Connecting the Dots Blog

Cut-off Scores on Employee Selection Tests: Risks & Implications

“Why do we have to interview everybody we test? Especially when there is a test score below which we definitely would not hire.” This is one of the questions that we frequently hear from clients.


There are three reasons:

1.     a legal factor

2.     a technical consideration

3.     an unintended consequence


1.     The legal factor -- When everyone who is tested is also interviewed, the result is two independent data points that support the employee selection decision. This is further reinforced by the fact that the interview is done blind to test scores. Two independent data points are more powerful than one. They help to limit bias and are supported by legal precedent in employee selection case law.


2.     The technical consideration – When test “cut off scores” are used early in the employee selection process and interviewers only see those who have average or better test battery scores, interview scores usually become inflated and the interview scoring range is restricted. The pattern we have observed is that the interview teams consciously or sub consciously tend to view the candidates more favorably because they are perceived as “smart” and either give them the benefit of the doubt or fail to press for data that would reveal job fit or motivational issues. This has a negative effect on the overall selection effort because the interview no longer has the power to do its work of measuring candidate motivation and adaptation.


The value of seeing and occasionally interviewing a “2” or a “3” is that it is much is easier to “know” a “7” or an “8” when you meet and interview one. When test cut-off scores are used, interviewers only see higher-scoring candidates, frequently score them accordingly, and by failing to use the full scoring scale, limit the power of the final prediction.


3.     The unintended consequence – There is a practical consequence for the employer that uses cut-off scores. Those clients report issues where they hire “smart” people, but a number lack the drive or motivation for the job demands, the shift schedules, or teamwork required by the tasks. This shows up in the form of attendance issues, job disinterest, lack of effort, or resignations shortly after onboarding. 


Additional Considerations

Delay the Decision -- Every employee selection process has a GO – NO GO decision-point. It is best to delay that decision until the very end of the process where several factors unite to form the decision point. This reduces bias and enables the final selection decision to better withstand potential legal scrutiny. 


Address Interview Time Demands -- We often hear about the time factor, where interviewing everyone is seen as a “waste of the interviewers’ time.” We like to remind clients that every employee selection decision is a multi-million-dollar capital investment. The hour spent on a good interview is a sound investment or insurance policy because it helps to provide the rigor needed to justify an employee selection decision and avoid the cost of a bad hire. One way to further address the interview time concern is to involve more stakeholders such as hourly employees in the selection process. We have consistently observed that this provides inclusion and engagement benefits for most organizations.


Limit Employee Selection Risks -- There are situations when someone scores high on the tests, but their interview clearly indicates they would not be a good fit. The goal is to hire the best “match”: those candidates most likely to perform well. Each data point is only that – a data point. They are accurate, and that is our intention. There are always cases of false positives (low quality candidates who are good at taking tests) and false negatives (high quality candidates who are bad at taking tests). If process efficiency was the only priority, then getting “close enough” would be okay. Since we are dealing with other factors such as restricted applicant pools, low unemployment, and candidate experience limitations, our goal is to also identify those false positives before they make it into the company and scoop up all those false negatives that might not have made it through initially. We want the very best “matches” to make it through the process, and we do not want to take the short or easy way out. Taking the time to interview everyone tested limits the risk.


This investment promotes the perception of fairness, which is important for the candidate experience, and also in the event of a lawsuits. Reducing legal challenges through the adherence to the full employee selection process is an appropriate way to save valuable resources. Finally, when interviewers see that the employee selection process is working, it enhances acceptance and they become a champion for the process both at work and in the community.

Joe Nowlin earned his doctorate from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

During the past 40 years, he has designed, tested, and installed proprietary and unmatched selection procedures for manufacturing organizations, transforming and revolutionizing the way they do business, the level of success in hiring personnel and the methods that companies can use to replicate his results.

He has now adapted these proprietary systems for use in medium-sized and smaller organizations.


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 Neenah, WI 54956
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