6 Pre-Employment Assessments Retail Recruiters Should Know

Posted 2 years ago by

It’s no secret that many retailers struggle to keep their staff.

Turnover rates in the retail industry have been sky-high for years and so far no real improvement has been made. In fact, it seems as if they are surging rather than declining.

Not a great situation to be in.

Especially when it can cost you well over $3000 to find, recruit and train a replacement.

Who may end up leaving your organization prematurely too.

So why exactly do retail employees throw in the towel?

Not that long ago we wrote an article about 7 reasons for employee turnover in retail.  

It turns out there are a few factors retail companies can’t do a whole lot about. Part of the high industry turnover is due to the fact that it employs a lot of young people like teenagers and students. They simply don’t tend to work on a full-year schedule.

And then there is the sector’s cyclical business.

Naturally, most retail stores need a lot more staff during the Black Friday weekend and the busy pre-Christmas period than they do in, for example, January or August.

Of course, these two industry-specific factors aren’t the only reasons for employee turnover in retail. A sampling of other causes to give you an idea:  

> It’s a highly competitive job market
> The relatively low pay
> (Mis) management of the applicant’s expectations
> No or insufficient onboarding
> A lack of learning and development (L&D)
> The manager
> The new hires just aren’t the right fit

Do you want to know the good news?

There’s something that can be done about (almost) all of these!

One of the benefits of living in the 21st century as a recruiter is that we have some pretty incredible pre-employment assessment technology at our disposal. Tools that can help us find the talent we need to fill those open positions.

To help you get an idea of what this kind of HR technology can do for your recruitment process, we’ve selected 6 pre-employment assessments retail recruiters should know.  


1. Personality – HEXACO

Most of us aren’t cut out to work in retail.

Because let’s be honest here: it’s a bloody tough job.

Retail staff has to be friendly (always!), customer and quality-oriented, confident, and stress resistant. To name just a few key personality traits for a great retail employee.

Personality is always important when it comes to recruiting new people to join your organization. Even more so in retail, however, because your employees are like your living business card. They are the reason your customers make the effort to physically come into your store.

Or the reason they don’t.

A person’s character tells you a lot about their sociability, values, and work ethics which will help you decide whether or not someone will fit into your company and culture.

Luckily, personality is testable.

The HEXACO personality framework is one of the most valid methods out there to assess people’s personality. It’s also the framework we use at Harver.

Let me tell you how it works.

A candidate’s personality is assessed by asking them questions across six different dimensions. Each dimension consists of four facets and together this results in a complete personality inventory.  

Let me elaborate on this a little further.

Honesty, Extraversion, and Conscientousness are examples of a dimension. If we zoom in on Honesty and look at its four facets we have Sincerity, Fairness, Greed Avoidance and Modesty.

A minimum of 60 questions is required to get a reliable picture of a candidate’s personality framework, but versions with 100 and 200 questions exist as well. Naturally, the more questions you ask, the more reliable a personality profile you get.

Hexaco dimensions and facets

The HEXACO dimensions and facets


2. Realistic Job Previews

A Realistic Job Preview (RJP) is a great way to give candidates a taste of what the job is really like.

The good, the bad, and the ugly that is.

Too often still, working in retail doesn’t meet the applicant’s expectations. Reality turns out to be very different from what was promised during the preselection process (probably meaning a lot harder).

As a result, new joiners often leave the organization as quickly as they joined it.

A pre-employment assessment with one or more realistic job previews can help you paint a clear picture of both the job and your company. Think for example of a video tour of the store, showing candidates their future workplace and even a couple of real-life, on-the-job scenarios they will have to deal with once they start working.

But management of candidate expectations isn’t the only reason to use an RJP.

A realistic job preview can help determine culture fit too.

By adding culture congruent questions – and situations – for an applicant to play out, you can assess whether or not they give culturally desirable answers.

A realistic job preview can give candidates
a sneak peek into their future workplace.


Establishing culture fit with an RJP goes both ways though.

As a retail recruiter, you get to decide if a candidate answers in a way that corresponds with your company culture. On their side, the applicants get to check if they connect with your culture as well.

Having realistic job previews in your pre-employment assessment has a positive long-term effect on both your turnover and engagement levels. Take an RJP that uses videos and co-worker testimonials to paint a truthful picture of life at your retail store for instance.

Not only do applicants get to experience what it is like to do that job they’re applying for, they also get to decide whether or not it’s for them.  


3. Multitasking

It’s easy to imagine a situation in which a retail employee has to multitask.

They’re on the phone with one of the stores’ main suppliers to order new items while an unhappy customer shows up wanting to return an, according to him, faulty item.

They’re busy rearranging the window dressing when a customer asks them where they can find a certain product.


To cut a long story short: your ideal retail employee needs to know how to multitask.

More scientifically speaking, multitasking is the cognitive ability to perform – what’s in a name – multiple task goals in the same time period while switching frequently between individual tasks (Delbridge, 2000).

A candidate’s multitasking capabilities are a good predictor of job performance and quality of work.

