Posted March 18, 2020

Exclusive: Who should take pre-employment tests?

Use this fast method to determine which job applicants should be tested. 

This is the 10th in a series of articles by Dr. Michael Mercer, Ph.D.

Companies using my pre-employment tests often ask how to decide which applicants should take the tests. I answer:

1.  Do not give pre-employment tests to every applicant. 

2.  Most companies test the top 3 to 5 applicants for each job opening.

This article gives you fast, method you can use in only 15 minutes to figure out which applicants you should have take pre-employment tests.


Research shows pre-employment tests definitely are the most accurate way to predict how a job applicant may perform on-the-job. 

In contrast, most interviewers make incorrect and subjective judgments about job applicants. And reference checks often are inaccurate and unhelpful.

Pre-employment tests prove highly useful because tests are  

  • research-based
  • objective
  • can be custom-tailored for each job in your company

Interviews are, however,  

  • not based on research
  • horribly subjective
  • usually make incorrect predictions

So, you benefit by using tests as an important prediction method to help you hire the best.


Managers often waste expensive time and energy on applicants they should not consider.  Pre-hire tests help you avoid such wasted time and energy, because tests scientifically help you spend your time on applicants who are worth considering.

If pre-employment tests are not given early in the selection process, managers often make these time-wasting, energy-draining, stupid mistakes:

1.  30 minutes– reviewing and thinking about applicant’s resume or application

2.  30 minutes – discussing applicant with other managers

3.  1 – 2 hours – interviewing applicant

3.  30-60 minutes – thinking about interview

4.  30-60 minutes – talking about interview with other managers

Total time spent on one applicant = 3 to 5 hours

After investing 3 to 5 hours of expensive management time on one applicant, then the manager might decide to give pre-employment tests to the applicant.

If pre-employment test scores indicate it is a great applicant, then the manager is happy. 

But if pre-employment test scores indicate the applicant should not be hired, then the manager suddenly realizes s/he wasted 3 to 5 hours on lousy applicant. 

At that point, some managers feel foolish they did not test the applicant earlier – rather than wasting 3 to 5 hours considering a lousy applicant. 

Unfortunately, other managers feel emotionally committed to hiring anyone they spend 3 to 5 hours on, despite lousy pre-employment test scores!!!!  They fret, “I spent 3 to 5 hours on that applicant.  Plus, I don’t want to find more applicants and then spend 3 to 5 hours on them. So, I think I’ll ‘shoot the messenger’ – that is, ignore test scores clearly indicating I should not hire this applicant.”

Good News = In either case, managers easily can avoid this quandary – plus avoid wasting 3 to 5 hours considering lousy applicant.

How?  By giving pre-employment tests early in the applicant screening process, rather than late in the process.

So, the question arises:  How can a manager quickly determine which applicants should take pre-employment tests – before they invest 3 to 5 more hours on the applicant?


Pre-employment tests, at most companies, are given to the top 3 to 5 applicants for each opening. 

You can use a 15-minute brief initial job interview to decide which applicant is worth testing. 

What should you ask in this quick 15-minute interview? Ask “bio-data” questions. “Bio” does not refer to biology. Instead, bio in bio-data means biographical information. You ask applicants if they have bio-data similar to bio-data of your company’s best employees in the specific job.


A janitorial company asked me how to decide which applicants should fill-out my “Dependability Forecaster” pre-employment test. They explained the job is (A) very physical, (B) indoors, and (C) required teamwork. Also, they were sick and tired of absences and turnover.

I recommendeded they start each brief bio-data interview with a polite warning, e.g., “If we hire you, but later discover you gave dishonest information in our hiring process, then your dishonesty may be used as a reason to fire you. Also, you need to tell me names of your boss and boss’ boss for each question I ask about your work history. I need their names, because we may contact them to verify what you tell us.”

Remember, as I repeatedly emphasize in my “Hire the Best – & Avoid the Rest” book”  Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.

I recommended the cleaning company ask these bio-data questions plus more: 

1.  “What were your previous jobs?”

            [to see if jobs were indoors, physical, and in teams]

2.  “How long did you stay on your previous jobs?”

            [to look at turnover potential]

3.  “Why did you leave each job?”

            [to gauge turnover reasons]

4.  “How many absences did you have in your jobs?”

            [to check absence potential]

5.  “How much pay did you earn in each job?”

The pay question helped them focus on considering only applicants who earned less that the company pays. Why? Because employees who earn more than their previous job are happy with their pay, but employees earning the same or less feel dissatisfied and may turnover.

Pre-employment tests were given only to applicants who had bio-data needed to succeed in that company. Then, if an applicant got wonderful test scores, the company proceeded to do time-consuming prediction methods, e.g., in-depth interview, background checks, job observation, and more. 


A company asked me to help it select productive sales reps. I discovered the company’s best sales reps had specific bio-data: (1) earned B.A. from state universities, (2) only one or two full-time sales jobs before applying at this company, (3) stayed in each job 3+ years, (4) earned less at previous employer, and (5) worked part-time in both high school and college.  

From this information, I created a custom-tailored “Brief Bio-Data Interview.” It quickly found out if an applicant had bio-data similar to this company’s best sales reps. 

Pre-employment tests were given only to applicants whose bio-data was similar to the company’s best sales reps. 

The pre-employment tests – to make hiring decisions even better – were custom-tailored so the company immediately saw which applicants got the same test scores as its best sales reps.  

Applicant’s with pre-employment test scores similar to the company’s best sales reps later went through a grilling in a two-hour interview, work observations, role-play, and reference checks.  Those who did well on bio-data, pre-employment tests and all other prediction methods were offered jobs. 

Profitable Result = The company hired a highly productive sales force.


Pre-employment tests should be given to your top 3 to 5 job applicants. 

Determine who takes pre-employment tests by starting with a fast, 15-minute Bio-Data Interview.  Applicants who have bio-data similar to your best employees are the ones you have take pre-employment tests. 

When pre-employment test scores of an applicant are the same as scores of your best employees, then invest hours of your valuable management time in in-depth interviews, job observations, role-plays, reference checks, and other prediction methods.

Pre-employment tests and a quick 15-minute Bio-Data Interview

  • saves many hours of expensive management time
  • help you hire terrific employees CS

Michael Mercer, Ph.D., created 3 “Forecaster Tests” – pre-employment tests. Companies use his tests to predict which job applicants may succeed (or fail) on-the-job, if hired. Dr. Mercer wrote the book, Hire the Best & Avoid the Rest. You can see information about his 3 “Forecaster” pre-employment tests at

© Copyright 2019/2020 Mercer Systems LLC Reprinted with permission.