Surviving the Pre-Hire Assessments

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If you’re applying for a tech-heavy role at a company, you’ll likely need to pass a battery of tests in order to score an offer.

Approximately two-thirds of companies run criminal background checks on prospective employees, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, and 57 percent administer pre-hire assessments such as personality assessments, cognitive ability tests or coding challenges and exercises.

That’s a lot of pre-hire assessments. Here are some tips for running the gauntlet:

Personality Testing Is Down, Cognitive Testing Up

The use of controversial personality tests that measure personality traits and behaviors is declining. Instead, more employers are using cognitive tests to measure a professional’s ability to excel in a tech-related role, according to Dr. Ted Axton, chief scientist at HR Avatar, a developer of pre-hire testing based in Oakton, Va.

“Cognitive tests are more accurate in predicting on-the-job success for people in technical roles such as network administrators or software engineers because they measure problem-solving skills, critical thinking and attention to detail,” Axton said. “They also measure a professional’s ability to assimilate knowledge and training which helps them adapt quickly to a new environment and acquire new technical skills.”

Of course, solving a series of complex coding challenges can require a substantial amount of time, and some employers may ask candidates to take the tests at night or on weekends. Check out Dice’s tips about when to say “No,” “Yes,” or even “Maybe” to a take-home coding test.

Drug Testing Is Down, Nicotine Testing Up

The percentage of employers conducting pre-hire drug testing has steadily declined from 81 percent in 1996 to about 62 percent in 2004 according to a poll by the American Management Association (AMA). And experts expect the decline to continue now that a handful of states and Washington D. C. have legalized marijuana.

But don’t breathe easy if you smoke traditional or e-cigarettes. Employers in various industries have begun to run nicotine tests on employees, as a way to identify smokers and keep healthcare costs and premiums down. To beat the test, you’ll need to kick the habit several weeks before you start looking for a new job.

Background Checks Go Global

As more professionals attend school and work overseas, employers have responded by expanding the scope of background and educational checks.

Global checks require compliance with data transmission laws and additional signed releases, so they can definitely slow down the hiring process, noted Melissa Sorensen, executive director for the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), based in Washington D.C.

“Keep copies of diplomas, exam ID numbers and stay in-touch with former bosses from other countries, especially if the company closes,” she said. “Providing accurate information and contacts can accelerate the investigation and increase your chances of getting an offer.”

Credit Checks Are Down, Social Media Checks Up

Ninety-three percent of recruiters will review a candidate’s social profile before making a decision to hire, and 55 percent of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on what they saw on social media. At the same time, Sorensen added, running credit checks on candidates has become the exception instead of the rule.

Although new regulations have curtailed the use of credit checks, companies can still consider the credit scores of prospective employees who have access to sensitive information such as accounting data.

Given how most tech pros access sensitive data as part of doing their jobs (and given the recent rash of high-profile hacks by insiders), candidates should be prepared to undergo a credit check. And since credit reports are notoriously riddled with errors, clean up your credit report and your online image before you launch a new job search.