Assessment As Part of the Job-Search Process

I’ve been tracking trends in the screening and assessment marketplace for over five years now, and I’m pleased to see the progress that is being made in understanding the value of quality-assessment products in the modern hiring process.

Folks are finally starting to get the idea that assessments are but one component of a broader process designed to help hiring professionals make systematic predictions that result in good hiring decisions.

There’s much to be gained from this process-oriented approach, so it has been great to see assessments being used to help at various phases of the hiring process.

Despite the continued integration of assessment, there’s one area in which assessment has been underused. This area is the use of assessment tools during the job-searching process. Specifically, the integration of assessment tools into the searching/matching component of career portals.

Traditional methods available to users of career portals for locating jobs are extremely crude, consisting mostly of keyword searches or matching based on simplistic profile elements.

The fact that this basic process has endured as the standard for almost a decade now clearly reflects the quantity-over-quality focus that has reflected the marketing-centric attitude of many job boards since day one.

Blocking Out the Noise

This crude matching process results in excess noise. For applicants, noise means they’re presented with, and encouraged to apply for, a ton of jobs for which they’re not qualified. For hiring professionals, noise means no mechanism to assist them in making an initial high-level determination of applicant quality.

Noise makes it difficult to make good hiring decisions because it greatly increases the chance to make systematic errors.

The good news is that I am starting to see a shift in focus that will go a long way toward a reduction in noise and an increase in the ability to differentiate candidates based on various quality factors.

This shift involves the use of assessment tools as an integral part of the services provided by career portals. The use of assessment to help fill the hiring funnel with applicants who have the attributes required for success has numerous advantages, all of which are explained by simple probability theory.

Think about it: the more qualified the individuals in your applicant pool, the better chance you have of hiring someone who has what it takes. Over the past few years, I have learned of an increasing number of companies who are seeking to change things by integrating assessment into the matching process.

The basic aspects of this include the following:

  • Seekers create profiles. This part of the matching process works as part of a registration process, before a job seeker has even expressed interest in a specific position. Along with other information collected during this process, the job seeker creates a profile based on a short assessment of basic qualities such as work attitudes, personality measures, etc.
  • Corporate users define high-level requirements. This part of the matching process requires hiring personnel to create a template of the basic things it takes to do the job well. This often includes standard things such as skills and experience but also includes qualities often measured by assessments (personality factors, dimensions of fit, work values, etc).
  • Noise is squelched. When a job seeker searches for a job using the profile he/she has created, results include jobs for which they are suited based on the compatibility between their profiles and those of available jobs.

There are many twists on this formula but the basic idea is the same: deliver an applicant pool that has less noise and makes the recruiter’s job easier. This is the start to ensuring quality hires because it’s sure hard to hire superstars if they aren’t even in your applicant pool to begin with.

Admittedly, my description of this process is overly simplistic. In job matching, just as with making hiring decisions, assessment data should serve as one of many data points that are used to identify the best candidate for the job. Truly effective matching systems will use parameters that include other key determinants of success such as experience, knowledge, and skills.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Overall, the use of assessment in the matching process offers the following five advantages:

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  1. Reduces noise. Allows filtering based on actual job-related parameters.
  2. Helps determine corporate fit. This process is a good way to find and hire applicants who fit a company culture.
  3. Increases quality. Allows insight into applicant’s ability to deliver what it takes for success.
  4. Educates job seekers. Allows applicants some insight about themselves and how suited they are for a particular job or career.
  5. Results in branding. Can be a good applicant experience leading to support for employment brands.

Of course, there are potential drawbacks to the use of assessment as part of the matching process. These include the following five issues:

  1. Learning curve. Users must learn to understand how to define jobs in terms of relative importance of the parameters used for matching.
  2. Accuracy. It is critical to match the templates against which applicants are matched to accurate reflections of the job.
  3. Uncertainty. Predicting performance is a difficult task, to say the least. Assessment-assisted matching is not a panacea and does not eliminate possibility that mistakes will happen.
  4. Quality control. To be effective, assessments must be created using the proper methodology; substandard assessment products will produce substandard results.
  5. Legality. While the use of assessments in matching is not illegal, it does require awareness of some potential legal ramifications (see below for more discussion on this issue).

Legal Issues

Five years ago, I believed that the use of any pre-employment assessments as a matching tool was not a good idea. Since then, some things have happened to make me change this stance.

One of the most important of these is the work that is being done in determining exactly when one is considered an applicant. Without getting too deep into this complex subject, individuals who have not yet expressed interest in a job, but rather are browsing for options, are not technically considered applicants.

