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Pre-Employment Assessment and Candidate Feedback: Letters From the Black Hole

by
Dr. Charles Handler
Jul 21, 2011, 5:47 am ET

The web sure is an interesting place. Where else can people you have never met find you and reach out for highly specific advice, providing real world stories that help us keep in touch with the end-user perspective?

I received the e-mail below from a frustrated job applicant who must have found my website when searching for some straight talk about her pre-employment assessment experience.

Hello, My name is #####, and I am an insurance and financial services professional in (city, state). I work for a good company, but just this week I was contacted by large national competitor who was interested in hiring me. After speaking with a recruiter with that company, I was asked to complete a few questionnaires, sign and fax agreements to let this company research my credit and other very private information, and then was sent an email last night to complete an online assessment. I followed the directions, took the 139-question assessment (which took me about an hour) and was emailed this morning saying that I am not able to interview for the position.

I was blown away with surprise, as my credentials are outstanding and I have a clean, strong professional history. I asked for the results of the assessment, and I was denied any information as to why I was dismissed. The questionnaire asked me a few different times about my age, sex, and ethnicity, which I answered completely and honestly. My industry is typically dominated by white male professionals, but I haven’t had any problems with discrimination in the past. I am not assuming that this is discrimination, however, don’t I have a right to know what the results of my professional assessment is? How am I to know what the company views as weak or inadequate professional characteristics without answers or explanation? I want to be as professional and kind as possible with this matter, but I am not sure what to do. Any advice?

Thank you,

######

Here is my response:

Dear ######,

I am sorry you had this experience.

It is the norm that companies don’t share test results with applicants.

They get concerned about this because they think applicants may sue them.

I don’t know enough about this situation to say if the profile for the job is a good match or not to your skills.

I can say this: if you don’t fit the profile they have developed and you answered honestly, you may not be a good fit for that company and their culture even if you can do the job. This may be a good thing in the long run as no one likes to work for a company culture where they don’t fit in.

What can you do to learn more about why you were rejected in this situation? Unfortunately not much.

I would suggest you call the recruiter directly and ask them to share result with you. If they say they can’t, you do have a right to ask HOW the test results are used and what kind of test it is. You have a right to know about the process they use and then you can see maybe what happened due to your testing scores. However, I seriously doubt if any information at all will be shared with you.

In terms of the questions about sex and race, these should never be required. The EEOC has an optional form that they may have provided but if they required this info from you and if you had no chance opt out then they are not playing by the rules. If you feel discrimination is at hand here contact your local EEOC office or an employment lawyer and they can tell you if you have a case.

I hate to say that the kind of thing you experienced is common, but it is. It is the result of several things, including the fact that companies don’t have enough time to discuss information with rejected applicants, companies are worried about being sued, and companies often do stupid things because they don’t know any better.

In today’s economy you are very lucky to have a good job that you like. When it does come time to apply for another job, do your best to ask about the process that will be used to evaluate your suitability for the job.

Regards,

Charles Handler

I am willing to bet that the scenario experienced by #### is a common one. This is highly unfortunate. With high-volume automated processes, for entry-level positions the norm is that no candidate feedback be given. In this situation the recruiter was going after a passive candidate for a professional level position and a relatively deep dialogue unfolded.

We I/O psychologists talk a lot about ROI from assessment via predictive accuracy of assessments. This is definitely important but it is also important not to lose sight of the big picture when it comes to assessments and hiring. Value from the hiring process is much more than just a chance to crawl around an applicant with a microscope. It is also a chance to provide someone with a positive experience and build your company’s brand image.

The company that tried to poach #### certainly does not share this perspective. It left the applicant asking:

Do you value my time? An hour is a pretty long time to ask of a candidate. Assessments taking this long are more common for professional level jobs in which the dialogue with the recruiter has progressed down the funnel. Still it was enough that the candidate noted the exact length of the assessment.

Are you being fair to me? The candidate did not say if the race and sex info request was optional or not. I think that candidates often miss the fact that the EEOC form added to all assessments is actually optional, as this is sometimes not very clear. There is definitely a chance that it was not made optional. Users of assessment tools should review this kind of thing from the candidate perspective and make sure that everything is crystal-clear. You can see what happens when this is not the case. When there is a job applicant who has even the faintest thought of legal action swimming around in her head, bad things are afoot. This is a scenario to be avoided at all costs!

What kind of jerks are you all anyway? Most of all this experience smacks of a company that does not understand the impact of its employment brand on applicants. The web and social media are making brand erosion due to poor experiences a serious reality. Treating candidates poorly is something that is going to be tolerated less and less. Each candidate interaction gives a company a chance to show how much it values applicants and how well it treats its employees. Creating a positive, engaging candidate experience should be a prime directive for all hiring processes. Why not create an interactive online application that serves as a two-way street, engaging applicants while informing them about the job and company and collecting relevant predictive data? This is the future for best-practices-based hiring. Get with it!

What’s wrong with me? While we can’t know for sure if the assessment was the stake through this candidate’s heart, it seems likely. While this may or may not have been appropriate, no one deserves to be treated as poorly as ### was, especially after sharing so much about herself. While it is often the case that assessment results are not shared, companies can still provide rejected applicants with some information that allows them to understand why they were rejected. It is amazing how easily we forget the golden rule. In this case silence is not an effective solution. Sweeping problems under the rug may work in the short run, but in the long run it can lead to some really smelly situations!

