Kayla Heisler

Standardized testing is making a comeback in offices across the country. Applicants hoping to fill roles from office assistant to CEO may be asked to complete a timed standardized test as a part of the hiring process. This isn’t the first time standardized tests have shown up in the workplace. In the 1950’s, testing upper level management became a trend that died out after many CEOs were unable to pass their own company’s test.

The Criteria Pre-Employment test company has clients in fields that range from technology to healthcare to financial services. Interview Mocha offers a CEO test that screens candidates who possess the traits of leader, decision maker, board developer, and a host of other specific skillsets.

While the tests have been dramatically overhauled since the versions that debuted seventy years ago, testing job applicants has positives and drawbacks.

I initially bristled at the idea of standardized testing—studies have long confirmed college-placement standardized tests favor those whose parents can afford to give them more test prep—but the nature of the workplace test differs. The tests are measurements of attention to detail and cognitive reflection, which mean they measure a person's tendency to override an incorrect gut instinct and engage in further reflection to find a correct answer, and not simply memorization assessments that may be studied for.

Business-school professors Steven Kaplan and Morten Sorensen looked at more than 2,600 executive assessments and found brainpower and analytic skills are significant factors in determining who becomes a chief executive officer.

This, however, raised the issue of inherent age discrimination since cognitive abilities tend to decrease as age increases. Forms of intelligence like emotional intelligence and general knowledge increase later in life, but these tests do not account for those skills. 

One of the most compelling arguments in service of the testing is that it shows the way that people think under stress. For instance, a person who crumbles under the pressure a ticking clock and a sheet full of empty bubbles probably won’t hold up too well in the face of a hostile takeover. 

While testing ability certainly should not be the only factor taken into consideration during the hiring process, it can be a useful tool. Evaluating past experience and formal interviews will not likely become obsolete anytime soon.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.