How to Measure Content Validity in a Pre-Employment Test

Using pre-employment testing to vet job candidates is an ever-popular recruitment step. It’s a great way to gauge the fit and aptitude of a candidate. If a valid test is used, these can weed out unsuitable candidates before you even interview. Any fantastic pre-employment test will have great content validity to ensure that it is suitable for use.

But what makes up the content validity of a pre-employment test? You may have assumed that any off the shelf pre-employment tests you find will have content validity. However, this is not always the case. There is no one standardized measure for validity.

Instead, there must be a base of evidence showing that any test is valid. A pre-employment test is valid if it can be demonstrated that there is a link between job performance and the test results.

What Are the Factors of a Good Test?

Who’s to say what’s a good pre-employment test? There are some easily definable features of a good test that you can use pre-employment. These include:

1. The test is relevant to the role in question. Testing for skills that are nothing to do with the role is not that useful. Make sure that the test considers what the job entails and what is needed to succeed in the role.

2. The test measures the factors it claims to. For example, a test of arithmetic will test a candidate’s arithmetic ability.

3. The test measures factors reliably. It is not enough just to measure what it says it will. The test must do that reliably. The results should be consistent enough that if a person took the test twice, the outcome should be roughly the same.

4. The test should assist recruiters in making great hiring decisions. For example, a test of problem-solving skills should be used to determine good candidates for a job that requires those skills.

Types of Validity

There are many forms of validity in a test, not only content validity. Each has their different purpose.

Construct Validity

This is the part of the test that determines whether it measures what it is trying to measure. Construct validity is about whether the test is set up in the right way to measure what it says it will.

To offer an example, a verbal reasoning test must accurately test the verbal reasoning of the candidate.

Criterion Validity

Criterion validity is based around the relationship of two variables. For example, the desired skill and the test score of the candidate. The skill is often focused on a business outcome. That’s why it is often also referred to as concrete validity – it is about the concrete outcomes.

An example of criterion validity would be the test score vs average sales per hour.

Content Validity

Content validity relates to how much the subject matter in the test is related to the skills needed for the role. As long as the HR practitioner or recruiter is an effective job analyst, content validity is not too tough to achieve. It will be necessary for you to thoroughly check that the skills tested are the skills required for the job.

An example of content validity would be testing typing skills for a receptionist role. An example of when content validity would not be achieved is if you tested the typing skills for a carpentry role.

How to Measure Content Validity?

Let’s delve deeper into measuring content validity. While all of the above validity types are required in a test, content validity is perhaps the most relevant for recruiters to know about.

Validity, including content validity, is measured with the Validity Coefficient value. This is also known as the R-value.

R Value:  .35 < Outcome: The test could be greatly beneficial

R Value: .21 – .35 < Outcome: The test is pretty useful

R Value: .11 – .20 Outcome: The test may be useful, depending on the circumstance

R Value:  > .11  Outcome: The test is unlikely to be useful

If you have developed an excellent test, the content validity would be above 0.4. However, this value is largely unattainable for pre-employment tests.

An excellent assessment will achieve a validity coefficient value of .4. R-values above this are largely unheard of for pre-employment tests.

Try to get a pre-employment test custom-designed to have an R-value of 3.5 or more. This could tremendously improve the quality of your hiring process. It can double or even triple the quality of your screening processes.


Measuring the validity of any pre-employment test is crucial. Before you give anyone one of these tests, you must be certain that they do what they say they will. If you use pre-employment tests in the right way, they can be extremely effective for screening candidates.

Ensure that you have content validity in the test – and that is your role as the recruiter or HR practitioner. If you can accurately define what skills are required for the role, then you are set up well to find a test which will test those skills.

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