Answered by Dana, Hiring Expert at ManpowerGroup, on Thursday, May 22, 2014
You are absolutely correct that many employers utilize cognitive, competency, and personality testing nowadays! There are quite literally hundreds of assessments available to employers, so it’s difficult to comment on which are the most popular for any given industry. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for an organization to select and administer different assessment combinations for different roles, even within the same department, at the same company.
It’s been my experience that assessments traditionally fall into three categories:
Cognitive tests are often timed, and may highlight problem-solving strengths, the capacity to work well under pressure, the ability to make educated-guesses, and other related talents. These might include a combination of language, logic/reasoning, and math problems for candidates to solve. There are several well-known organizations which create and customize cognitive testing for employers, and free practice tests are sometimes available online for candidates to try.
Skills or competency-based assessments are tailored to the precise needs of the position (i.e. Microsoft Word and Excel testing for a role which requires that expertise). They may or may not be timed, and can be extremely specific. There are assessments such as these for just about everything under the sun, from customer service skills, to circuit-board assembly. Similar to cognitive assessments, it may be possible to find free practice tests online.
Personality testing (sometimes timed) usually centers around soft-skills and strong-suits aligned with a job opening. For example, a personality assessment for a sales role might involve questions related to overcoming client objections, motivations for success, and the need for recognition and reward. It’s always best to “keep your professional hat on” when completing these, and I advise candidates to be honest and trust their instincts. Personality tests may give the interviewer a better picture of what a candidate is looking for, and spark follow-up questions to be used in additional conversations prior to hire.