Applying for a job isn’t very satisfying for many an applicant. Application processes are often shrouded in mystery because they represent a one-way flow of information that requires the candidate to provide information to a potential employer without receiving much in return.
It’s too bad, because both research and common sense indicate that the manner in which applicants are treated during the hiring and on-boarding process can have an impact on long-term outcomes such as organizational commitment and turnover.
Given the amount of time and money organizations often spend on building and communicating an employment brand, it’s sad to see these efforts diluted due to a poor candidate experience during the hiring process.
Pre-employment assessment is one area where the above issues are particularly relevant. Over the years, I’ve noticed a wide range of problems related to how pre-employment assessment is positioned and explained to applicants.
While I don’t know of any research that specifically ties the applicant experience with assessment to any specific outcomes, this doesn’t make it any less important. Common sense dictates that this aspect of the hiring process is an important one.
Here are some of the most common problems I have run across when it comes to assessment and the applicant experience:
- Applicant unaware of the overall process. Most of the time applicants are kept totally in the dark regarding the sequence of events in the hiring process, as well as where assessment fits into the big picture. Job applicants should understand the various steps in the process they’re involved with. This helps them to understand that the company has nothing to hide and is willing to share information with them. It also helps frame expectations.
- Applicant ambushed by assessment. I frequently see a situation where an applicant will complete one step in the hiring process and will then be directed to take an assessment with little explanation or warning. This abrupt transition can be difficult for them to understand and often may catch them unaware.
- Scare tactics used. No one likes to be motivated by fear, but this is precisely the tactic often used to communicate to applicants that they should answer all assessment questions honestly. Honesty is important, but coercion is not the best means to achieve this end.
- Assessment death march. I still am blown away by the number of assessment providers who expect applicants to complete assessments that are several hundred items in length. Further, the manner in which these items are presented can often be very taxing on the eyes. Let’s face it, assessment is not really a fun exercise, and the longer it takes, the more hacked off an applicant is likely to become. I’m fully aware of the technical requirements that often lead to the need to develop longer assessment tools, but I still feel many folks are ignoring the ramifications of long, involved assessments.
- Offensive or obtuse content. Organizations often fail to screen the assessment content they’re using for offensive or non-work-related questions. This can be a big issue: just ask Rent-A-Center about this. It got sued for using the MMPI (an assessment aimed at detecting pathology).
- Sharing is caring. In almost 100% of the instances when pre-employment assessments are administered, no feedback or results are provided to applicants. There are plenty of good reasons for this, but this still does not mean that this is not an important issue that needs to be addressed. Of course, it’s hard to give applicants negative feedback and the resource requirements of providing this feedback can be draining. More on this issue later.
I’m not denying that assessment can be a tedious and stressful thing for a job applicant. I’m also very aware of the value that pre-employment assessment can add in terms of increasing ROI in both the short and long term.
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Beyond this, creating a good applicant experience is a critical part of building and maintaining an employment brand. For these reasons, companies should take a few simple steps to help make assessment a more positive applicant experience.
Below are some recommendations for best practices before, during, and after the use of pre-employment assessment tools.
- Share information. Inform applicants of the various steps in the application process, and what those steps are important. This is especially true of remote, on-line application experiences where the candidate may go through several key steps before actually speaking with a person. Remember that each and every bit of information exchanged electronically is part of a dialogue between the applicant and the organization. This dialogue definitely has an impact on both parties.
- No surprises. When it comes to assessments, try to avoid abrupt transitions between other parts of the application process and the assessment experience. Have a transition page that explains clearly what the applicant is about to experience, why it’s important to both them and the organization, and how the results will be used. I usually advise against using scare tactics as part of this process. Security issues and faking are definitely a concern related to the use of online assessment tools, but motivation through fear is never a good way to go. Instead, I recommend explaining that answering falsely will not provide any advantage in the long run because the goal is to help the applicant find a job for which they are suited and that will make them happy. We all know how unhappy a poor fit can make us.
- Appreciation. Once the assessment process has been completed, let the candidate know that their time has been appreciated and be realistic about what may or may not come next.
- Recycling. Some hiring/assessment systems also provide the ability to identify the fact that a candidate that is not a good fit for one specific position may actually be a good fit for another. The ability to use assessment results to help make sure that a potential good hire for another position is not lost is a really neat concept. You may, for instance, have an applicant for a sales position whose assessment results show they are not a good fit for that particular job but that they are a good fit for another job for which you have an opening. To accommodate this, some hiring systems can be set up to inform the applicant of this and to encourage them to apply for another position. Even if the applicant chooses not to apply, they’re more likely to leave the experience feeling that the company really does care about helping them. This is always a good position to be in.
- Match time demands. In general, the further along in the hiring process an applicant has proceeded, the more both parties involved have invested in one another. Thus, early on in the hiring process it’s a good idea to keep assessments short. I recommend no more than 25 minutes for an initial screen. Our experience collecting and analyzing assessment data has allowed for the creation of shorter, more powerful screening such that this threshold really isn’t that hard to accommodate. As persons move farther along in the hiring process, it becomes easier and more appropriate to ask them to complete longer assessments. In many cases, these can be tied to an on-site visit in which interviews also occur.
- Screen for offensiveness and relevance. Take the time to review assessment content to be sure it’s relevant to the job and that it does not ask anything offensive. My general rule of thumb is to try not to use anything that leaves an applicant wondering, ?Why are they asking me this? It has nothing to do with my ability to do the job.? This bit of inquiry among candidates can be the genesis of legal action: just ask Rent-a-Center.
- Pay attention to usability. As with any other interactive Web experience, taking an assessment does not have to be a frustrating experience. Pay attention to little things such as how much information is displayed on a page, how easy it is to navigate pages, and clarity of instructions provided. I am a huge proponent of using interactive experiences such as simulations and streaming-video-based scenarios because these are much less intimidating, and frankly, more fun for applicants. Of course, we can’t always use such things, but at least be open to the possibilities available for making the experience a more engaging one.
Many folks don’t realize it, but in other countries such as the United Kingdom, there are strict laws in place that require sharing feedback with applicants. I don’t expect this to occur here in the U.S. anytime soon, but I have some ideas about how we can work toward helping make assessment less of a black hole for the candidate.
Here are a few ideas:
- Incorporate assessment into the matching process. Many third-party career portals provide applicants with the opportunity to build profiles that can be used to help match them with opportunities for which they are a good fit. These portals also offer the ability to access information to help applicants in the job search (i.e., salary info, career viability info, relocation info). Candidates can take self-assessments that can help them learn about the various aspects of themselves that may make them a good or bad fit for a specific job or organization. By patronizing these portals, organizations can share in the profile information that is part of a person’s application (as long as this information is not used as a decision-making tool).
- Fun exercises. Embedding assessment into fun exercises that resemble simulations can provide applicants with instant feedback as they navigate a model or virtual environment. While no exercises like this currently exist, I believe they are the future of pre-employment assessment. Eventually, assessment will be embedded into a game-like simulation where the ramifications of an applicant’s personality and experience will become evident to them as they role-play.
- Share during onboarding. Some of the most positive experiences I have had when applying for jobs have been those in which feedback on my pre-employment assessments was given to me as soon as I was made an offer. While this doesn’t fully fill the black hole, at least it provides some solid, quick follow up. This practice is also consistent with the idea that assessment should be used as part of the onboarding process. The data collected has meaning and can be used to create initial development plans for new employees. Take the time to share feedback during this formative time.
While many aspects of assessment are complex and require a great deal of thought, improving the candidate experience is low-hanging fruit. From a big-picture perspective, ensuring a good candidate experience is as simple as following the golden rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.