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More than a gut feeling.


YOU ADVERTISE, INTERVIEW, do a background check, and make a decision. In a few months, or perhaps even sooner, you will know if your hiring choice was a good one. If it wasn't, it can cost you plenty.

According to Fortune, (1) "An employee who leaves after a few months can cost a company anywhere from $5,000 for an hourly employee to $75,000 for a manager in lost productivity and training, and the cost can be even greater if you hire the wrong person and he or she stays on, making mistakes and sabotaging morale."

As a security professional, you work in an industry where integrity is paramount: Your real product is honest and reliable personnel. A security guard force can inflict serious losses through misconduct and carelessness. Officers frequently have access to buildings after hours and to company coding systems for entrance. They may fail to follow security procedures or may give away company secrets. Precautions must be taken to ensure that your hiring process consistently addresses these issues. Simply stated, your reputation is at stake with each new hire.

To minimize the potential high-dollar risk of each new hire, you must demand security personnel who are responsible and reliable. Additionally, they must be able to follow instructions and think logically. Preemployment testing offers a systematic, valid, and cost-effective method of measuring these qualities and others.

For nearly 100 years, educators, government agencies, the military, and private industry have used employment tests to improve their ability to identify qualified job applicants. Today, according to a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, (2) an overwhelming 83 percent of companies include employment tests in their hiring process.

Employment tests have adapted to the needs of their users. Most are relatively inexpensive and have been designed to be administered, scored, and interpreted in-house. Managers who have never used preemployment tests are often surprised at both the low cost and the ease with which tests can be implemented into their current selection process.

While a wide variety of commercially available preemployment tests exist, most fall into four general categories: ability, skills, personality, and behavior. Depending on the position, an employer may use any combination of these tests.

Ability tests. Often referred to as general cognitive ability or intelligence tests, ability tests can help you identify and measure an applicant's learning capacity and problem-solving abilities. According to John Hunter, one of the preeminent research scientists in the field of industrial psychology, "General cognitive ability is the best known predictor of job performance and training success on all jobs" since it determines how quickly a person learns.

Cognitive ability answers the question, how much will the person learn from the training procedure that takes place after hiring? Knowing the answer is one way to predict, and thus decrease, the training costs of a potential employee.

One such test of cognitive ability, the Wonderlic Personnel Test, measures an individual's ability to learn, adapt, solve problems, and understand instructions. This test is a valid predictor of future performance in any job and can be used for routine to complex positions.

After testing, an applicant's score can be compared to the scores of others who have applied for a similar position. The average score for a security officer, for example, is 24. If a candidate's score is equal to or slightly higher than this established average, you can predict a successful performance.

In addition, because the person's cognitive ability level is appropriate to the job, the individual will be neither bored nor frustrated in the position. a normative data base of 473,640 job applicants makes it possible for the test publisher to provide average test scores for virtually any position.

Testing for cognitive ability tells which candidates can learn the job with minimal training. Initial screening with such a test, followed by an interview and background check, is a cost-effective method, since you can reserve further testing procedures for those candidates who have the appropriate ability levels.

A dramatic comparison can be made between the predictive validity of cognitive ability and other measures of performance. A perfectly predictive validity (which does not exist in the real world of work performance) would be 1.00, while a randomly predictive validity, such as throwing dice, would be .00. Compared to reference checks (with a predictive validity of .26) and education level (.22), cognitive ability has a predictive validity of .53.

Cognitive ability is by far the best predictor of future job performance. This is in part because intelligence predicts the outcome of the training process and in part because it predicts the other cognitive skills used on the job. A surprising number of companies make their hiring decisions based mainly on a personal interview, which ranks the lowest of all (.14). (3)

Skills tests. The most commonly used type of preemployment test, skills testing provides an objective evaluation of an applicant's acquired talents, such as typing, word processing, data processing, stenography, and clerical skills. Due largely to their high "face" or content validity, skills tests have become a commonplace procedure in most businesses.

Skills tests are usually administered immediately following completion of the application to confirm reported skills and compare applicants with each other. Skills tests are frequently reusable, take little administrative time, and are inexpensive.

Personality tests. Typically administered to a select group of qualified candidates prior to the final interview, personality tests quantify an individual's standing on various personality traits. Often, percentile ratings are given for qualities such as assertiveness, extroversion, sensitivity, and efficiency.

Useful for positions involving significant customer contact, these profiles gather information that can be used to structure and focus the final interview. Usually scored by computer, these tests also give management directives that help supervise and train employees.

Behavior tests. Used to measure the likelihood of reliable and productive on-the-job performance, behavior tests compare an applicant's responses to response of people who have demonstrated negative behavior on the job. One such test, the Employee Reliability Inventory (ERI) from Wonderlic, compares applicants to the following five groups of people who have exhibited specific undesirable behavior on the job:

* persons hospitalized due to alcohol/substance abuse

* persons convicted of theft

* persons requiring inpatient psychiatric treatment due to a diagnosed metal disorder

* employees who were fired within 30 days of being hired

* employees who quit within 30 days of being hired

Results are computer-scored, and applicant scores are presented in a low-risk/high-risk profile. Most employers use behavior tests to determine whether their interviews and references checks should focus on the high-risk behaviors mentioned.

Popular since the December 27, 1988, restrictions on polygraph testing, use of paper-and-pencil behavior or honesty tests is increasing. The objective of these tests is to detect high-risk candidates for jobs in which dishonesty or unreliable behavior would be difficult to detect and could seriously hurt the hiring firm. Results are typically presented in a low- to high-risk scale. According to a recent survey published by Personnel Journal in June 1990 honesty and theft tests are used by 7.7 percent of employers and take an average of 20 minutes for the applicant to complete.

Of the behavior tests on the market today, some are criterion-keyed tests, and others are attitude assessment tests. The difference is significant.

Criterion-keyed tests were developed by administering behaviorally oriented questions to group that actually displayed the undesirable behaviors as well as to groups that did not display those behaviors. Attitude tests, on the other hand, measure attitudes toward the prevalence of undesirable behaviors in the work force. They then predict a person's future behavior from those atttitudes. False negatives and distortion can result from this type of test.

For example, if an individual is exposed to a work environment in which theft is prevalent, he or she will answer truthfully on an attitude assessment test and be labeled as a bad risk. Criterion-keyed tests avoid this false negative reading.

Ultimately, preemployment tests are tools to assist your organization in selecting employees in the most cost-effective and timely method possible. Any hiring process should be a composite, incorporating background investigation, interviewing, and prior experience, as well as test results and comparisons.

While no panacea for the troubles inherent to the selection process, testing offers a way to validate hiring decisions objectively. It provides quantitative, job-related information that is often difficult to obtain otherwise. Perhaps most important, preemployment testing provides a hiring basis that is more than a gut feeling.

(1) Fortune, August 12, 1987, p. 78.

(2) Resource, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 1988.

(3) J. E. Hunter and R. F. Hunter, "Validity and Utility of Alternate Predictors of Job Performance," Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 96, pp. 72-98.

Marlene Brown is an executive staff writer for E. F. Wonderlic Personnel Test Inc., in Northfield, IL.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes article on background checks; Preemployment Screening
Author:Brown, Marlene; Maddaloni, Michael V.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:Black gold: the nation's security blanket.
Next Article:Screening for the top.

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