Q: I recently have been applying for jobs. Before I am interviewed, I need to take several different tests. I am required to take the test to get an interview. The employer doesn’t share the results of the test so I have no idea if I scored well or not. I feel like some of these tests are a complete waste and discriminatory. Are there rules about these types of tests?
A: Employers have a difficult challenge when hiring new employees. Every hire is a risk. When a company hires a new employee, the company hopes to hire a person who adds value to their business. Adding value might be reducing expenses, developing a new product, providing service to customers or even maintaining a building.
For the most part, employers can create their own selection process to screen candidates to help them better assess the qualifications of a candidate. Types of pre-employment tests can vary and include drug tests, background investigations or even medical exams. Any selection tool which violates anti-discrimination laws is unlawful. Any selection procedure should be carefully considered. If the test disproportionally excludes candidates from certain groups (specifically race, sex, disability, etc.), the employer should be able to justify the use of the test. Sometimes employers don’t realize that certain tests could inadvertently exclude certain groups. Many years ago, some police forces had minimum height requirements. In 1997, the Los Angeles Police Commission dropped the requirement for officers to stand at least five feet tall. The Commission found it was not a requirement for the role. There was research that suggested that the height requirement may impact the number of women and Asians in the department. Employers need to make sure that any pre-employment test is job-related and does not exclude certain groups of candidates.
One piece of advice to give to clients all the time with respect to giving pre-employment tests: give it to all the candidates for the position, not just some. For example, if you are hiring an analyst and the hiring manager wants to better understand a candidate’s competence in the advanced features of Excel, then the hiring manager can give a sample case study, with an Excel component, to all candidates. What should be avoided is giving this case study assignment to only some of the candidates. Red flags for me are comments like: “He was older than the rest of the candidates, so I needed to make sure that his Excel skills were up to date.” Or “She has been out of the workforce for seven years, so I needed to make sure that she knew how to still analyze data.” In addition to ensuring it is given to all candidates, not just some, an employer needs to be certain that it is job-related. For example, if you are hiring a warehouse worker, a physical requirement of lifting up to 60 pounds might be a job-related requirement. A warehouse worker might be required to move large boxes and packages from a warehouse to a loading dock. However, if an employer is asking a warehouse worker to demonstrate advanced Excel skills, that would be unusual.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a helpful resource. For more information, visit www.eeoc.gov.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.