Hiring the right person has always been an important concern for rental businesses, because the ramifications of hiring the wrong people can linger for months or years, and, in a worst-case scenario, contribute to the downfall of a company.

Increasingly, companies have begun to rely on pre-employment tests to help make better hiring decisions. Such tests generally consist of a group of questions relating to skills, behaviors and attitudes deemed important to a particular job.

For example, rental companies hiring counter personnel will focus on finding people who are customer service-oriented; those hiring a service technician will place more emphasis on an employee's mechanical ability.

There are several different types of tests, but the most common are ability, personality and attitude assessments.

Ability assessments help measure a specific mastery of a task or skill. They are commonly used for jobs requiring work with specific equipment, such as a mechanic or a clerical assistant.

Personality assessments are used to provide an indication of the characteristics a person displays over time that are important to a job, such as trustworthiness and emotional stability.

Attitudinal assessments provide an indication of a person's attitudes about important work-related issues, such as customer service aptitude, honesty and teamwork. It is quite common to find tests that combine specific parts of these assessments in order to suit a particular company's hiring needs.

The idea behind such tests is simple: Applicants who score well on the tests are more likely to perform well on the job. When a test is able to help identify potentially successful employees, the test is considered to be "valid."

What is 'validity'? Validity generally refers to the ability of a test to measure what it claims to measure.

For professionals making hiring decisions, two types of validity are important: "face validity" and "criterion validity."

Face validity typically refers to the general ability of a test to appear related to the situation in which it is being used. For example, a test measuring typing skills should primarily consist of questions about typing and/or a measure of how many words a person can type per minute.

Tests that demonstrate an acceptable level of face validity typically have been reviewed by experts who understand the job for which the test is being used, and who have evaluated the extent to which the test content corresponds to specific job tasks. This evaluation by job experts is a critical step in determining if a specific test should be used in a pre-employment setting, and helps minimize resistance by test administrators and applicants who take such tests.

A second type of validity is criterion validity. A test that demonstrates high criterion-related validity is one that can successfully distinguish between applicants who will be high or low job performers. Typically, this relationship is represented by a correlation coefficient, which is a statistic used to represent the strength of the relationship between the test and job criteria such as job performance.

While explaining the statistical analyses used to determine the effectiveness of a selection test is a long, involved process, questions about these types of issues should be fully resolved with the test-publishing company before you implement a testing program. Note that test publishers are professionally obligated to present you with this type of information. Thus, do not hesitate to ask questions until you are comfortable with the information.

Should I test? For any individual responsible for making hiring decisions, the choice to implement a testing program can be difficult. Although assessments may not be appropriate for all jobs or for use by every company, they are good solutions for companies that aren't completely satisfied with the quality of job applicants they are hiring.

Because such tests are scientifically developed, they are designed to provide companies with objective information useful for hiring employees. Many times, companies tend to rely on procedures that are susceptible to subjective interpretations, such as interviews and reference checks.

When used in conjunction with other applicant screening procedures, the implementation of a pre-employment testing program has been shown to be effective in hiring workers who:

* Perform better on the job.

* Provide higher levels of customer service.

* Meet or exceed sales goals.

* Are involved in fewer on-the-job accidents.

* Engage in reduced amounts of on-the-job theft and illegal drug use.

Cost Typically, the cost associated with testing can range from $5 to $20 for a basic exam designed for entry-level positions to $100 to $200 for a full battery of upper-level managerial assessments.

To some, this upfront cost for testing may seem high, especially for companies with a large hiring volume. However, it is important to consider the costs associated with hiring the wrong person, including increased employee training, more work-related accidents, employee theft, unexcused employee absences and poor job skills.

When multiplied by the number of poor hiring decisions, these costs can become alarmingly high. Companies routinely discover their return on investment - such as increased organizational productivity and profits - far exceeds the initial testing costs.

Guidelines While there are many companies that sell pre-employment tests, it can be difficult to choose one if you don't know what to look for.

Here are some guidelines to help you choose one:

* Select a company that has been in the business for several years and has worked with both large and small companies.

* Make sure the company can provide a complete staff to support your needs, including knowledgeable salespeople, staff psychologists in the research-and-development department and ongoing customer service support.

* Look for a company that provides a wide variety of assessments, from entry-level to managerial positions.

* Find a company that offers a variety of test administration and scoring methods. Administration methods should include common techniques such as the traditional paper-and-pencil format, as well as more sophisticated techniques such as on a personal computer or an automated phone service. A variety of test scoring methods should also be offered, such as hand scoring keys, computerized scoring packages, fax-scoring capability, computerized scanning capability or telephonic scoring.

* Select a test company that can provide your company with written documentation demonstrating the validity of the assessment you are purchasing, as well as information addressing relevant legal requirements.

Can a good pre-employment test replace traditional hiring procedures, such as interviewing or checking references? Simply put, the answer is no.

The tests are not designed to replace your skills as a good interviewer. They are, however, designed to provide you with additional information that can help you make a more accurate hiring decision.

In general, pre-employment testing can be an extremely powerful tool to help companies make better hiring decisions. As the business market becomes more competitive, companies who do not use pre-employment assessments may find themselves falling farther behind their competitors.