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Movement from Test to Experience: a Fundamental Shift in Assessment Perspective

by
Dr. Charles Handler
Sep 16, 2010, 2:33 pm ET

Those of us in the testing and assessment business are very proud of what we do. We have about 50 years of experience in helping companies to make better hiring decisions, resulting in happier employees and increased ROI. Some of the benefits of pre-employment assessments include:

  • Sound methodology: when created correctly, assessments provide an accurate and reliable way to measure constructs important for job performance
  • ROI: we have tons of data to show that assessments provide a strong value add to the hiring process
  • Variety: there are thousands of tests available, covering almost every job and industry
  • Versatility: tests can be used for both pre- and post-hire assessment, helping them offer more value

Despite the advantages listed above, we need to be realists and face the fact that testing is a difficult game to be in. Despite a huge shot in the arm provided by technology, the basic testing paradigm still involves candidates filling in small circles and likely grousing a bit in the process.

On the other side of the fence, many companies view a “test” as isolated element of the hiring process, not an integrated part of the bigger picture. As a result of this paradigm it is not a stretch to say that in their current mainstream state of use:

  • Tests are boring — they are not engaging for candidates. In fact, they have the opposite effect.
  • Tests build walls — it is very common for a separate function to be in charge of testing and for tests to be an “add on,” creating separation between various parts of the recruitment/staffing functions
  • Tests are highly localized — although highly effective as key parts of an employee lifecycle/talent management perspective, tests are most commonly used to fight fires
  • Tests offer only a one-way dialogue — pre-employment tests provide no feedback to the applicant and by doing so can function to erode employment branding efforts

The positive and negative factors associated with testing combined with what I call “technology push” (the idea that advances in technology push all businesses and industries upward and forward by providing the infrastructure needed for innovation) are driving a fundamental shift in testing. This shift will carry us away from thinking about “tests” toward an increased focus on the idea of creating an “experience” that adds value for all parties involved in multiple ways.

We can expect this shift in focus to bring an increase in:

  • Transparency: tests will become embedded into a more engaging candidate experience until they become transparent to the applicant
  • Interactivity: experiences will increase the level of interactivity between organizations and job applicants/employees, as well as interactivity within the applicant population
  • Predictive accuracy: technology-backed experiences will help create major shifts in predictive capabilities of assessment-based content based on business intelligence and data analysis that flows from increased engagement and interactivity

Enough preaching. Let’s get practical. Here are some of the ways that assessment will begin to manifest the shift. Expect to see the following either now or in the not-too-distant future:

  • Assessment-backed puzzles/games used as part of the recruitment/branding process
  • Interactive recruitment processes with assessments cleverly embedded within branded experiences
  • Simulations that mimic the key elements of a job
  • Full-blown virtual worlds in which candidates can interact and be evaluated
  • Living profiles that use assessment to help provide accurate and dynamic replacements for resumes

On a practical note, let’s take a short look at the benefits that the products of the shift will provide. They are too numerous to list in this article, but they begin with the following:

  • Assessment can become part of branding of the bigger picture when it comes to sourcing and hiring
  • Sourcing targeted groups will become easier
  • Assessment can be fun for applicants
  • Assessments can do a better job of prediction
  • Cognitive assessments can hold less legal risk due to the elimination of key elements shown to be a foundation for adverse impact (differential prediction levels for minority candidates)
  • Assessments can easily be integrated into learning and development, helping take a more talent-lifecycle-focused approach

I will be the first to admit that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows here. Coming back to reality, let’s discuss some of the challenges to be faced during the journey. These are numerous and include the fact that:

  • Most companies are not yet thinking about branding and assessing together. There is a serious lack of vision when it comes to the strategic use of assessment in general, and the more innovative the ideas get, the less push there is to champion them
  • Vendors of assessments will need to shift perspective too. We are still living in a world where the vendors are driving innovation via the tools they create and market
  • Technology is still not where it needs to be. We are somewhat forced to watch from the sidelines until new “killer apps” arise to help us make some of the key elements of the shift more accessible by lowering the cost of adoption and the time it takes to implement
  • Creating the shift is currently expensive and requires localized work. At the present time, some of the concepts I refer to here are a hard sell because the ROI is not as immediate as it is for situations where assessments can be quickly deployed to fight fires
  • The applicant pool for which the products of the shift will be most relevant are not even in the job market yet. The youth of today, the same people who are the employees of tomorrow, look at things very differently, especially when it comes to technology use expectations and what the concept of a “job” is

So how long will it be until we see some of the things that I refer to be key manifestations of the shift? The seeds have been planted. I have seen and worked with examples that I feel are exciting and cutting edge. But these things are hiding out in corners and one has to know where to look to find them.

Within five years things will begin to look different as technology drives innovation, vendors will make more advanced products that are more affordable, and companies will begin to see the benefits.

In 10 years everything about testing will be different except the core fundamental assumptions required to create a good test, (i.e., reliability, validity, and the test-development process).

The best thing about it is that the shift means that the boring idea of testing will be transformed into something that continues to add value while also adding fun.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Martin Snyder

    Charles I always enjoy your perspective. Last time we talked I alluded to my pet theory that assessing individuals was too limiting, and that social dynamics were the great frontier ahead. Check this item for something along that line http://www.slate.com/id/2267004/

  2. Joseph Murphy

    Charles,

    Great invitation to consider the candidate experience. John Sullivan wrote in these pages a few years ago about how career web sites are boring candidates. It may actually be worse. Applying may have total disregard or abuse in the candidate experience. While some corporate careers pages have added a touch of pizzazz with videos and testimonials, the actual application and pre-employment assessment components continue to be ignored by many, but not all. http://bit.ly/b7BCfh

  3. Bryan Baldwin

    I suspect I’m not the only one to have this reaction: “Sounds great…how do we get there?”

    Here are some things I’m wondering:

    - how many organizations have the competencies required to take us to this next phase of assessment? or will this require primarily contracting with outside vendors?

    - to what extent is cost a barrier to implementing some of the more cutting-edge solutions, particularly in the public sector? (and what are the implications?)

  4. Joseph Murphy

    Bryan
    Staffing is a business process. As such, investments in process improvement need to be scaled to the opportunity.
    There are two easy methods to determine if an investment is warranted. Calculate the dollars lost to staffing waste and rework and calculate the impact of performance variation.

    KeyBank won the ERE Most Strategic use of Technology award for taking $1.7M of waste out of teller recruiting and on-boarding first year. On the change in one performance variable this delivered a high multiple first year ROI.

    KeyBank began by documenting the staffing waste and rework from their process. The scope of the number made the investment an easy decision. The rewards will go on for years.

    Get close to the numbers, document waste and performance variation and process improvement dollars will be made available.

    As for resources, simulations, while long standing and highly effective, are still emerging technology. As such the buy versus build question can be explored via the scope of demand for the skills internally. Most organization only have a few job families where simulations may make sense. Therefore, it may be appropriate to seriously consider the value of outside expertise.

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