A consultant told us that we should be testing applicants. We’re really hesitant about this. We’ve heard testing can get us into legal trouble. What are the pros and cons of testing, and what’s the legal risk?


Many human resources consultants are advocates of pre-employment testing and pre-employment screening, by using background, credential and employment history checks. There are just too many risks today in hiring the wrong person. It means poor performance, wasted management time, loss of income and increased expenses and increased stress for supervisors and co-workers. The wrong person can also be a potential criminal and legal hazard for you. Using the right tests or evaluation instruments can improve your legal protections.

The right tests or instruments are those which:

  1. Give you assessments or reports on the factors you need to know (such as honesty for employees handling money).
  2. Are valid (the results are accurate and do not discriminate against applicants in legally protected classes).
  3. Are taker-friendly (not intimidating).
  4. Are cost-effective for you. A trustworthy consultant can provide you with the right tests.

Using tests and evaluation instruments correctly is essential, too. You have to accept their limitations. You can’t expect a result or report to always be 100 percent accurate. The publishers of valid tests can tell you the accuracy range of their products — it is usually between 75 to 95 percent accurate. So the correct way to use the results is to consider them along with everything else you learn about an applicant.

Using tests and instruments correctly also means you don’t use them to discriminate against applicants in legally protected classes. The correct approach is to give the same test or tests to all applicants or to all finalists for the same position.

The negatives of testing?

  • Using the wrong tests or instruments, or using them incorrectly.
  • Using tests or instruments which have not been validated (validation assures that the tests or instruments give accurate results and are not discriminatory).
  • Overusing tests, which thereby intimidates applicants, turns off employees and wastes money.

Obviously there are upsides and downside to pre-employment testing and screening. Proceed with caution to find valid tests which will assist you in making quality hiring decisions, without putting undue stress on your budget.