Human Resources

Using work tests as an additional staff selection tool

Further information


A work test is an exercise or piece of work that is similar to work that the candidate would be required to perform in the job.

  1. Work test
  2. Advantages and disadvantages
  3. Creating the work test
  4. Examples
  5. References

Work test

The work test is a sample of behaviour that can be used to predict future performance in similar work situations. It is also a tool that provides supplementary information relating to skills that may be difficult to assess in other ways. The teaching seminar, mandatory for selection of teaching staff, is a form of work test. By watching candidates conduct the seminar, the panel is able to see and assess the ability of the candidate to meet the key selection criteria of teaching skills.

Work tests may consist of such things as written work, computer tests, presentations, role plays, in-basket exercises and other exercises that test for an applicant's speed, skill, accuracy and dexterity at manual tasks. The work test can also involve cognitive exercises that test the applicant's ability to analyse statistical or budget information. Candidates are told in advance that they will be asked to do an exercise, what it will consist of and how long it will take. Normally a work test is done on the day the candidate attends the interview, and would either precede or follow the interview. Examples of work tests are:

  • Design then give a five minute presentation, explaining to potential students the benefits of enrolling in a course at UWA.
  • Create an Excel spreadsheet, using the information supplied.
  • Draft a letter to a Head of School explaining that an important procedure has not been followed.
  • Deliver a fifteen minute presentation explaining how key elements of the strategic plan can be advanced within the School.
  • Involvement in simulated group discussions and decision making exercises where the applicant is expected to discuss a particular topic with others, or work together on a task, while their performance and interactions are assessed. These simulations are intended to reflect the nature and duties of the position, and can be used to test a range of the applicant's interpersonal skills.
  • Draft a press release about a prestigious award that the University has won.
  • Read and summarise a document into a form that your Head of School could use to inform Academic Council of the key issues raised in the document.

Work tests have fairly high validity between 40%-50%. Because they involve the practical application of skills, they can be very useful in providing objective information to balance the subjective experience of the interview (Blake, 2001).

Work tests can be used only with applicants who know the job or have been trained for the occupation or job (Schmidt & Hunter, 1988) so are an appropriate evaluation tool for essential selection criteria.

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Advantages and disadvantages

The HR Guide to the Internet (2001) lists some advantages and disadvantages of work tests. Advantages of work tests include:

  • High reliability
  • High content validity since work samples are a sample of the actual work performed on the job
  • Can constitute an objective assessment of the applicant's abilities, in a manner that is consistent for all those being tested.
  • Because of their relationship to the job, these tests are typically viewed more favorably by examinees than aptitude or personality tests
  • Difficult for applicants to fake job proficiency which helps to increase the relationship between score on the test and performance on the job
  • Work tests use equipment that is the same or substantially similar to the actual equipment used on the job.

Disadvantages of work tests include:

  • May be costly to administer; often can only be administered to one applicant at a time
  • Although useful for jobs where tasks and duties can be completed in a short period of time, these tests have less ability to predict performance on jobs where tasks may take days or weeks to complete
  • Less able to measure aptitudes of an applicant thus restricting the test to measuring ability to perform the work sample and not more difficult tasks that may be encountered on the job.

 Other benefits of work tests include:

  • Applicants develop positive attitudes toward selection procedures that include work tests
  • Applicants report that such tests appraise their potential fairly and allow them to self-assess their own performance. This may result in higher job refusal and lower turnover.
  • Applicants report that work tests allow them to show what they can do in a way that an interview cannot (Robertson & Kandola, 1982).

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Creating the work test

Tasks chosen for the work test should be generally representative of the job (Robertson, 1982). The test should include important aspects of the task or job that can be measured by clear criterion e.g. number completed within a time limit and/or number and type of errors (HR Guide to the Internet, 2001). The best sources for tasks to include in the work test are the people who currently do the job and those who supervise them. Consistent assessment of the results of the work tests against the established criteria will increase their predictive validity. While the tasks chosen should be as authentic as possible, issues of confidentiality must be considered carefully.

