Assessments Come at a Cost

About a week ago, I got a call from a former colleague and friend of mine who happens to be a recruiter. “Todd, we just opened up a great position. I just left the hiring manager’s office from qualifying the opportunity. This is your dream job. You need to get me your resume, and fast.”

This friend is one of the most competent and seasoned recruiters I have ever known. He’s a good friend, as well. Were he not so solid a recruiter, I would probably have said “No thanks, I’m pretty happy where I am.”

I tidied up my resume and promptly sent if off; you never know what the future holds. He e-mails me back saying it looks good and that he would like me to complete a “candidate data sheet.”

I receive a four-page, nicely formatted Word attachment in response. The document seeks to collect a lot of information. It would have taken me nearly an hour to complete. Much of the material it asks for was easily available to me, as I have kept close tabs on my work history and have complete documents like this one in the past. But to assemble it, check it for perfection, and then send it off without any sense of return, well, I’m not so sure it was going to be a good use of my time. But, out of respect for my friend, I did read it thoroughly.

Midway through this task, it occurred to me that if the recruiter was not also a close friend, I would have promptly e-mailed back a “you’ve got to be kidding me, are you out of your mind?” response. But he is a good friend, and thus, I am up for the task of at least reading and considering it.

Now that I think of it, I have been asked, and have asked others, more than a couple of times to complete some kind of datasheet which is quite thorough, as a prerequisite to being considered for a job. I’ve taken several psychological assessments as pre-requisites to be considered for jobs.

From the employer’s perch, these devices seem to have the best intentions for making good selections and they act as a means to streamline the process, all of which pass muster of “well and good.”

Trickle those interests down to the recruiter’s level and these instruments translate in to a few positives, at least on the surface, that is. To be sure, they appear to make a process move more quickly.

With a datasheet, for instance, a recruiter can simply send over a document and have the candidate fill it out as opposed to getting him or her on the phone and asking the questions. It’s a streamlining technique. These tools can make the process less emotional and confrontational, as well.

If the document seeks the right information, when it comes time to bargain for compensation, if the datasheet covers it, and we assume the candidate has told the truth, we’re in a fine position to negotiate with our own or our client’s best interests at heart. We can also avoid having one of those uncomfortable conversations in the process.

With assessments, it’s a whole different story. I was contacted once by a recruiter who had a “terrific opportunity” with a Fortune 500 company who shall remain nameless for the moment. He gave me the pitch about the opportunity and the company and I was intrigued. I would be receiving an e-mail from them in the next 24 hours asking me to complete an online assessment.

Upon starting the assessment, I was informed that I would need approximately 50 minutes to complete the task. I later determined that it would take the company about 40 minutes of my time to determine that I was not psychologically qualified for them. Of course, I got no return on my time.

Nevertheless, there I went, answering all sorts of questions about whether some diametrically opposed set of options was more like me, less like me, or neutral. Twenty minutes after I completed the assessment, I received word that I would no longer be considered.

Wow, summary judgment! I didn’t even get a chance to plead my case to his honor.

An Alternative Reality

Consider the case of a company that contacts an individual who is rumored to be pretty good at discipline “X.” They call and initiate a recruiting relationship. He responds positively but declares that before anything else happens, he wants the company’s CEO to complete a brief datasheet and take an assessment. Such is the hegemony of a company versus the status of an employee.

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But it’s not always going to be that way, so say the statistics of the Baby-Boomer era. We all talk about it: the numbers are black and white. Pretty soon, there are going to be a lot more jobs than there are people.

By the looks of it, the circa 1999 days of hiring anyone with a heartbeat to simply show up are not far off again. So, if we assume that the numbers are correct, pretty soon it’s once again going to be a candidate’s market; some would argue it already is, however, I am not one of them.

When it becomes a candidate’s market, this practice of putting someone through the rigors of a thorough psychoanalysis or a lengthy candidate datasheet will go by the wayside. Keep it up and you’re soon to find fewer returned phone calls.

In the not too far-off future, there will one day be a full standardized profile each person has of himself. It will be a dynamic tool that captures significantly more information than just what we see on a resume. It will display not only work history and education, but a heck of a lot more, much of which is extracted by today’s pre-employment screening.

If you must use questionnaires, which I do not suggest abandoning entirely, at least keep them short. Ten minutes is about as much time as a candidate wants to spend before getting a chance to interview.

