How Reliable Are Pre-Employment Tests?

Since the polygraph test is mostly not allowed, employers use other tests to screen the pool of their potential and current employees. Those other tests are usually paper and pencil honesty tests that are much cheaper and simpler to administer.

The most well-known paper and pencil honesty test is the Reid Report, which is widely used in the U.S. for the last 70 years. The test’s dimensions of measurement include integrity attitudes (reaction toward dishonest acts of others), social behavior (admission of former missteps), substance use (admission of illegal substance use), and work background (previous work experience and trends). Supplemental dimensions of measurement may include such things as sociability, optimism and persistence.

The Reid Report test is usually web-based. The applicant has 15 minutes to answer 50 to 120 questions, and another 15 minutes to answer supplemental dimensions questions. The test can be taken in several foreign languages and is usually tailored to specific states and regions.

As the result of the test performed by the potential or current employee, the employer is provided with the scale score, questions for an interview, as well as an explanatory list to narrow down certain areas for further investigation. The test is supposed to be done in combination with the background check.

On the formal side everything looks good. However, the logic of such tests is rather problematic. You are expected to be open, honest, friendly and supportive to your colleagues when they are doing their job right, and very intolerable and tough with the same colleagues when something goes wrong with them. Knowing this algorithm makes it relatively easy to prepare and pass it.

In other words the test is not measuring and evaluating you as a person, but rather how familiar you are with the expectations of those who made the rules and wrote the algorithm. For instance, a nun probably won’t pass such a test. Although she could do pretty well in the section on “honesty,” she probably would not get a passing score in the section on “punitive” items and “attitude toward theft” committed by other employees.

In addition to similar integrity tests and psychological assessment tests employers may also use voice analyzing tests like the Psychological Stress Evaluator (PSE). This kind of test is aimed at detecting periods of sudden tensions in somebody’s voice, which can arguably be interpreted as signs of lying. This type of test is mostly used when an employer is interviewing a potential employee over the phone.

Despite all these cons the Reid Report and other similar tests are widely used in the State of New York when hiring retail sales representatives, customer service personnel and hospitality associates. However, those tests are prohibited in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island they may be used only if they are not considered to be a primary basis for employment decisions.