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Ask the Headhunter: Facing an employment test? Here’s what you should find out first.

Question: I haven’t interviewed for a job in over 20 years because I’ve been self-employed. I’m going on an interview shortly. I was told that prior to receiving an offer, there would be some testing. I doubt there are any tests that relate to the job content of this particular job. What other kinds of tests are typically given?

Nick Corcodilos: It is very worrisome: Companies administer tests without notifying candidates what tests they’re going to give them. That’s not acceptable. The problem is that human resources departments have come to view applicant testing as a company’s right, rather than as a courtesy to be granted by the candidate. You should ask the employer in advance exactly what tests will be administered to you.

Is it a skills test, or a psychological test?
Usually, if a test is skill-related, it’s administered early in the process as a way to determine whether an applicant is qualified enough to be interviewed. Since this testing will be done at the offer stage my guess is they’re talking about psychological tests. Skills tests are pretty straightforward. Personality tests are worrisome because they are not.

Does the employer follow the rules?
The American Psychological Association and other standards bodies have established pretty stringent codes regarding the administration of such tests. These codes dictate that the tests should be valid and reliable, and the results of the tests should be properly interpreted and shared with you. If this company doesn’t abide by the rules, I’d decline to be tested. You’re not back in grade school, where tests are forced on you. You’re an adult, and you are not required to take any test unless you want to.

Know your rights
You have the right to know what the test is about and what the results mean. If you’re uncomfortable, ask questions before you go in for the tests and don’t stop questioning until you are satisfied the testing will be conducted properly and how it will be used to judge you. (To learn more about the types of employment tests and how they are used, see “Employment Tests: Get The Edge.”)

While some companies administer tests in ethical, appropriate ways, others have little idea what they’re doing, and that puts you at risk. Before you let anyone poke and prod at your personality, make sure you understand the potential consequences. For example, what happens to your test results and file after your transaction with the employer is complete? Does the firm that administered the test own your results? Can it sell them to its other clients? (Some of this will be apparent in the waiver you may be asked to sign.) Be careful.

All job hunters should visit the American Psychological Association’s website: Rights and Responsibilities of Test Takers: Guidelines and Expectations.

Dear Readers: Have you ever taken an employment test? Did it help or hurt you when you applied for a job? Do you agree to take such tests, or do you decline?

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