filter out unsuitable resumes before the hiring manager reads them, pre-employment testing can weed out spammers, timewasters, and deeply unqualified candidates.
The rules on reapplying after a failed pre-interview assessment test vary from company to company. That’s what makes these pre-interview assessment tests so hard. The stakes are ridiculously high, and the company can’t or won’t help you learn your way around them.
(It kind of makes sense. They’re trying to find suitable candidates, not the people who learned to game one pre-interview assessment test and then wasted their time with a terrible interview.)
Pre-interview test questions: What are they testing?
Pre-interviewing testing isn’t only about making sure you know how to do the job.
A company needs to fill its candidate pool with people who know how to do the job. A resume full of previous, comparable roles provides some of the picture, sure – but does that give a true insight into a person’s skill set and cognitive abilities?
Competence tests have a broad scope of possibilities. They can revolve around:
- Verbal reasoning. For example, you’ll have to read a passage full of stats and figures and then answer true or false questions based on the information provided. This tests how you logically process, interpret, and use information.
- Numerical literacy. This tests how well you can process numbers at a glance. They’re handy for employers to assess your math brain for roles that are heavy on numerical processing, like accounting. (True or false: 2/8 + 2/8 = 1.25 – 0.75.)
- Lateral thinking. Some companies will pose slightly bizarre questions to gauge how you approach situations and solve problems. (“A man walks into a bar and asks the barman for some water. The barman pulls out a gun and points it at the man. The man thanks the barman and walks out. What was actually happening?” Well, he walked into the bar as he had hiccups, and the barman scared him hiccup-free – but you only reach that response with a little social awareness.)
With these types of tests, you aren’t usually gunning to hit a top score. These tests aren’t hoping to identify the best of the best; just weed out the people who don’t have the basic skills required as a foundation.
In short, competence testing verifies the “I’m an excellent learner” claim on your resume.
However, a company may also assign more industry-specific competence tests, especially if you’re applying for a more advanced role. These would generally be for higher-level positions that require more specialized abilities.
For example, a hiring manager trying to fill a coding role might have the applicants code a particular web page or solve a bug. An accountancy firm might craft a deliberately unbalanced account sheet and have their candidates balance it.
Competence test 101
What it really measures: Competence tests assess your expertise, your experience, and how easy you’ll be to train.
Where can you find practice tests and information?
The risk of hiring you
These pre-interview assessment tests show how risky a particular person might be for a company. They measure tendencies related to how a candidate follows the rules and guidelines, using techniques like an integrity test or a workplace productivity profile.
Like any personality test you might take, these tests rate responses to specific scenarios on a sliding scale.
Hiring any candidate is a risk. With all the interviewing in the world, people will still display their best selves and hide their less desirable tendencies. So a risk test assesses an applicant in the following light:
- How likely are they to be late?
- Will they make excuses not to turn up?
- Are they likely to drop work while they’re on shift and waste time thumbing through their phone or reading magazines?
- Will they steal from the company?
- What’s the likelihood that they’re going to defraud the company or their clients?
- Will drug use become a problem?
- Are they going to stick to the safety code or become lax and commit violations?
Risk tests might seem like overkill, but they’re an absolute necessity in some industries. They reduce the risk of theft in retail environments, for example.
However, they can also be a matter of life or death. For example, making sure that those carrying out medical home care visits are safe to be in the homes of others or that people hired for geological excavation and mining jobs aren’t going to endanger their colleagues.
A company can run criminal records checks, sure. But these integrity tests are a way to root out potential troublemakers, timewasters, and liabilities – issues that don’t quite escalate to the level of criminality but can still cost a company time and money.
Risk test 101
What it really measures: Whether you’re a trustworthy person.
Where can you find practice tests and information? Be sneaky. Look at the companies who design the tests and are trying to sell them to companies. Criteria Corp provides both workplace safety profiles and productivity profiles – they may be a good place to start.
How you handle specific situations
Companies often need to assess how candidates are going to respond in certain situations and scenarios. You can have all the qualifications in the world, but if you get panicked when cold-calling someone, a complex sales role might not be in your future.
They may test your situational judgment with… well… a Situational Judgment Test.
These are more qualitative than competence tests. You’ll be given a particular scenario and will need to rank specific tasks or objective-achieving goals from undesirable to desirable.
A panel of experts or judges (usually senior people across the business) assess the responses. These tests are typically untimed, and their content focuses on the practical know-how involved in a particular job role rather than theoretical or knowledge-based questions.
