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Testing in Industrial and Organizational How Psychology and Psychological Tests for Employment

Updated on January 25, 2013

Employment Tests

Employment tests may include abilities test, knowledge and skills test or personality test depending on the nature of the job.
Employment tests may include abilities test, knowledge and skills test or personality test depending on the nature of the job. | Source

Testing for Employment

The lifeblood of a company is the people who work within it. No matter how small no company can function or survive without people. Every job that needs being done requires a person to preform that job. However, companies don't want to invest valuable time and resources into training people who are not right for the jobs for which they are hiring. They must find people who are able to preform well within the job they've been chosen for. This means that companies must search through all of their applicants and sort them based on their abilities and on how well they fit the position they are applying to. It is necessary then to develop tests in order to measure applicant's aptitudes toward specific jobs so that in the process of selection, the best possible individuals can be chosen for the position. There are many ways to test individuals for employment purposes including testing their cognitive abilities, testing their knowledge and skills and testing to develop personality profiles of each applicant.

Test of Ability

One type of test used for employee selection is the ability test. There are many kinds of ability tests including cognitive abilities test and psychomotor abilities test (Spector, 2008). A cognitive ability test can be designed to broadly examine an individual's general intelligence or it can be focused to test an individual’s knowledge of a specific area such as mathematical aptitude or verbal comprehension (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009). A psychomotor ability test or performance test examines the individual's ability to physically perform specific functions (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009). According to Bateman and Snell (2009) “most companies use some type of performance test, typically for administrative assistant and clerical positions” (Performance Test, para. 1). Performance test can be used to assess abilities in any activity from sweeping a floor to operating a multi-line telephone operator switchboard, though the most common performance test is a test of typing ability (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009).

Knowledge, Skills or Achievement Test

While an ability test is meant to measure an individual's capacity to learn how to perform a job a knowledge and skill test or an achievement test is designed to determine the individual's current of proficiency within a specific area (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009). According to Spector (2008) “the major difference between the two types of tests is the emphasis placed on prior knowledge and skill in performing specific tasks” (p. 118). An abilities test places emphasis on the ability to learn a new task while a knowledge and skills test is assessing what an individual has already learned (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009).

Personality Test

A third test used for employee selection is a personality test. According to Spector (2008) “personality traits can be important because certain classes of behavior can be relevant for job performance and other behaviors in organizations” (p. 117). Personality test can reveal if an individual is highly sociable or if they they feel a need to dominate others (Spector, 2008 ). Different personality traits can be useful in different jobs. While it may seem at first glance that a high trait of dominance would be undesirable for many jobs there are some in which it would be seen as a valuable asset. Spector (2008) explains that “sociability can be an important trait for a salesperson who must interact with other people, whereas dominance can be an important trait for a supervisor who must direct the activities of others” (p. 117). Personality test can be designed to produce a small amount of information or they can be more in depth. Spector (2008) states that “some personality tests are designed to assess a single personality trait; personality inventories assess multiple dimensions and are sometimes used to provide profiles of individuals across several personality traits” (p. 117). The amount of information required from a personality test depends on the nature of the job that the individual is applying to.

The Value of Each Test

All three of these methods of testing may be suitable for an organization desiring to select and hire new employees (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009). Tests which measure what an individual has already learned may be more useful to companies seeking to promote individuals from within the company. Personality test would be useful in either capacity. Each method has value but only within the context of the position being tested for.

Validity and Reliability

Validity and reliability are important issues to consider. If a test was not proven to be valid or reliable there would be no point in administering the test. The results would be useless. According to Spector (2008) “research has consistently shown that cognitive ability tests are valid predictors of job performance across a large number of different kinds of jobs” (p. 114). This means that in most cases it is generally believed that a cognitive ability test will accurately determine if an individual has the capability to perform a specific job. Knowing this it would not be surprising to find that most companies would rely on cognitive ability tests in their selection process. Cognitive ability test are among the oldest and most commonly used test in the employee selection process (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009). Spector (2008) asserts that “cognitive ability tests have a long history of use by large organizations for employee selection because of their efficiency and validity” (p. 114). Cognitive ability tests are widely used and have a long history of use because they are considered both valid and reliable when correctly administered (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009).

Ethical Issues

While cognitive ability test are generally reliable they are not fail proof. Specter (2008) explains “the use of cognitive ability tests has been controversial because some minority groups (e.g.,African Americans and Hispanics) score worse on average than do whites on these tests” (p. 114). Cognitive abilities test may show a less than accurate picture of the cognitive abilities of minority groups due to socioeconomic perceptions that lead to feelings of inferiority and may therefor result in lower test scores among minorities (Goodwin, 2005). This does not mean that the test are invalid but merely that the results should be viewed cautiously and that minority groups should be taken into consideration. Additionally, care should be taken that cognitive abilities test are administered accurately and in situations where they have been proven to be effective (Spector, 2008; Bateman and Snell, 2009). Spector (2008) states that “the use of cognitive ability tests must be used cautiously, and only for jobs where their validity has been conclusively established and better options are not available” (p. 114).


Psychological tests can produce a wealth of information on job applicants. This information can tell companies about the individual's aptitudes concerning what they are able to learn. It can tell companies what the individual already knows and is capable of doing. Psychological tests can even describe the nature of the individual to determine if their personality fits with the variety of work that the job requires them to do. Each of these test can determine if a new applicant is appropriate for the job or the company that they are applying to or they can determine if a current employee is a match for a new position. Each of these tests have a history of validity and when administered correctly can be viewed as reliable indicators of job performance. Psychological test are one of the many ways that I/O psychology has shaped the world of business.


Bateman, T. and Snell, S. (2009). Management: Leading & Collaborating in a Competitive World (8th ed). Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.

Goodwin, C. (2005). A History of Modern Psychology (2nd ed). Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.

Spector, P. (2008). Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Research and Practice (5th ed). Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.

Copyright Notice

© Copyright 2012. Wesley Meacham- This article is copyright protected and is the property of Wesley Meacham. All images in this article, unless otherwise stated, are the property of Wesley Meacham. Please do not copy this article in whole or in part without giving credit to the original author.


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      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Very useful and important information for people who are seeking an employment. Voted up.