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Applicant Tests: Personality, Psychological, and Drug Tests

Some businesses require candidates to take certain tests after being offered conditional employment. Be careful with these tests, though, as there are some laws that may influence what you can require.

Personality and psychological tests

What do they do? Measure certain personality characteristics, such as assertiveness, resiliency, temperament, or stability. This group of tests also includes interest inventories, which claim to show how close an individual’s interests match those of a particular occupational group.

These tests are generally lengthy and sometimes involve elaborate and complex scoring keys to predict different personality profiles and traits. There are a number of aptitude/style indicators available, ranging from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and NEO Personality Inventory to the Hogan Personality Inventory. Many more are available online.

Be careful when selecting a personality indicator (or any other kind of test) to make sure that the one you choose is both legal and appropriate for hiring. Personality testing is rarely lawful and subject to rigorous requirements even when it is permitted. You should consult an attorney experienced in this area before considering implementing or using such testing.

Why would you use them? This sort of testing is designed to uncover personality traits that make good employees — or those that make bad employees. Because personality is a component of job performance, finding out all you can about an applicant’s personality can help predict his performance.

How reliable are they? Depends on who you ask. These types of tests were originally designed to diagnose mental disorders, and even for that purpose — and in the hands of trained professionals — they often leave much to be desired.

A primary problem is that the results aren’t always crystal clear and sometimes need professional interpretation. If this kind of information is necessary to your evaluation process — for example, you’re looking for people who can fit into a certain work team or have certain personality traits that are important to the job — you may feel compelled to use personality tests.

Be aware, however, that the subjective nature of the evaluation process creates a legal risk for any company that chooses to use them in the selection process. Consider consulting a lawyer.

Drug tests

What do they do? Measure the presence in an applicant’s body of illegal drugs or controlled substances.

Why would you use them? Substance abuse by employees can mean attendance and productivity problems, impaired performance, safety concerns, and potential employee theft, among other issues. Pre-employment testing to check candidates for current substance abuse can be lawful under certain circumstances — sometimes including only after a conditional offer of employment has been extended to the candidate — though you must always check federal and state law before implementing such a program.

For some positions, pre-employment drug tests are mandatory. Certain classes of employees — school bus drivers, for example — must submit to testing for drugs and alcohol under the law. In fact, pre-employment drug testing has become so common in some industries that it causes hardly a ripple. Keep in mind, however, that you must give all applicants advance written notice that you intend to test for drugs and obtain their consent.

Generally, you can’t observe the test itself (employers often contract with third-party testing facilities to administer such testing), and you must hold test results confidential. Other requirements include giving candidates notice of a positive result and, sometimes, the opportunity to challenge the result or submit to retesting. Also, you can test only for what you say you’re testing for.

Individuals with past drug addictions, and individuals currently in rehabilitation for such issues, are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and possibly state laws.

Myriad laws in this area, including privacy concerns, ADA concerns, and federal contractor testing rules, among others, make this a legal minefield. Check with a lawyer before you start any applicant or current employee testing.

How reliable are they? If conducted by a competent, reputable lab, very accurate. Shrewd and/or experienced abusers can sometimes slip by, however, either by abstaining long enough to eliminate drug traces from the system or by using other substances to mask drug traces.

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