A front page article in today’s Wall Street Journal highlights the growing use of pre-employment personality and psychological testing to screen job candidates.  These tests are designed to evaluate technical skills, ability to multitask, friendliness, customer service orientation, communication skills and the like.  New test designs are based on the traits of employers’ most successful workers and have, according to the employers featured in the article, led to better hires and lower turnover rates.

Notwithstanding the potential benefits of testing, employers should be aware that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been scrutinizing hiring procedures that may have an adverse impact on applicants based on race, gender, disability or other  characteristic protected by the laws it is responsible for enforcing.  The EEOC’s published guidance on tests state that tests must be be job related and consistent with business necessity.  What this means is that hiring tests should measure attributes or skills that are actually needed for the job to be filled.  If the test has an adverse impact on a protected group, it should be “validated” — that is, assessed to make sure that it actually tests for traits or skills that are linked to success in the job in question.  The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Criteria lays out the methods by which employers can validate a test.

Today’s article indicates that newer test designs are aimed at finding candidates who will be successful and have the attributes correlated with success at work.  Thus, they should pass scrutiny under the equal employment opportunity laws.  However, employers who elect to use pre-employment testing should familiarize themselves with applicable EEOC guidance and ensure their tests are in fact useful predictors of success.