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Using Ability Tests For Staff Recruitment Purposes


Wyn Davies from TalentLens UK looks at when to use ability tests for recruitment purposes.

It goes without saying that all recruiters want to hire the “best” candidate for the role. When they are asked to be more specific about what best looks like, then information about the following areas starts to surface:

  • academic achievements
  • specific skills
  • experience
  • desirable behaviours and personality traits
  • required attitudes and mind-set
  • intelligence and ability levels
  • problem solving ability

During the entire assessment process, recruiters are increasingly looking to gather as much reliable and valid assessment data and evidence against required competencies and behaviours as possible.

They can then make the most informed hiring decision and reduce the risks and costs associated with bad hires.

Each piece of relevant information can be likened to the piece of a jigsaw:


In the vast majority of roles, managers want to hire intelligent employees.

In the workplace, the word General Intelligence (see diagram below right)  is more commonly referred to as General Ability.


This is determined by three factors:

  • The ability to solve new problems and tasks, apply logic to new situations and identify patterns and trends
  • The ability to draw upon what has been learned in the past (prior knowledge) from experience, academic grades and attainment and learning
  • Brain Power (speed of thought process and recalling facts, multitasking, attention-levels, etc.​


The weighting game

The weighting of skills and experience and competencies varies by role.

Most recruiters focus heavily on prior knowledge and experience, academic achievements and learned skills.

In some specialised or technical roles, knowledge of a specialist skill is paramount and heavily weighted in the hiring decision process.

In these instances, weakness or development needs in other areas that may impact on job performance are of less importance than the skill.

In other more general job roles or in those attracting large numbers of school or college leavers, the selection weighting is balanced between a number of competency areas including:

  • skills and academic achievement
  • intelligence/problem solving ability
  • personality and behaviours
  • team-working
  • communication skills
  • attitude and motivation
  • cultural fit to team and organisation


Testing Ability

Whilst there are correlations between the ability to solve new problems and academic achievement, a high level in one does not always ensure a high level in the other.

Most of us have had the experience of working with an incredibly academically bright individual who can regurgitate every morsel of learned knowledge but whose intellectual horsepower is rendered paralysed when confronted with a complex problem that requires careful and logical reasoning.

This is why recruiters are increasingly measuring, via ability tests, the ability to solve new problems alongside evidence of prior knowledge/experience and academic qualifications.

In addition to providing more information, numerous research studies demonstrate that cognitive ability tests are powerful predictors of task performance at work – more so than academic achievements.

Only measuring one element of general ability (a person’s prior knowledge and experience) may offer a less rounded picture of an applicant’s general ability.

By implementing ability tests, one can reduce the risk of not hiring the right candidate.

Click to request a free trial of our recruitment tools to try out within your teams. 


Further reading:

Critical Thinking

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