Care should be taken to ensure that the work test does not disadvantage an applicant with a disability, and the test should be adjusted to accommodate the applicant's disability if required.

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These examples are provided, in addition to those mentioned in the introduction, to illustrate potential work test processes you might be able to use in staff selection. In developing your own versions, rather than using these examples, you will gain the most valid predictor of future job performance.

Notifying all applicants that a timed test is involved, providing the necessary tools in an environment where they will be uninterrupted and delivering the same instruction set to each applicant will ensure that the test is equitable.

Example 1

For a position that required skills in desktop publishing and Web authoring, each applicant is given written instructions that include:

  1. Take the copy from the email attachment in the supplied email and paste it into the PageMaker newsletter template. Format and correct the text as appropriate.
  2. Select a graphic image to illustrate the copy and include within the newsletter.
  3. Print the newsletter.
  4. Create an HTML file with the text and image used in the PageMaker file. Format appropriately.
Time required:
30 minutes per applicant either before or after the interview
Resources required:
A computer with PageMaker and the Web editing software normally used
Access to an email message with file attachment
Access to a selection of graphic image files
A floppy disc (so the saved work of one applicant is not available for viewing by the next applicant).
A staff person to administer the test and answer questions

Example 2

For a position that required skills in spreadsheet construction, filing and email, each applicant is given written instructions that include:

  1. Devise a spreadsheet to record invoice details that will produce a monthly summary.
  2. Enter details from all invoices supplied.
  3. Send the spreadsheet results by email attachment to the email address provided.
  4. Sort invoices alphabetically by supplier for filing.
Time required:
30 minutes per applicant either before or after the interview
Resources required:
An unordered file of supplier invoices
A floppy disc (so the saved work of one applicant is not available for viewing by the next applicant).
A computer with Excel and email software
A staff person to administer the test and answer questions

Example 3

For a position that requires accurate typing skills and email familiarity, each applicant is given written instructions that include:

  1. Transcribe the supplied handwritten committee meeting minutes using the provided template.
  2. Format the minutes using the style guide provided, correcting any errors.
  3. Send the minutes by email attachment to the email address provided.
Time required:
20 minutes per applicant either before or after the interview
Resources required:
Handwritten committee meeting minutes
A computer with word processing and email software
A word processing template for meeting minutes
A staff person to administer the test and answer questions

Example 4

For a position that will require frequent use of the telephone consider using a phone interview as an initial screening tool. Advise applicants in the job information package that the first contact the prospective employer will have with applicants is by telephone, and that this will constitute part of the selection process.

Time required:
20 minutes per applicant
Resources required:
A staff person to administer the phone interview

Example 5

For positions that will require high level analytical and communication skills, advise each applicant that they will be required to deliver a 15 minute presentation to the selection panel as the first component of the interview process. Each applicant is given written instruction prior to the interview that indicates:

  1. You are required to deliver a 15 minute presentation at the beginning of the interview. The instructions for this presentation are: "You have been invited to attend a high level committee of the University to outline ways in which the Faculty of X can contribute to the organisation's Internationalisation policy, and specifically, its desired intention of producing 'graduates of the globe' are asked to put yourself in the position of ..."
  2. In your presentation you should identify a range of strategies that could be adopted by the faculty, indicating a level of priority to each of the strategies. You should indicate what possible impediments there may be in the implementation of these strategies and suggest some possible ways of overcoming these impediments.
  3. You should also indicate the possible gains for the University that will flow from these strategies, as well as possible implications in terms of funding, resources and preparedness of other key University stakeholders to work collaboratively on this plan.
Time required
15 minutes at the beginning of the interview
Resources Required
An overhead projector


Blake, V. (2001). What is a Work Test?, Staff Selection Skills for Panel Members. Crawley, Western Australia: Centre for Staff Development, UWA.

HR Guide to the Internet. (2001). Personnel Selection: Methods: Work Sample Tests, [WWW]. [2002, 29 January].

Robertson, I. T., & Kandola, R. S. (1982). Work sample tests: Validity, adverse impact and applicant reaction. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 55, 171-183.

Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262-274.

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