If the first interview goes well, then use a more thorough data sheet. If your company is one who uses psychoanalysis, then perhaps it is better to introduce these tools later on in the process. Doing so too soon can surely raise red flags in the mind of the job seeker. Or, at least, it will cause some of the higher-caliber professionals to think twice about coming to work for you.

The very purpose of pre-employment screening and or evaluation/assessments is to increase the quality of the hire. It’s also to eliminate a lot of folks, too. Suffice it to say, this assumes that there is a higher caliber person out there, prima facie. As an employer, you obviously want as many of those people on your team as possible.

Unless you have a monopoly on reputation like few companies do, hotshots are not standing in line to get a chance to interview with your company. Those people who excel at what they do (i.e. the best of the best) are enjoying it immensely. As an employer, in attempting to attract these people to, remember that you are:

  1. Disrupting them while they are in the midst of doing what they love
  2. Challenging their contentment with status-quo and asking them to take a risk which if discovered, could cost them their job
  3. Placing time-consuming hurdles in front of them before they are allowed to show up for the race

What does this add up to? It adds up to exactly what employers are trying so desperately to avoid: hiring bottom feeders. I have a news flash for those of you who are not convinced: resumes are filled with embellishments, distortions, and in many cases, outright lies.

When it comes to assessments, no matter how good the tool is that’s being used, people can still lie their way past it. Heck, I went to college with a guy who presently makes over $300,000 as a salesperson for a very well-known medical device company. He brags about how he carries synthetic urine in his car in the event that he has to provide a sample. To date, he’s been tested twice. He smokes more pot than a Dutch hippie. But yet, he’s never failed a drug test. He figured out a way to beat the system.

Like my college acquaintance, bottom feeders will figure out a way to beat a system; it’s part of how they get a job.

Todd Rogers is the sole partner with The Alva Bradley Company, LLC, a professional services firm in Fishers, Indiana. Prior to founding ABC, LLC, Todd worked in sales for Monster.com. He has a total of eight years experience in the recruiting industry, which by his own account feels more like 80 years. He also served five years in the U.S. Marines, and has a B.A. in philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio.

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7 Comments on “Assessments Come at a Cost

  1. A lot of recruiters are acting like it’s 2003 and they’re getting so many candidates that they can afford to discourage all but the hungriest of potential workers. The barriers to applying that were so useful during the recession are doing huge damage to the companies that are keeping them in place today. It’s like having an explicit strategy of hiring C players.

    The job market has changed. People with strong resumes and hard-to-find skills aren’t filling out forms anymore. The best of them never were.

  2. Todd,

    Excellent perspective on the candidate experience.

    One of the most exciting changes I see in recruiting today is a general shift in perceiving job seekers as customers rather than as transactions to be processed in a system. To be sure, it is still a small shift in awareness ? but a very powerful one.

    Recruiting can learn a lot from our friends in Marketing, specifically as methods relate to taking incremental steps toward building strong, loyal relationships with customers. Seth Godin, who spoke last month at the ERE conference in Florida, was an early pioneer of Internet marketing methods; the phrase ?permission marketing? has become a common one in business circles since the release of his book in 1999 under that same name.

    The premise of permission marketing is quite simple: turn strangers into friends, and friends into customers. The litmus test for this is also simple: does every marketing effort create a learning relationship with the customer? Does it invite that person to start communicating with you?

    The beauty of correlating this concept with recruiting is almost a no-brainer. We get clear about the combination of skills and abilities that fit within the hiring environment, and then we design every recruiting effort to engage a candidate (the ?stranger?) in a dialogue over time that turns them eventually into a hire (the ?customer?). A bonus is that they may in fact become actual customers of the business ? but that is food for another article.

    The beauty of Permission Recruiting is also in the outcome: it places the company in a position that I like to call ?Right of First Refusal.? This means that regardless of the candidate?s relevance for hire in a specific requisition, you have provided an experience that gives your company the right to say ?no thanks? before the candidate does. In fact, the candidate?s experience is so good that you turned them into a friend – and friends become good referral sources in the recruiting realm. It is a circular argument.

    The challenge of Permission Recruiting is that it commits us to behaviors that provide results over time. It is not a band aid approach to hiring, as it requires discipline and planning. In pure relationship terms, it is the difference between going steady and playing the field. If you want variety, the transaction method works just fine; however, if you seek a long term relationship with another human being, you must first define what you are looking for and then be willing to invest the time and energy required to obtain the results.

  3. Great article, and I agree with some of the comments that the best candidates are not interested in filling in forms that are probably going to be denied anyway. Whatever happened to just giving them a phone call and finding out about the candidate to give them a good feel about your organization first and then have them fill that information in? Once you’ve invested time in them they are more likely to invest time in you. That’s my general rule as we have an assessment and forms they have to fill out too.

