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How to Hire Smart People


How to Hire Smart People
December 16, 2014, 7:00:00 PM EST   By Shoa Appelman

How to Hire Smart People

"If you put enough smart people together in one space, good things happen."
-Erik Hersman

As a manager, one of my biggest nightmares is having an employee who doesn't remember what we've reviewed, asks me the same questions over and over again, and presents me with work full of errors. This employee will single-handedly destroy any form of progress I've made in my elusive quest for work-life balance.

To avoid the aforementioned nightmare, I make it a habit to exclusively hire smart people: people who have strong attention to detail, solid analytical thinking skills and can communicate effectively. How do I hire said people? Well, a resume or an interview won't always reveal whether a job candidate has these skills, but a cognitive test will.

Cognitive Testing Best Predictor of Job Performance

The Benefits of Cognitive Ability Pre-Employment Testing

Cognitive ability tests measure a job applicant’s ability to analyze information, solve problems, understand details, and communicate ideas.

High scores on cognitive ability tests are the best predictors of a successful hire. They consistently demonstrate better predictive validity than job interviews. So, if you had to choose between only interviewing a job candidate or only testing them, you would be better off using test results. The best approach is to always use both, of course.

Cognitive ability predicts success across fields, including mechanical, clerical, electronic, and general positions. The tests are an even higher predictor of success in complex roles, such as analysts or managers.

Candidates who score well on cognitive ability tests:

  • Generally learn faster
  • Are better at solving problems
  • Typically complete their training successfully
  • Are reported to have better job performance, from managers

When Do I Test Applicants?

You can test applicants during a couple phases.

Option 1. During the application process.

With online job postings, it's easy to include a link to an online test with the job posting. Including a link to an employment test during the job application process helps ensure that you get applicants who want the job position. And depending on the quality of the test, the job applicant gets insight into the company's standard for employment, increasing a good job candidate's interest in a company. After all, as Leo Polovets says, "Working with great peers will help you up your game."

Testing during the application process also helps hiring managers who might be overwhelmed by a lot of resumes that look very similar. Rather than sort through a pile of resumes, hiring managers can quickly sort by test score. You have to start somewhere, so why not start with candidates who have already demonstrated attention to detail and analytical thinking? And when the higher scoring candidates come in for the interview, you can focus on the traits that you can glean from an interview, like whether you might like working with the applicant.

Option 2. Before the interview.

A lot of hiring managers will narrow down their applications to a handful of candidates they want to bring in to spend time interviewing. It's completely acceptable to send these job candidates an employment test before they come in. A good test will even produce interview questions for areas that should be probed further, so the hiring manager can probe for information during the interview that may not have otherwise occurred for the hiring manager to discuss.

Option 3. After the interview.

Hiring someone is a big decision: the person can either be a good addition to the team or be a costly nightmare. It's perfectly rationale to want a second opinion for the final decision. A test can quickly confirm or negate doubt that arose from an interview. Tests are great gut-checks.

Testing after the interview can also help you improve your hiring process. By noting test scores and then tracking employee work and productivity, you can start to determine whether the test is indeed a good predictor of job success. Now, even though a person scores well on a test, a lot of factors play into success in the role, including company policy, team members, and other factors. So after you've hired a smart person, your work is not done. Your work should just be a lot easier.

Will Any Cognitive Ability Test Work?

Not all cognitive ability tests were created equal. In fact, back in the day, cognitive ability tests were very frustrating to test-takers because they were just a series of questions that did not seem to be job-related at all. Brain-teasers, random puzzles, questions about the number of piano tuners in New York city aggravated job applicants and probably didn't provide most hiring managers much satisfaction either.

Cognitive ability tests that measure specific skills are better than general mental ability tests. For example, a job simulation that measures cognitive ability would be the best solution because:

  • The problem solving questions are work-related, making the connection between the job and the test immediately apparent to the test-taker.
  • The tasks mirror tasks that would be performed on the job.
  • Test administrators can receive a sample of work and evaluate it themselves, for example a writing sample, if it's included in the simulation.

Where Can I Find Online Cognitive Ability Tests?

I'm so glad you asked. You should know that this post originally appeared on the HR Avatar employment tests blog, so it will be heavily biased. Nevertheless, HR Avatar is a great place to start.

HR Avatar Employment tests are cognitive simulations. That means they measure a candidate's attention to detail, analytical thinking, writing ability, among other competencies, by using simulations set in a work context. So, for example, in the Secretary test, job applicants review documents for errors, either based on information they have been provided or they spot, to measure an applicant's attention to detail. Job applicants see an animated simulation:

And a hiring manager would receive this detailed report and interview guide. (Click to view the full detailed sample report.)


HR Avatar has a whole catalog of job-specific cognitive simulations, so just type in the test name and search the catalog. You can review the catalog by clicking here: HR Avatar Test Catalog

Other companies that offer cognitive ability pre-employment tests include:

What is the Best Next Step?

Sign up for a Free Trial on HR Avatar and take a test! Try a test for yourself and see what you think of the test and the results. Or call another company to learn about their assessment process.

And most importantly, adjust your hiring process to ensure your next hire is a smart hire.

Shoa Appelman

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