Pre-Employment Psychological Evaluations

By Holzman, Arnorld; Kirschner, Mark | Law & Order, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Pre-Employment Psychological Evaluations

Holzman, Arnorld, Kirschner, Mark, Law & Order

Pre-employment psychological evaluations have gained popularity in recent years. Their use has been demonstrated in many areas, including prediction of worker productivity, sales potential, management potential, prediction of adjustment to an organizational culture, assessment of cognitive or interpersonal skills, evaluation of substance abuse, evaluation of honesty, etc.

Psychological evaluations are useful because they provide incremental information beyond the traditional pre-employment information gathering activities. They also are able to ascertain certain otherwise unknown aspects of an applicant such as predispositions to future behavior.

In the area of law enforcement psychological evaluations have proven invaluable as one of the necessary pre-employment activities for prospective officers. Due to the nature of law enforcement work, psychological evaluations serve a unique role by being able to identify potential officers who may not adjust successfully. There are many reasons for unsuccessful adjustment that can be uniquely identified by the psychologist.

A thorough psychological evaluation must evaluate the areas of emotional functioning, behavioral predispositions, cognitive skills and psychosocial support systems. The psychological evaluation is typically performed following a conditional offer of employment, after the candidate has successfully passed several rounds of selection that may include initial application, interview, review of employment and educational history, background check and lie detector analysis.

A useful psychological evaluation must be able to discriminate problematic candidates among a relatively high functioning pool. Below is a review of the factors that should be evaluated in the pre-employment psychological evaluation.


Psychopathology can present in obvious or subtle ways. Overt psychopathology in the form of clear delusional states, obvious interpersonal deficiencies or other forms of emotional dyscontrol is rarely seen in this population. Whereas individuals with certain forms of delusional disorders, such as the paranoid class, may be drawn to law enforcement work they are typically screened out during earlier stages of the selection process. Only the more socially skilled and less severely psychologically maladjusted will likely remain in the candidate pool at later stages of the process.

It is not necessary or appropriate to specifically evaluate for the less severe forms of mental disorders such as clinical depression or anxiety based disorders. Their presence alone is not an exclusionary factor and should not be considered so as mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The influence of these disorders, however, specifically in the areas of stress tolerance, emotional self-management and functioning effectively in a team may interfere with a candidate's potential success. These specific traits should be assessed directly and will be presented below.

Other forms of psychopathology, called personality or character disorders, are also addressed in the pre-employment psychological evaluation. Personality disorders contribute to difficulties with interpersonal relationships between an officer and his peers, or between an officer and the public. Such individuals may over or under react to events in the field due to difficulty managing their emotional reactivity and therefore responding inappropriately to certain events around them. Officers with personality disorders often develop problems functioning within a fixed and structured organization such as a police department. Finally, they are also likely to have problems relating to authority.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is very difficult to identify in the well functioning addict. A well functioning alcoholic or illicit substance abuser is typically highly socially skilled and thus very difficult to identify during the brief interactions typical of the selection process. …

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