The critical factor of Situational Judgment tests? There is no correct answer. Your success in this type of test is tied more closely to a specific company’s culture and ethos than general aptitude. Theoretical business-school solutions won’t fly here.
If you look at the mission statement on your company’s site or closely examine the job description, you’ll be able to work out the approach they’re looking for. Do they seem to favor innovation or tradition? Does it appear that they’d want you to stick to industry-standard solutions or customize new ones for the particular problem?
The answer will be on the company website somewhere. Make sure you do your research.
Situational Judgment Test 101
What it really measures: When you’re up against high-pressure, job-specific situations, how will you cope? And will you make the most profitable or beneficial decision?
Where can you find practice tests and information? Demo questions are available here.
Your work ethic
A personality test doesn’t measure what you can do or what you know but it measures how you work.
This isn’t a test you can “pass” or “fail,” more a method for working out who you are and whether you’re right for the company.
Tests of work ethic generally take the form of multiple-choice self-report questionnaires. You know those online Facebook questionnaires that tell you which character from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. you are? It’s not a long way from those (except the outcome is a rewarding job, not a picture of Ross Geller doing an awkward thumbs up).
Answer this personality test honestly. If you lie, the hiring manager will be able to work out whether you’ve been trying to game the system or give the answers you think they want to hear.
You have to consider whether this is a company that will want to see “most agree” to “I’m always the best salesman in the room,” rather than “It’s important to exceed your expectations and take feedback on-board.”
What do the tests reveal
These tests reveal your typical patterns of behavior when it comes to work ethic. They show how people demonstrate the balance between being the best and being the best at collaborating.
Does the company even want a team player? Or do they need intense ambition by the truckload? Read the job description and try to gauge it. You won’t get this balance right every time, but you can give yourself the best chance by following the clues the company leaves you.
While it seems like many companies define success by using how much money you bring in (which is ultimately the point), they may set other parameters. Adapting to change, having highly motivated staff, innovating, or diversifying revenue streams might all be alternate goals.
Work ethic personality test 101
What it really measures: Whether you’re going to try to be ambitious and trample others or have a more balanced approach to success – and either can be a route to success depending on the company.
Where can you find practice tests and information? You can try a free personality test sample at JobTestPrep. They also offer a paid service that you can subscribe to for even more sample tests.
How you relate to and understand other people
Research has shown in the past that emotional intelligence can affect job performance. But you don’t need science to tell you that; knowing what makes people tick and how to talk to them can be a massive boost to your insight in sales, HR, management, business development, account handling, and customer services, to name but a few fields.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to demonstrate empathy and self-awareness. These tests may resemble traditional personality tests, but they’re centered around your interpersonal skills and how you relate to others.
However, hiring managers may apply these tests in the form of on-the-spot scenarios. Heineken, the brewer, at one point had the interviewer pretend to faint to gauge how the candidate responded.
Emotional intelligence is fast becoming a defining quality for ideal candidates. After all, it’s one of the few human qualities that artificial intelligence won’t be able to emulate in the future. This means that hiring candidates who score high on emotional intelligence testing is becoming more and more critical.
Emotional intelligence test 101
What it really measures: How you relate to others, put yourself in their shoes, and understand communication.
Where can you find practice tests and information? The Global Leadership Foundation offers a free practice Emotional Intelligence test.
How to excel at a pre-interview assessment test
There are so many different pre-interview assessment test formats. It’s hard to pin down a particular approach to preparation that applies across the board (although Team Vippi has tried by providing links to practice tests in the section above).
However, you might wish to consider a four-pronged mindset of:
Allow us to explain…
Sourcing and completing practice tests is key to succeeding. Even if the right questions don’t come up, you can understand the mentality behind competence and personality testing to approach it more successfully.
This applies to all types of testing. For example, the wife of a member of Team Vippi was training for a UK Citizenship test (it’s not employment-based, but it’s still an assessment). This test has questions about all aspects of UK history, including some relatively obscure topics.
Their wife could never have hoped to internalize the entire lineage of British Kings and Queens or Bronze Age history. However, she bought a book of practice citizenship questions. In that book, she noticed many of the questions asking about famous cultural figures always had answers that included Sirs.
So was the question really about remembering who first completed the 4-minute mile in athletics? Not really. (It was Sir Roger Bannister, by the way.) The question underneath the question was: Can you recognize that important public achievements in the UK may lead to knighthood?
