How to do your best on a job test: nervous about taking tests? Here's how to put your best foot forward on any employment test - getting hired

How to do your best on a job test: nervous about taking tests? Here's how to put your best foot forward on any employment test - getting hiredFor Elizabeth Kolmstetter, Ph.D., the challenge of hiring and training 50,000 qualified airport security screeners was an important one. The outcome of that challenge could well mean the difference between life and death. Hired in January 2002 by the Transportation Security Administration, she was given just nine months to get the job done.

As a psychologist and expert in testing, Kolmstetter knew she wouldn't have to rely on chance in selecting the people who would help make travelers feel safe again. She and her team determined what knowledge and abilities the screeners needed in order to do their jobs well. Then they gave the applicants a series of tests. After 340,000 people were tested, all of the positions were filled.

More and more employers today use testing to help them find the ideal employee. In fact, a 2001 study found that 68 percent of employers surveyed do some form of testing, whether it's for general smarts or for the right skills and personality needed for the job. These tests can last anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours. They're taken on the job site, at a testing center, or even at home.

If you're someone who dreams of being done with tests by the time you get that diploma, this may sound like had news. What's more, job testing is more complex than testing in school. With the right attitude and a little careful planning, however, the job testing experience can he a positive one.

Testing ... 1, 2, 3

Here's a rundown of several types of employment tests:

Aptitude. If you've taken the SAT, you're already familiar with this type of test. About one in five employers use aptitude tests to measure logic, reasoning, and mental abilities such as reading comprehension.

Job knowledge. These tests determine the technical or professional expertise and knowledge of job candidates, according to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. For an accounting job, you might take a math skills test; for an administrative job, a Microsoft Office application test; and for a drafting job, a blueprint-reading test.

Psychological. Nearly one-third of employers use some type of psychological test, such as a personality test. These tests look for character traits, such as motivation for a sales position, or traits needed to fit into the department or company culture. There are no right or wrong answers.

Integrity. How honest, dependable, ethical, and reliable are you? That's what these tests uncover. "More and more companies are using tests to reduce employee theft and turnover," says Harris Plotkin, founder of a firm that helps other companies make hiring decisions.

Simulation/work sample. Sometimes the best way to determine a person's potential for success is by assigning a job-related task. For a graphic artist, this might mean creating a magazine layout; an auto repair shop might ask an applicant to tune an engine.

Those Who Can, Prep

Experts say that you really can't prepare for a job test the way you would for a test at school. However, you can hone your skills to get ready for a job knowledge or simulation test. Which skills? Re-read the job announcement, or ask for a more detailed job description for clues.

Kristin Greenberg, who fills temporary positions for the headquarters of a pharmacy chain, says that if the job requires a specific keyboarding speed, for example, a candidate should practice ahead of time. "That's the sign of someone who really ... wants the job. I applaud that."

"Take time to do a refresher in the subject matter," adds Brian Krueger, president of "Study the aspects of the subject that you don't know, rather than What you already know. That is where you will have the greatest room for improvement."

Experts caution against trying to study for a psychological test or provide answers you think the employer wants to hear. For instance, don't try to portray yourself as an outgoing person if you're not. First off, these tests have built-in "lie detectors" to help measure accuracy (they often ask a question several different ways). "Worse yet, if you 'fool' the test, you could end up in a job that is not well suited for who you really are," Krueger says.

Anytime you're preparing for an interview that you know will include an assessment, experts suggest you find sample tests and study guides in the library or on-line. This will help you get used to the question types. Practice aptitude and personality tests are widely available on-line. See and personality-tests.html for some samples. Some large companies also include specific testing information and tips in the career section of their Web sites.

If you're not told what type of test you'll be taking, it's OK to ask. "The more you know and the sooner you know will help in your preparation," says Andrew Jones, the site coordinator at an adult education school in Sacramento, California.

Sample the Test Samples

The following questions are like those you will probably see on a personality inventory. They are sample questions for the Personal Characteristics Inventory published by Wonderlic, Inc. See for more samples of this and other tests.

1. I like initiating conversations with people I do not know.

a. Agree

b. Neither

c. Disagree

2. I like to do favors for people even if they don't deserve them.

a. Agree

b. Neither

c. Disagree

3. I like to stir up excitement when things get boring.

a. Agree

b. Neither

c. Disagree

4. I always do my best at any job I undertake.

a. Agree

b. Neither

c. Disagree

Ouch! You Didn't Get the Job?

Here's a sampling of what experts say about looking on the bright side:

Practice. Andrew Jones, teacher of pre-employment and training classes: "Experience in taking tests has the same value as taking job interviews. Practice, becoming familiar with the types of questions and how to respond to them correctly. Discover what you need to brush up on."

Move On. Brian Krueger, president, "A 'no fit' outcome should not be taken as a negative. Move on to the next one, where you may find your fit."

Getting in the Mode

Getting into "test mode" is preparation in itself for a job test. Here is some sound advice:

* Don't worry about doing everything perfectly. Lisa Arenberg, president of a recruiting firm in Milford, Connecticut, says that job tests are just a way for employers to gauge your ability to do a job. "Most hiring managers ... know that taking a strange test in a strange office does not completely reflect your ability to perform on the job," says Arenberg, who also conducts job interview workshops for local students.

* Ask questions. Is the test timed? What is the format? Will I be penalized for wrong answers or for using computer keyboard short-cuts? "Be sure you understand the directions you've been given before starting a test, "Arenberg says.

* Pamper your mind and body. Get plenty of sleep the night before, eat a light meal first, leave yourself plenty of travel time, and try to relax, Jones suggests. "The less self-induced stress, the better."

* Be optimistic about the experience. Experts say enthusiasm is likely to result in a higher score--and winning the job.

How to Do Your Best on a Job Test

Students will identify the various types of employment tests and gain some understanding of how to take them successfully.


* What types of tests do employers give? (aptitude, job knowledge, psychological, integrity, and simulation or work sample tests)

* What is the best way to prepare for testing? (Understand the skills being tested; practice; take a refresher course; take sample tests; and use study guides. Preparation is not recommended for psychological tests. For all tests, get adequate rest the night before.)

* Why do employers give employment tests?

* What kinds of tests would you give as an employer and why?


1. Have students make charts listing the various types of tests and including the following information about each: purpose, format, type of questions, preparation for.

2. Ask groups of students to prepare checklists of do's and don'ts for employment tests. You may want to make this a humorous assignment by having students create checklists of "How to Flunk an Employment Test."

3. Guide students in taking paper or on-line tests for practice. See and personality-tests.html for some examples.

4. How much can employment tests really tell about a job applicant? Discuss.

5. Have students interview an employer, asking if he or she uses employment tests, how valid the tests seem to be, and what is gained from using them.