Thus, any assessments they may complete prior to expressing interest aren’t subject to evaluation for legal correctness.

This doesn’t mean that the basic litmus test of legal defensibility (i.e., the job relatedness of an assessment tool) is any less important for the matching process. Also, the softening of my initial stance does not mean that the use of these tools has no potential legal ramifications. The job-relatedness of an assessment tool is still critical in terms of ensuring its effectiveness and thus should not be ignored.

Perhaps the biggest potential legal pitfall of using assessments for matching is how the assessment results are used after the matching step has occurred. The results of the assessment used to create the match still have value within the hiring process because they provide information about the applicant relative to the job in question.

However, these results cannot be used to make hiring decisions unless such data has been captured for all applicants. Since applicants are most often sourced from a range of different places using a range of different methods, you can get in a situation where some applicants took an assessment and some did not.

In such cases, steps must be taken to ensure that one of two things occurs. Either all applicants who did not apply via a portal using the matching assessment must be given the chance to take the assessment, or assessment results captured as part of the matching process should not be used for any decision-making once the job seeker has fulfilled all requirements needed for them to be labeled an applicant.

Of course, the concept of assessment-based matching will continue to evolve and many issues will have to be resolved in the process.

Despite this, within the next five years I expect to see career portals offering an increasing amount of value by beginning to change the focus from quantity to quality, with assessments as one of the core elements of this switch.

I think all stakeholders involved in the hiring process, including applicants, stand to benefit from this trend.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.







5 Comments on “Assessment As Part of the Job-Search Process

  1. I love how deep you are thinking about the assessment space and its potential applications, Charles. Job boards and career portals are an emerging area where assessments could have some value.

    Related to one of your last points, I wonder if anyone is thinking about how an assessment or any other type of pre-screening technology could be used for potential applicants to help drive their decision about whether or not to apply. In other words, the assessment or matching technology becomes a data point they could use to determine their rough probability of getting the job.

  2. Charles funny timing on your article for me because we are going to be announcing an assessment partnership very soon. The reason for us why the assessment piece is valuable is because of the profile and not the resume. So we drive passive candidates to our clients, they complete the assessment and then the client can evaluate the talent from the assessment. It also allows the candidate to learn more of the company, see if they are really a fit for the job based on the questions asked and if the candidate is really interested in the job based on the questions asked. It gives us another tool to be able to understand what passive candidates we are driving to our clients.

  3. Interesting article, thanks! We talk frequently here in the ERE (myself included – a product of my academic training and idealistic thinking, perhaps?!) about how best to use assessments to hire candidates. But how many organizations are really using tools beyond an interview to assess candidates? At best, it seems organizations may use a behavioral interview based on a model from another company or out of a book. So why don’t more HR departments incorporate assessments into the interview process and train/utilize Recruiters to conduct assessments beyond what many term ‘gut feelings?’

    I did a quick search of open HR positions on major job boards before posting this, to see how many Recruiting roles require psychometrics experience or even mention basic and well-known assessments in the description (requiring that Recruiters at least be knowledgeable about assessments). Unfortunately I found VERY few.

    Is anyone else curious about this? To paint a realistic picture of how, where and why assessments are being used please chime in and let us know: Which assessment tools do you use? When in the process are candidates formally assessed ? Who administers and/or interprets results? Who makes yay or nay decisions after results are reported?

    Looking forward to responses!


  4. Victor,

    We are a Behavioral Assessment company and many of my clients are starting to use assessments earlier in the process to help screen candidates not to mention making better hires.
    We greatly improve HR metrics from which judged.

    We are integrated within some ATS and can integrate with any others or home grown systems.
    As you use other technologies to bring in candidates my clients have found it very beneficial to use us to identify them so bring in only top candidates who most likely will be successful in the position.
    Eliminates wasted time spent on wrong candidates!

    This requires an upfront job analysis or benchmarking testing of department (over 50) but that is a one time deal. After that our reports are measured against desired results from analysis and very easy to use and read/understand…no PHD needed.

    Assessments are grwoing as more C-level’s and VP HR undertsand the overall bottom-line value. As you mentioned much better % of making right hire than traditional resume reading and standard interviews where canidates study and say what they want to hear. What do wrong hires cost company and wasted time spent on wrong people and screening, many now know and if track we will positively affect these metrics and be significant ROI.

    Hope this information helpful!
    Any further questions do not hesitate to reach out

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