And so, the Member of Team Vippi’s wife was able to decode many of the questions and passed on the first attempt. The same applies to practicing pre-employment questions. Knowing how these questions really work only comes from attempting them over and over.
Resources like the practice book for the GRE general test are full of numerical, linguistic, and verbal reasoning tests to run through. They can be surprisingly tough at first, but learning the patterns that emerge can help you navigate them.
Use this book and the resources provided above over and over again because:
- Trial runs boost confidence and decrease anxiety.
- Attempting a whole range of practice exams and assessments can improve your test-taking strategies under pressure (so make sure you time your practice runs). For example, you might start getting more used to revisiting difficult questions toward the end of the test to increase your chances with the easier ones.
- Taking practice tests can boost your ability to pick up on patterns and improve your focus.
You can also try asking the recruiter what type of testing their employer uses (after all, they only get a commission if you land the job – it’s in their best interests to tell you). It might be worth asking any employees you know who already work there.
Don’t let testing throw you off during the interview
We entirely get it. Any amount of testing is enough to make you squirm before or during an interview.
But a pre-interview assessment test is only the start of your journey. Many times, it’s one of many hurdles you’ll have to clear. Don’t let the test nerves distract you from showcasing your personality and your achievements in the interview itself.
Breathe, treat each step of the application as its own priority, and understand that the world isn’t going to end if the company doesn’t decide to progress you. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb. It just means you’re the wrong fit for the company.
Know that the practicalities matter
You know when you function best – if you don’t, make a note of how you feel at different points in the day during the run-up to the test. You can do this even if you’re not applying for a job; it’s good to check in with yourself and develop a better understanding of how your mind works.
Some people get a post-lunch boost, for example. Others work best in the morning. Some feel sleepy after coffee (it does happen), whereas others feel energized, buzzed, and ready to tackle anything.
Know your mind and body, and create the best environment for smashing your test results. If you can avoid it, don’t take the test in the morning if the afternoon is when you do your best work.
Avoid lying on personality / psychological assessments
If their tests are well-designed, companies will work out whether you’re simply picking the answers you think they want to read.
And they often spend a lot of money on making sure their tests are well-designed – it saves them the expense of rehiring when the appointment doesn’t work out because inaccurate testing didn’t filter unsuitable candidates.
Long story short, you’re very unlikely to trick the system by lying. So don’t try. For a multiple-choice assessment, these tests are savvier than they first appear.
Live up to your best self, but make sure you reflect your actual values and qualities. Imagine yourself how your mom sees you – still as yourself, but maybe minus some of the raucous party stories.
Don’t just see it as a test of you – you’re also getting a window into the organization’s values
The pre-interview questions, especially on self-reports, can give examples of what the company values and prioritizes. How do things work there? How do they define success? Do they reward your level of ambition?
Visit the company’s website, look at their values and mission statement, and see if you’re a good fit. Don’t force yourself to fit a mindset that doesn’t suit you. Tests can be a good way for companies to filter themselves from your pool of options, too.
We know the pre-interview assessment test sucks. But if you keep practice, practicalities, personality, and perspective in mind, you stand a much better chance of making it into a room with an interviewer. And, there, you can really wow them with your winning personality.
Don’t get down on yourself. You have to see testing as a numbers game. Be persistent, intelligent, and a little zen about the whole thing, and you’ll find that you can get through the process relatively unscathed.
Team Vippi believes in you! Follow the above and you will get past that pre-interview assessment test without any problem.
7 types of pre-employment tests given by employers. (2021). https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/types-of-pre-employment-testing
Chamarro-Premuzic, T. (2015). Ace the assessment. https://hbr.org/2015/07/ace-the-assessment?fbclid=IwAR3kcCF_XOxZS9S6gz4srOBWpjkZqHdj_SYiAbQUG4pOm-NjQ0Eng8FYdYU®istration=success#
Hausknecht, J. P. (2007). Retesting in selection: A meta-analysis of coaching and practice effects for tests of cognitive ability. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-03270-007
O’Boyle Jr., E. H. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta‐analysis. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/job.714
Practice book for the paper-delivered GRE General Test. (2017). https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/practice_book_GRE_pb_revised_general_test.pdf
Marks, S. (2014). Pre-employment tests: Why did I fail? https://www.recruiter.com/i/pre-employment-tests-why-did-i-fail/
What are pre-employment tests? (n.d.). https://www.criteriacorp.com/resources/definitive-guide-validity-of-preemployment-tests/what-are-pre-employment-tests