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Trends in the World of Pre-Employment Testing for 2011

by Feb 3, 2011, 5:34 am ET

As a technology lover and futurist, I spend time at each new year thinking about the trends shaping the future. It’s cool to look across my experiences in aggregate and gain a feel for phenomena that are real and meaningful. So without further adieu, here’s what I see unfolding in pre-employment assessment for 2011.

Continued (but slow) movement from test to experience: I have been talking about this trend for a while now. This past year represented the beginning of a significant shift in thinking that assessment should be an engaging experience for the applicant. The concept of a “test” is still the primary notion when it comes to assessment. Still, I saw more interesting virtual worlds, recruitment branded experiences, employment-related games, and interactivity in this past year then ever. It may be 5 or even 10 years but the norm for assessment will see a significant decrease in “tests” in favor of interactive experiences.

Impact! The proof as they say is in the pudding, and those who use assessment correctly — and understand that its use is but another business process to be analyzed — continue to see rewards. The effectiveness of assessment is attenuated when companies do not take the time to choose the right assessment tools. This is still one area in which there is great need for improvement. Many vendors sell their product or system as a panacea that is equally relevant in every situation. The moment you compromise on the relevance of the test to your situation, you must accept diminished returns from the use of that test. Those companies that continue to do their due diligence continue to be rewarded with the sound ROI that comes with a well-planned testing program.

Continued aggregation amongst assessment vendors: This is the trend that keeps on trending year after year. Assessment these days is a combination of two elements: content and technology. Those who are good at one have traditionally not been as good at the other, and as such have needed to use M&A to help ensure they have the package required for success. It is unlikely that this year will see a move any bigger than the merger between PreVisor and SHL. This is one for the ages and truly demonstrates the importance of having both content and technology that can offer a global reach. If you look, back over the past five years, it is clear that there are actually fewer pure assessment houses than there ever were before. Aggregation has led to fewer, bigger assessment companies to choose from. This is not to say that there are no new companies on the scene; rather, the newer entities use assessment as one part of a bigger picture slate of products or services (see trend below for more info).

Assessment is an increasingly vital cog in larger machines: The biggest impact of assessment in the coming year(s) may not actually be directly visible. Instead, assessment is being used to provide functionality related to search and match efficiency and effectiveness. For example, there has been a proliferation of new sites that use assessment to help match individuals with companies and job openings. Assessment is also being integrated into talent management solutions and ATS-type solutions. So, we are continuing to adapt and evolve in a way that sees assessment as one piece of a bigger picture.

Commoditization: I talk about this one every year and I continue to mention it because it is a very significant and strong trend. An increasingly large number of off-the-shelf assessments are becoming available, and vendors are now working toward creating highly effective assessments that are transactional and can be sold at a very low price. This is the result of our ability to quickly deploy more powerful tests. While there is still no substitute for a customized assessment that is mapped onto a specific situation, many companies do not have the time and resources required for such things and are happy to have the applicant data provided by a relevant but somewhat generic test.

There have been two major impacts of commoditization on the assessment market over the past years: a reduction in assessment cost and the availability of assessment to small- and mid-market companies. The price of assessment continues to drop as the effort required to implement it decreases and the options available increase. At the same time, the collective data and technology we have available means that smaller- and mid-market companies can now use a self-service model to purchase and implement tests, opening up a whole new strata of the market to vendors. Of course there is a good deal of merit to the concerns of purists who suggest that without a locally created and validated assessment tool, companies are placing themselves in a position for potential legal issues. Legal issues are an important concern given the next trend discussed below.

Continued government scrutiny: The current Administration has definitely presented a situation in which legal concerns regarding the use of testing have become a legitimate concern. The biggest problem seems to be around the fact that there have been changes in the long-accepted standards for evaluating test fairness to the point where these standards leave almost any test vulnerable to some sort of perceived problem. I have also been hearing that the number of inquiries and audits are also on the rise. While such things often do have merit and there is some need to ensure that tests are being used properly, it can be hard for users of tests to sleep soundly at night these days. This may be especially true given the trend toward faster, easier-to-use testing programs (a trend that I do not see reversing any time soon).

So what to do? Should one let this deter them from the use of assessments? Not hardly!! Following the basic foundations of good testing is a strategy that will provide protection and piece of mind. Beyond this, it is important that users of tests understand that the government looks at the big picture when it comes to testing programs. This means that you should be aware of diversity issues within your workforce and take action to remedy them as part of a compliance program. Using the most valid and fair test possible still does not protect you from the cold hard facts related to the diversity of your workforce compared to that of the local population in which you do business.

Assessment is one small part of the big picture: This one has been a hard one for me to swallow at times because I live and breathe assessment. The reality, however, is that assessment is just one part of a much bigger picture when it comes to the hiring process. As such, it is never going to be the hottest area within hiring and it is likely not going to be leading the trends in how we hire. This is not to say that it does not have an important seat at the table and that its use will not continue to grow. It definitely will. The real challenge is in the continued integration of assessment data into the rest of the information used to make a hiring decision. I personally am really ready to see firms begin to take a bigger-picture, process-oriented approach in which assessment is an integral part of a big picture strategy. Time and again I see companies missing the mark in this regard, simply thinking that grafting an assessment onto their existing process is the way to get it done.

Increased use in emerging markets: The increase in the use of assessments in emerging markets is a white-hot trend that is continuing forward. As we begin to see assessment companies take a global perspective and as emerging markets are continuing to emerge, assessment is becoming an important workforce planning tool outside the borders of the U.S. I don’t see this trend slowing down anytime soon driven by mergers such as that between PreVisor and SHL and by increased distribution and market penetration in places such as India and China where workforce management practices are still in their infancy. I believe that much of the new assessment uptake over the next 5-10 years will arise in these markets.

Increased security: We are entering into an era that is seeing unprecedented levels of security regarding tests and test content. While cheating websites are still arising with too great a frequency for the comfort of the testing world, the available countermeasures are better than ever. The big testing firms are all moving forward with sophisticated tools that leverage Computer Adpative Testing and Item Response Theory to deliver tests that are never the same each time they are given. While cheating is definitely still a matter of concern, I continue to be impressed by the layers of process and technology that are being used to mitigate this problem. All of the research that I have seen clearly demonstrates that the collective impact of cheating is negligible. The real areas where it is of the most concern, high-stakes testing, is the area in which test developers are developing some of the most highly effective countermeasures available.

It has been another great year for testing. The content and technology used to deliver it is getting better than ever and this is freeing us up to begin the challenge of making testing a more engaging and enjoyable experience for those asked to participate. This area is where most of the action will be in the years to come. This will be effort well spent!

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.

  • Paul Basile

    A useful and comprehensive survey. Commoditization, as you suggest, is an accelerating trend – and in my view a very good one enabled by improvements in test taking and data management technologies. I personally wouldn’t label it “commoditization”. The ability to extend the reach and impact of assessment of individuals and – crucially – the ability to profile jobs using already-completed professional analyses and both of these in terms of performance-prediction and available online, open the world of MUCH-improved recruitment to a great many more companies. This is, in my view, entirely parallel to many other areas where the internet and advances in data processing and analytics enable many more people and organizations to take advantage of previously limited-accessibility solutions.

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