Is it worth testing candidates pre-interview?

Pre interview testing

If you’ve got a daunting list of likely contenders for a vacancy, then a spot of pre-testing to determine whether it’s worth inviting them to an interview is clearly efficient. Let’s face it, weeding out those who don’t have the skills and personality to do the job at an early stage will save you a lot of time later.

It also makes sense to get some of the routine questions out of the way – such as “what is the minimum salary you would accept?”,  so that when you meet face-to-face you can tackle more probing issues.

However, there is always the danger that you may lose a top candidate simply because they don’t perform well in the pre-test. It’s therefore crucial that you choose the best test for the job – and conduct it fairly.

Here we look at the pros and cons of three of the most common methods of pre-interview testing.


Telephone interviews

A nifty way to get some of the essential questions covered is to conduct a telephone interview. If you plan your questions well you can delve behind their CV and get a handle on their competency.

You can also access their social skills, how well they can communicate ideas, and get a feel for whether they have the right personality fit for your business.

Not only does a phone-screen save managerial time because you can delegate it, it also means you can reach more candidates across greater distances without incurring travel costs.

The downside is jobseekers are inevitably nervous and without visual clues they may come across as anxious, too loud, too quiet or simply inarticulate. As an interviewer, you need to make sure you don’t put them off either, so watch your tone when speaking to jobseekers too.

On balance though, you’ll get a good idea of whether you can eliminate them from the shortlist at this stage.

An alternative method is to email the candidate some pre-interview questions to cover similar areas, so they can be fully prepared.


 Psychometric testing

Online psychometric testing measures knowledge, abilities, attitudes and personality traits, and can often give a more accurate indication of how a candidate will perform in the job than the interview itself.

This timed test assesses how good the candidate is in areas such as dexterity, literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, reasoning and spatial awareness.

The questionnaire you choose should be tailored to the role and should be known to produce accurate results. Crucially, it needs to be standardised and non-discriminatory.

The downside is if you don’t use a test based on statistical principles and your HR team is not trained correctly in using it, your results will be inaccurate. But if it’s done well, you’ll know everything about your candidate’s capabilities – and perhaps a bit more.


Personality questionnaires

These tests tend not to be timed and are a great way to assess personality or character traits, such as whether your candidate is dominant, anxious, passive or driven.

Like psychometric tests they can also be completed online. However, they don’t rate ability and there are no right or wrong answers. Instead, they reveal the candidate’s decision-making methods, how they relate to others, their approach to problems, attitude to work and how they handle emotions.

Some critics argue you still won’t know if the candidate can do the job. However, such tests do allow you to assess whether they would be the right cultural fit – an all-important quality if you want to retain your staff.



There’s no doubt that pre-interview testing is a time-saving way to sieve out top talent for the main interview. Most tests will give clear indications of which candidates are not suitable for the job and highlight those who have the right attitude and aptitude.

However, bear in mind that the test must be relevant for the role. For instance, putting a commis chef through a gruelling psychometric test might hinder the selection process as you will still not know how well they can cook.


1 Comment

  1. Chris Brown July 26, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I think telephone interviews are a good way to pre-screen, because it allows strong candidates to shine through. Of course it takes more time and organisation by the hiring company, so may not be used for this reason.

    Many companies now use verbal and numerical reasoning online tests, but set a very high pass mark so that only very academically skilled candidates make it through to the interview. This means this that they miss out on well educated and practical candidates still with good scores, which is a big loss if the job doesn’t really rely on a high level of verbal and numerical reasoning.

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