Hire standard: What tests given to applicants should measure

For all who fear and loathe taking tests, be aware: Applying for a job is likely to invoke memories of school-day angst.

But misery loves company, and test-phobic job candidates can take comfort in the fact that employers also undergo a test of their own when they administer pre-employment tests, commonly called "assessments," to potential hires.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission monitors pre-employment assessments to ensure that certain groups, like those of a specific race or gender, don't generally score lower than the overall populace.

For example, the EEOC issued a press release about how Target Corp. discontinued the use of three pre-employment assessments last year. "We applaud Target for taking corrective action to ensure the validity of their hiring practices," the release said.

The Minneapolis-based retailer also is paying $2.8 million, to be distributed by a third-party administrator, to thousands of past applicants who were adversely affected by its past assessments.

However, under EEOC rules, it's permissible for certain groups to score less well — but only if the "assessment actually predicts performance on the job," said Minneapolis attorney Mark J. Girouard.

To be predictive of success on the job, any assessment "provides useful information about a candidate's knowledge, skills, ability, or other characteristics that are important to the job," Girouard said.

Indeed, human resources experts say a key reason assessments are common is that businesses don't want to make a mistake, resulting in an unhappy worker.

A 2014 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management shows that 41 percent of firms screen candidates via online questionnaires, and 45 percent of candidates recently surveyed by Shaker Consulting Group said they were presented with simulated job tasks.

Additionally, companies use a variety of assessments, from personality profiling to interviews, whereby answer keys evaluate and score candidates' responses.

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