Introduction to selection tests

Information and advice on tests used during the job recruitment and selection process.

Throughout the recruitment process, there are a number of ways you can be tested by a prospective employer. Such tests allow the employer to identify and recognise your potential. They also help you to identify the specific skills you can match to job requirements.

Here is a quick introduction to some of the tests you may come across in your recruitment and selection process.

Ability and aptitude tests

Ability and aptitude tests measure specific skill sets and the resultant score gives an indication of existing ability such as numerical, verbal, diagrammatic, etc. Often the tests are multiple choice and administered under exam conditions. Practicing tests will help you to increase your familiarity with them and many can be found online.

Often employers are interested in your potential to do a task. They may also choose to assess more generic skills such as interpersonal communication or decision-making based on written information that will predict how well you may complete the task. The tests get more difficult towards the end, so it is important not to rush them, to think carefully and to go back and check your answers.

Psychometric and personality tests

Psychometric and personality tests assess individual preferences in behaviour, attitude and values from your responses to questions or statements. These tests are untimed and have multiple answers. Each of the questions relate to different aspects of your personality such as team working ability, or leadership preferences. The tests must be honestly answered as they are designed to fit you into a job role. If you try to guess what the employer wants to hear, you may find yourself in a job that does not suit you.

For any of these tests, the key is to remain positive. Job offers are not solely based on the results of these tests - they are only used as part of the recruitment process, but they should be treated and approached like any other assessment you encounter.

Prepare thoroughly, follow the instructions carefully and always read the question. Ask for feedback, as this can give you an opportunity to develop your weak areas for the future.

Motivation questionnaires

Motivation questionnaires look at the factors that drive you to perform well at work. Areas that may be considered include the energy with which you approach the task, how long and under which circumstances effort will be maintained and those situations which decrease motivation.

Interest inventories

Interest inventories assess your personal preference or liking for specific types of job-related activities in a wide range of occupations - for example, if you like working with people, or if you prefer working outdoors. Inventories have been designed to cover a whole range of ages, levels of experience and occupations.

Simulation exercises

Simulation exercises are designed to imitate a particular task or skill needed for a target job and it will be clear which skills are being assessed. Although they may be challenging, simulation exercises are often enjoyable. The tasks and skills that may be assessed during simulation exercises are so varied that there is considerable difference in the kinds of materials, scenarios and other people involved from exercise to exercise. Different types of exercise include task prioritisation, groups, presentations, fact-finding and role-plays.

Assessment centres

These are not a place, but a process where several candidates will present and are assessed against a number of job skills and requirements. There are usually several assessors and several different tests. Some exercises will involve other candidates and there may be some to do on your own. You should be told in advance if you will be required to participate in any exercises and if you need to prepare anything beforehand.

Assessment centres give a very comprehensive overview of strengths and limitations and as they are standardised, each candidate has the same opportunity to demonstrate their skills. They are more objective than interviews alone, that may be biased by the interviewer's interpretations and you can show off a range of abilities, all of which will contribute to the recruitment decision. This method probably gives the best insight into what you might be expected to do and is the most objective.

Recruitment and selection test tips

Do:

  • Read the question - this may sound obvious but still is one of the most common, yet avoidable, pitfalls;
  • Ask if you do not understand all of the instructions;
  • Tell the organisation if you have a disability because this can be accommodated;
  • Take a look at some tests beforehand and have a practice session;
  • Ask for feedback - you are legally entitled to see your results;
  • Make sure you take the tests in a suitable environment - make sure you are comfortable and can concentrate.

Don’t:

  • Spend too much time on one question - if you are stuck, move on to the next;
  • Try and second guess what the company is looking for - this could show in your results and you may end up in a job that you are not suited to;
  • Agonise over right and wrong answers - very often in personality tests there is no such thing;
  • Get too stressed - the company is interested in you as a person. It is looking at what you can do, not what you cannot.