Hiring Employees: The Pros and Cons of Aptitude Tests

Illustration of a man sitting at a desk and taking a test

Whether you’re in the process of installing this hiring mechanism or you are on the fence, it is estimated that approximately three-quarters of medium- and large-sized firms (companies with more than 100 employees) utilise some type of aptitude and personality test for their hiring process. These assessment tools are given across the board, from junior hires to middle management positions to senior recruits.

For many, it’s a worthwhile investment to help recruiters locate suitable prospects. For others, it’s a time-consuming task with little success.

Hiring managers and business owners may incorporate several different types of aptitude tests that measure cognitive ability (general intelligence, numerical ability and verbal fluency), personal attributes, like amiability, extroversion and honesty and professional skills, often through a work sample test to perform tasks that are a part of the day-to-day position.

Now, what are the aims of aptitude testing? Everything from manual dexterity to counting to mechanical reasoning to spelling, these examinations dive into a wide array of areas to judge your suitability for the position at hand.

Indeed, like anything else in the corporate world, aptitude tests have their benefits and drawbacks. Even if you possess some consternation about instituting a testing protocol, you need to be aware of the pros and cons of this kind of procedure to attract, hire and retain top talent at your company.

The pros of aptitude testing

1. Facilitate objective comparisons

Do you want to have an objective and efficient apple to apples comparison of your candidates? An aptitude test achieves this because it is a quantitative metric to highlight if the person’s education, skills and work experience have been valuable investments that can pay dividends at the company.

‘You definitely want to hire applicants who are smart enough to both learn the job and also correctly solve problems encountered on-the-job,’ Dr Michael Mercer, a business psychologist and founder of Mercer Systems. ‘So, companies using intelligence or aptitude tests should test their current best employees in each job, and then look for applicants who are as smart as their current best employees on the job.’

2. Save time and money

One of the first advantages behind aptitude tests is that you save time because you do not need to employ other measures to screen applicants. For the most part, these tests are highly accurate and reliable, plus, candidates can’t cheat. Most importantly, you eliminate a layer of extra costs and time.

Dr Mercer makes the case that these aptitude tests should be conducted before job interviews:

‘Only spend your expensive management time interviewing applicants who are as smart as your current best employees in the job,’ Dr Mercer said. ‘Do not waste your time interviewing applicants who get scores lower than your best employees in the specific job.’

Ultimately, you do not need to waste time and other resources when fielding applicants, as long as you implement aptitude tests.

3. Conduct a fair and unbiased evaluation

A great description of aptitude tests is that they are fair and unbiased. Now, what does this mean exactly? Well, there could be several interpretations relating to this point. But let’s comb through just a couple of them in this section.

First, aptitude tests are great at judging a people’s competency, regardless of education, credentials, work history and anything else that made them stand out from the crowd. These mechanisms can instantly judge a person’s performance without manipulation.

Second, some studies have highlighted that hiring managers could maintain an ethnic bias, limiting the applicants’ chances of being hired. But aptitude tests can serve as a shield from this unethical behaviour since your test results could be enough to propel you to a seat at the office.

4. Receive predictive insights

Do you think you can gain a sneak preview of a potential employee’s future work pattern? Yes. Aptitude tests, when executed correctly, can offer you various predictive insights about the candidates, whether it is their critical thinking skills or their decision-making abilities. You don’t need to worry if they’ll be able to handle any challenges that might come in their way.

5. Find the right candidates

According to Max Harland, recruiter and CEO of Dentaly, aptitude testing can be great for locating skills workers in particular areas:

‘Aptitude tests are excellent at gauging candidates’ competency in key areas, particularly their affinity in the vital skills essential for the role,’ Harland noted. ‘If you have a qualified candidate but fails in certain areas, you can programme training and upskilling activities catered to their shortcomings.’

In other words, aptitude tests not only allow you to locate the best candidate but also help identify areas they can improve on to perform even better within their role.

The cons of aptitude testing

1. Induce test anxiety

Unfortunately, according to the American Test Anxiety Association (ATAA), about 18% of adults are affected by anxiety disorders. This is only a more growing problem for young graduates who are more prone to anxiety than preceding generations. It only makes sense that this anxiety will impact something as important as their employment prospects.

With this in mind, candidates dealing with test anxiety could end up making mistakes such as answering the wrong questions, thus, giving recruiters an inaccurate idea of their true abilities. In other words, you could have a sublime applicant who you let slip through your fingers due to the anxiety caused by the testing process.

2. Become prejudiced against outside-the-box thinkers

Aptitude tests mostly remove the personal element of career growth. Or, put in another way, they oftentimes ignore the outside-the-box thinkers, the trailblazers who can immediately solve a problem with a different take than their peers. The multiple-choice question could be answered with ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’. But what about ‘D’?

3. Dispel other professional traits

Aptitude tests may do a great job in highlighting someone’s intelligence and overall decision-making or problem-solving skills. Or they may expose someone’s shortcomings.

But what about the other aspects that may result in good long-term performance? Indeed, these tests maintain a laundry list of limitations, like motivation, interest, training, organisation or time-management. But they won’t reveal how someone arrives to work early every day and is the last employee to leave the office.

Ola Wlodarczyk, HR and recruitment specialist at Zety, believes ‘these tights might actually be hindering you from hiring the best match for the open positions in your company. […] So, unless you have 400 candidates with the minimum requirements for a certain position, I’d suggest you get rid of it and start recruiting some driven, creative and fun-to-work with individuals’.

4. Overlook applicants’ culture

What happens if the language the test is in is not in the mother tongue of the applicant? What if there are cultural barriers between the content of the test and the person’s thought process? This is where aptitude tests usually have a disadvantage. 

They can falter since they are not personalised, nor do they take into consideration the person who is taking it. As some would assert, aptitude tests ignore the person’s identity, favouring those with an excellent memory and people who might toe the industry line. 

This is where headhunters typically excel because they are aware of these hurdles, so they tailor their recruitment strategy.

5. Fail to retain serious candidates

While aptitude tests are a great way to screen candidates and eliminate another step that could cost you time and money, you could also miss out on appealing to and retaining the best applicants.

David Cusick, the chief strategy officer at House Method, avers that job applicants might not take the aptitude test seriously without any authentic and conventional pre-screening: ‘This shouldn’t be the first level of contact a candidate has with your company. Give them some buy-in first.’

A resume application, a brief point of contact and an introduction to the process can be great icebreakers and serve the purpose of inviting potential employees to pursue this employment opportunity.

The great thing about aptitude testing is that the technology behind this human resource strategy is evolving. Because so many organisations are embracing pre-hire tests, different firms have different needs. The first-generation of aptitude testing consisted mostly of self-reporting questions. Today – and tomorrow – it will be about gamification and algorithms to expand the talent pool.

Be it HR managers or small business owners, there is an ample supply of tools at your disposal to hire the very best employees.

Do you want to gain better insight of potential employees' capabilities? Our testng platform, CareerHunter, can help you assess applicants' strengths, values and fitness to your company. 

Have you got any experience with aptitude tests? What do you think of them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 22 December 2016.