Pre-Employment Psychological Screening

By Borofsky, Gerald L. | Risk Management, January 1993 | Go to article overview

Pre-Employment Psychological Screening

Borofsky, Gerald L., Risk Management

IN THEIR EFFORTS TO REDUCE THE number of work-related injuries and illnesses, companies have used a wide range of techniques that include improvements in engineering, employee education, hazard identification and elimination, and ergonomic analysis. However, no matter what steps a company takes to encourage and mandate safe work practices, accidents and injuries are still bound to occur. Additionally, the costs associated with workplace accidents and injuries are significant for companies of all sizes, and have risen progressively over the years; the 1990 Cost of Risk Survey, for example, reported that from 1984 to 1989, unreimbursed workers' compensation losses increased by 5.9 percent.

In the past, companies have tended to pay less attention to the role that psychological factors play in workplace accidents and illnesses. However, the situation has begun to change as more companies learn how psychological factors can directly contribute to these work-related problems. Since a worker's personality and behavior patterns can play a role in engendering work-related accidents and illnesses, risk managers may wonder whether screening job applicants for personality traits is an effective means of ensuring a safe work environment. As it turns out, a large body of evidence demonstrates that pre-employment psychological screening can be an effective tool in helping companies select employees who are best suited for particular jobs. However, in order to achieve successful results through psychological screening, risk managers must ensure that the tests meet established criteria and are appropriate for the firm's human resource needs.


Actually, whether they realize it or not, all organizations use at least one form of pre-employment test - the job interview. Generally, the job interview seeks to identify applicants who are well-suited for a particular position and are therefore likely to perform the job in a safe and reliable manner; the interview also aims to isolate those applicants who are poorly suited for the position. However, instead of merely relying 6n personal judgment during the interview process, interviewers can utilize psychological tests as a means of identifying suitable applicants.

But why are psychological tests necessary? First, it is important to realize that the personality and behavioral traits of job applicants can vary widely. For example, one applicant may have a personality that would make him or her alert and attentive on the job, while another may be easily distracted and inattentive to details. Furthermore, whereas one applicant may be mature, responsible, and have good judgment, frustration tolerance and impulse control, another may have significant shortcomings with respect to one or more of these key personality traits. And, when under pressure, whereas one individual may be able to maintain an acceptable level of attention and concentration on the work at hand, another may become self-absorbed and preoccupied with inner worries, and therefore susceptible to accidents.

Additionally, some people react immediately to the appearance of a potentially dangerous situation, and become more attentive and alert. However, others in a similar situation may fail to notice that a potential danger exists, or if they do realize that something is amiss, either ignore the problem or become anxious and distracted. As can be seen from these examples, variations in personality traits may well be associated with corresponding variations in the occurrence of workplace accidents and injuries.


Psychological tests have a number of characteristics that make them a potentially useful tool in the pre-employment selection process. For example, these tests are simple to administer and score, can be made scientifically accurate, and are generally cost-effective. But do these tests really do what experts claim? …

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