To assess this capability, a pre-employment assessment can present applicants with many different messages while asking them to quickly identify these messages and perform two or more tasks simultaneously.

Let me explain.

At Harver, one of the ways we test multitasking is by presenting a candidate this kind of image:


An applicant’s multitasking abilities are predictive of
job performance and quality of work. 


There are three elements to take into account here: the shape of the figure (is it a star, a square, a circle, etc.), its color (yellow, red, green, etc.) and the pattern inside the figure (dots, lines, wavy lines, etc.).

The images vary in rapid succession while the test measures both the task switching ability and the short term memory of the candidate.

4. Situational Judgement Tests

A Situational Judgement Test (SJT) is a type of psychological test that presents applicants with realistic, on-the-job scenarios.

In a pre-employment assessment with an SJT module, the candidates are either asked to identify the most appropriate response in the situation they’re faced with or to rank the responses in the order they feel is most effective.

SJTs are commonly used in industrial-organizational psychology for personnel selection.

Now, why is that you wonder?

Because they tend to determine behavioral tendencies – assessing how an individual (or in our case a retail applicant) acts in a certain situation – and knowledge instruction, which evaluates the effectiveness of possible responses.

An SJT shows candidates what kind of tasks the job entails.


Unlike most psychological tests, Situational Judgement Tests are not one-size-fits-all. They are designed as a bespoke tool, tailor-made to suit the individual role and organizational requirements.

SJTs are useful when it comes to assessing a candidates’ soft skills and non-academic, practical intelligence. They are often used in combination with a knowledge-based test to get a better overall picture of a candidate’s aptitude for the job.

On the applicant’s side, Situational Judgement Tests are a good way to find out what their actual future job is like. For instance, they may realize that working in the evenings or weekends isn’t for them.

Or that they don’t want to work in a customer-facing role after all.

As such, SJTs help managing candidate expectations and avoid disappointments afterward (followed by a premature departure of your new joiner).


5. Cognitive Ability

General Mental Ability (also known as intelligence testing) is an important part of any pre-employment assessment.



1). GMA can be used for all types of jobs, whether it is an entry-level role or an advanced one;

2) It has the best predictive validity concerning job performance;

3) It is the best available predictor of job-related learning.

On our Harver platform, the intelligence testing module includes three different games – Path Finding, Crack the Code, and Puzzle. The overall module is fittingly called the BrainGame.

Let’s take a quick look at each game.


Path Finding

Path Finding involves candidates pointing out which one of 5 simple figures (the ‘paths’) can be detected within a bigger, more complex pattern. They’ve got 40 seconds to find the right answer to each item.

The Path Finding-items are based on a cognitive test developed by Ekstrom, French, Harman, and Dermen (1976).


Crack the Code

Crack the code shows the candidate a series of numbers that represent a numerical sequence. Each series has a logic based on arithmetic.

The candidate gets to see an initial sequence from which a rule needs to be extracted.

For example: x3, x3, x3 or +2, -4,+2, -4, etc.

The applicant needs to pick the next number that follows the logical rule. Again they’ve got 40 seconds to answer each item.

Figuring out the logical rule on which the series of numbers is based.


The crack the code game measures a candidate’s basic math knowledge, pattern recognition for logical operations on numbers (numerical reasoning) and inductive reasoning.

Numerical reasoning tests of the have several benefits:

> They’ve got very good psychometric properties;

> They are suitable for the general community and;

> They measure actual numerical ability (instead of educational achievement).



In the puzzle game, the applicant once again has 40 seconds to answer each item. As the test progresses, the rules become more complex and finding the right answer becomes more difficult.

This game measures a candidate’s ability to forge construction and their capacity to perceive new relationships and patterns.

It also measures their ability to generate high-level, nonverbal schemata, which makes it easy to handle complexity.


6. Video

Particularly for retail jobs, a pre-employment assessment that includes a video module can be valuable.


Because the vast majority of retail roles are customer-facing.

Therefore it’s important that you find people who know how to present themselves very well, how to speak to customers, etc.

A video can give you a good idea of someone’s personality, the way they communicate (both verbal and non-verbal), and their enthusiasm about the job they’re applying for.

It also tells you something about a candidate’s level of tech knowledge (albeit on a basic level) and adds a three-dimensional aspect to your recruitment process.  


Before you go

A pre-employment assessment has the ability to change your retail recruitment game completely. The right technology can help you manage your candidates’ expectations of the job, your company and your culture.

In other words: applicants get to see what it is really like to work in a retail business.

Thanks to various skill – and brain – games you can gather insights about an applicant’s actual suitability for the role.

Which means you’ll reduce the number of new hires that aren’t a right fit.

So, with the help of a pre-employment assessment, you can develop an automated process that improves the quality of your retail candidates (a lot!) which will eventually decrease your turnover rate considerably.


Neelie Verlinden is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Digital HR Tech. She’s an experienced digital HR & HR Tech writer, speaker, and entrepreneur with an international background. She has written countless articles on all things HR technology.