    If you are like me and trying to find the best candidates, there is a lot of time involved, and as important as time is to me, I also know that a worthwhile investment of that time is important. Why would I ask a candidate to fill out the information or take the assessment if after that first phone conversation it turns out they are not a good fit anyway? Why create an excuse to say no and waste their time? (Which if you think you are fooling them, you aren’t by the way) If you already know it is a ‘no go’, just state the fact of the issue and move on or ask for referrals! Recruiters are very much salespeople in their own right, so just as much as we can persuade them we are the right fit, we can also persuade them otherwise and offer suggestions and refer them to other recruiters looking for the same candidates, so they at least have a pleasant experience, even if a no is not that pleasant anyway.

    Screen first: fill out assessments later. Assessments will only go so far to tell you about the candidate. Gut feelings are still important in recruiting and it is that gut feeling that has propelled my career to where it is today, irregardless of the assessment, etc.

  4. I found this article to be real-time.

    If you want to ‘finish the job’ and get the people we source for you out of their comfort zones, heed this advice. Lose the red-tape rules and regulations and get facey-face with these people.

    Maureen Sharib
    Telephone Names Sourcer

  5. I’m waiting for an ATS vendor to develop two applications for a clients jobs. One that an employer can utilize when they are advertising on Active Candidate sites (ie: Monster, Careerbuilder, etc) and another, less intense application employers can utilize when advertising on ‘Passive Candidate sites. ie. blogs, association sites, etc. Does any ATS offer such a product?

  6. Robert E. I can’t speak for other ATS vendors, but with ours you can use any number of application procedures for the same job (with some pre-configuratuon.) If you have a system that does not support that directly, it should be able to handle it by using several Job records for the same role. If your system only allows a single procedure, period, its time for a replacement.

    Re: the datasheet- the take I get from top recruiters is that the datasheet can give a recruiter a handly discussion structure while actually on the phone with a candidate, with the second option being the candidate filling it out (or finishing it off) themselves if a mutual session is not possible.

    Re: Assessing the CEO- if a potential employee came to us and said he/she wanted to interview us first, not only would we be happy to oblige, but we would be impressed with the person’s confidence and assertiveness.

  7. Todd, good article.

    >Upon starting the assessment, I was informed that I would need approximately 50 minutes to complete the task.< I find it curious that an employer would ask someone to invest 50 minutes of their time before the first interview. >I later determined that it would take the company about 40 minutes of my time to determine that I was not psychologically qualified for them.< More like 40 seconds. >Of course, I got no return on my time.< It all depends. If the assessment prevented them from offering you a job in which you would not find job success, perhaps they saved you from making a bad career decision. Quitting a new job or getting fired from a new job is hardly a good career move. >… hotshots are not standing in line to get a chance to interview with your company.< Employers that hire for talent find it takes about 3 to 5 qualified to be hired job applicants to fill each position with a new hire who'll become a successful employee. Hot shots are the right people to hire about 20% of the time so they are not critical to hiring successful employees. >Those people who excel at what they do (i.e. the best of the best) are enjoying it immensely.< Do you find it interesting that the 'best of the best' were at one time without experience? Hiring for talent allows hiring managers to identify their future 'best of the best' before they have experience. >What does this add up to? It adds up to exactly what employers are trying so desperately to avoid: hiring bottom feeders.< Actually, employers are trying to hire successful employees and by doing so they avoid hiring the 'bottom feeders.' >I have a news flash for those of you who are not convinced: resumes are filled with embellishments, distortions, and in many cases, outright lies.< Which is one reason why resumes are insufficient for selecting successful employees. >When it comes to assessments, no matter how good the tool is that’s being used, people can still lie their way past it.< A good assessment is hard to fake. If you are making the argument that we test no one because some good liars get through, you are offering bad business advice. It is better to screen out the bad liars and hire the good liars than it is to hire both the bad liars and the good liars. >He brags about how he carries synthetic urine in his car in the event that he has to provide a sample.< That speaks to teh efficacy of using cheek swabs instead of a urine test. >He figured out a way to beat the system.< Until they use a new drug screening method without notice such as cheek swabs or hair samples. >… bottom feeders will figure out a way to beat a system; it’s part of how they get a job.< They get hired because too many hiring manager make their selection decisions based on criteria unrelated to job success, such as; the interview, GPA, Alma Mater, references, etc.

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