Pre-employment cognitive testing is older than most believe. Based on historically recorded information, the first mental employment test may have been the imperial examination in China used as far back as the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Its use was standardized during the Song Dynasty (960 AD – 1279 AD) as a civil service exam for candidates wishing to enter the state bureaucracy. The imperial examination tested candidates’ knowledge on topics such as civil law and fiscal policy, and helped the nation transition from a military ruling class to a scholarly one. Later in its development, degrees were presented to candidates passing the examinations.
Besides making higher career paths available, the exam degrees raised a candidate’s social status as well. European missionaries brought the employment testing system back to Europe, and large entities such as the English East India Company were advised to utilize comparable methods in their employee selection process. What we consider modern cognitive testing began in France during the 1800s. In the U.S., employment testing gained popularity for government positions after 1883, and has retained that popularity to this day with the state and city job Civil Service Exams.
Another popular testing method is an employment personality assessment. Personality testing owes its roots to the antiquated practice of phrenology, or personality evaluations based on measurements of the human skull. Perhaps another of its predecessors is physiognomy, or personality assessments based on facial features and other aspects of external appearance. Phrenology and physiognomy as they were then are considered a pseudoscience today, though they may have vaguely influenced modern theatrical mentalism. Unlike cognitive testing, personality testing in a practical application plays a crucial role not in the candidate’s capacity to learn and apply the necessary information, but more so in the candidate’s willingness to perform their future job on a daily basis. Fitting in with the ever-unique company culture is another vital aspect for long term employment and effective workplace communication that is measured by a well-constructed personality assessment.