How To Test Applicants For Temp Jobs

Skills tests are an important part of the evaluation process when you are considering placing a temporary employee on a job assignment. Because the employee will likely work for more than one client, you need to have a broad picture of his or her skills. While you have to consider every applicant's personal appearance and work background, most pre-employment screening tests are specific to the industry where the employee would work.

As the owner of a staffing agency, you need to train your in-house staff to administer the right tests to each applicant without going overboard. You don't want to exasperate the potential employee with too many tests or spend the money to use the tests and have them scored only to find out they are unnecessary.

Clerical Applicants

An applicant for a clerical job today must possess much more than typing skills. Clients expect the person you send to have at least a basic understanding of word processing programs, like Microsoft Word as well as the ability to use spreadsheets like Excel. You can download or purchase software that allows you to determine the applicant's skill level before sending him or her on an assignment. If someone claims to be a Microsoft Word or Excel expert, he or she should have no problem proving it through testing.

In addition to testing clerical applicants for specific computer programs, you should consider some or all of the following tests:

  • Grammar
  • Proofreading
  • Mathematical aptitude
  • Alpha and numeric data entry
  • Professional etiquette

These tests give you a good overall picture of the applicant's strengths and weaknesses. A person could have excellent clerical skills while still lacking the experience to get along well in an office. This doesn't have to prevent you from placing someone on an assignment, but it does give you the opportunity to coach the employee on the type of professionalism that you expect while he or she represents your company.

Tests for Accounting Professionals

When testing an applicant for an accounting position, try to make the situations resemble an authentic work experience as closely as possible. The test should start out with basic accounting concepts and then increase in complexity. At a minimum, the applicant should be able to describe the following terms in the first part of the pre-employment accounting skills test:

  • Balance sheet
  • Credits and debits
  • Cash flow
  • Income statement
  • Journal entries
  • Accounting period
  • Bad debt
  • Depreciation

After passing several written exams, the applicant for an accounting position should be able to describe how he or she would approach a specific job function. This gives you an idea of how articulate the person is and how well he or she understands the duties that will likely be an everyday part of the job. Of course, you will need to conduct more in-depth testing if the applicant is applying for a position dealing with business taxes, auditing, payroll or other advanced accounting concepts.

Testing Applicants for Industrial Jobs

Industrial and warehouse work requires a different testing approach than office work. Instead of having an applicant complete a test on paper, you may need to set up mock situations that would have the applicant matching parts to where they belong on specific machinery. At the very least, a person applying for an industrial position should demonstrate the ability to understand diagrams and have a good sense of spatial sequences. Math is another important skill for someone working in an industrial position. He or she will need to solve many mathematical problems throughout the course of a work day that range from simple to complex.

It is very important that an employee who you place in an industrial position understands and follows safety regulations. This is especially true for forklift drivers and anyone who handles heavy machinery. All applicants should be able to pass a safety exam as well as understand the consequences of being deliberately reckless. This could include being removed from the assignment and even fired from your staffing agency.

The Legality of General Skills Tests

Although employment laws vary from state to state, pre-employment skills testing is perfectly legitimate in most areas. However, it is to your benefit to consult with a lawyer before instituting any type of skills testing for the first time. You want to ensure that the test is fair and is for the sole purpose of measuring an applicant's ability to do a specific job.

Types of Pre-Employment Tests to Avoid

Some clients may request you to perform additional testing on job candidates, such as a personality profile or a lie detector test. As a general rule, you should avoid these types of tests unless they provide information that is absolutely essential to help you choose the right person for a job placement. There are numerous state and federal laws outlining exactly the types of pre-employment tests you can perform. The most common ones include:

  • A personality test is illegal in almost all situations because it forces the test-taker to disclose information that has nothing to do with how well he or she can perform the required job duties. Although the test may not ask intensely personal questions directly, the answers a person gives could easily reveal his or her religious preference or sexual orientation.
  • You can't ask an applicant about medical conditions prior to making a job offer, including suspected mental illnesses. You are also not permitted to require the applicant to submit to a medical exam before you make an offer, although you may require one before you place the person on his or her first assignment. Any person you make a job offer to must pass the same medical exam, not just the ones you suspect of having a medical condition or a mental illness.
  • Under the provisions of the federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act, you are prohibited from administering a lie detector test or asking an applicant about the result of any previous tests. There are a few professions that are exempt from this ruling, including armored car drivers and people who manufacture or distribute pharmaceuticals.

Fair Testing for People with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that all people have equal opportunities when it comes to getting hired for a job. When you administer skills tests to someone with a physical or mental disability, you must set it up in such a way that the test only records the applicant's skills. For example, if a person with a hearing loss has trouble understanding the spoken instructions coming from a computer program, you should allow that person to read the directions instead. This is considered a reasonable accommodation and is something you could ask your client to continue doing if you hire the applicant.

You would not be violating ADA laws if you were unable to hire a deaf person for a customer service call center position that required him or her to listen and speak to customers for most of the day. Disability law aims for a balanced approach that does not unfairly favor the employee or the employer.