If enough applicants ask the questions above based on their experience in the hiring process, eventually this kind of thing is going to cost the company customers, good employees, and revenue!

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. What Message Are You Sending With Your Pre-Employment Assessments?

    [...] blog post — titled Pre-Employment Assessment and Candidate Feedback: Letters From the Black Hole – should make anyone involved in recruiting, staffing, sourcing, and hiring sit up and ask, [...]

  2. Erin Norton

    This actually sounds like a scam – the individual was asked for information for a credit check? before even being interviewed? she should check with her banking institutions and change all of her account information immediately!!

  3. Ash DeVane, CPC

    I think Erin makes a valid point. In my experience, background checks and related are only pursued once a tentative hiring decision is made.

    Beyond that I have a question that might seem slightly off topic but something you mentioned prompts a question. Charles, you said:

    “In terms of the questions about sex and race, these should never be required. The EEOC has an optional form that they may have provided but if they required this info from you and if you had no chance opt out then they are not playing by the rules.”

    I have understood this to be the case since I got in the recruiting business a long time ago.

    But, for companies and recruiters who are now required to be OFCCP compliant in their record keeping, how is this addressed regarding record keeping for “internet candidates”?

  4. Paul Basile

    I agree with Erin, this sounds like a scam. We assess candidates who always get their results immediately and before anyone else, including the employer. In fact, the employer only sees results of the candidate agrees. And no credit checks included (why would we?).

  5. K.C. Donovan

    I doubt that the gist of Charles excellent article was to uncover a scam…

    This scenario screams for industry change in light of the Engagement Economy where interaction and transparency is the basis for positive engagement and why the workforce at large is fed up with outmoded, antiquated employment systems that have been in use for the last 60 years…

    The loser in this case is the company who made a very poor decision – not a hiring one perhaps – but a decision that has turned an industry member (even worse, one at a competitor) into an enemy of sorts. Talk about bad PR – you think that this person will tell a few close colleagues about this experience…think they’ll tell it without including the name of the company as Charles professionally has done…think that it won’t get Tweeted or put out there on Facebook or Linked In for thousands to see…not on your life! The sad part is how avoidable it could have been. All that was needed was better communication, engagement and information sharing to make this story a rapport “building” scenario instead of a rapport “demolition” experience…

    The company could have let the applicant know that they weren’t a fit – but that they appreciated all the effort that went into discovering this and that they respect their work and career path. How difficult is that? Personally, the results of an assessment should be shared – if it is a validated test – the applicant will learn more from it than any Dear John employment letter ever could…

    Charles is right – this is a situation that is the norm – and one that we MUST change as an industry…the tools are available

  6. K.C. Donovan

    …the tools are available today to make this change a reality – I hope Talent Acquisition leaders start seeking them out…

  7. Dr. Wendell Williams, MBA, Ph.D

    Amen, Charles…and people wonder why HR gets a bad name!

    Wendell

  8. charles handler

    OK, so I dont think that the woman who wrote me was being scammed. I dont know who would concoct such an elaborate process including an assessment just to get personal info. Anything is possible. Even if it was a scam, this scenario is still a common one. We all know it.

    @Ash I am going to be honest and say that the complexities of OFCCP compliance are somewhat elusive to me. I dont know enough about it to give you an honest answer. I do know that the Demographic form for EEOC is optional and that one cannot demand this data in the application process.

  9. Darryl Clements

    HR’s credibility has long suffered from practices like this. At a time when HR should be stepping up and getting better for the organization, it’s not.

    I don’t care how good an assessment is and how much thought is put into it, it’s best utilized as part of the overall assessment process.

    As to what candidate xxxx should do, I’d suggest sending a letter directly to the senior HR person and CEO suggesting that the experience brought about serious reservations and inviting them to go through the process online as well as sort of an undercover feedback gathering experience. You can close the letter indicating that regardless of your candidate or applicant status, no process should create such a jolting experience as to bring about questions you might have as a potential or current consumer as well.

    It matters for some when you help make that connection.

    Another obvious option is to simply chalk it up as a bad learning experience and simply bypass companies who do this first to candidates. A brief assessment asking basic qualifying questions is one thing. 100+ questions is another.

    I’d guess that some employment attorneys could make the case that you were handled unfairly as I suspect that some candidates, especially executive referrals, don’t get hit with an online assessment before beginning the interview process.

  10. Lisa Sperow

    Although I’m a huge fan of assessments as a great tool for companies to use in making critical placement decisions, I’d like to see companies using them a little more sensitively. In this case, I’d like to have seen a little more interaction between the candidate and potential employer (or recruiter, in this case) before the candidate was asked to take an hour long assessment.

    Lisa
    http://www.QPMGroup.com

  11. Keith Halperin

    @ Everyone: This annoyed and upset me- not because of the subject/content which is depressing and upsetting, but the fact that people seem surprised by it.

    IMHO: if companies were concerned about candidate care, they would pay $2.75/hr for virtual assista to make the entire application/hiring process professional if not pleasant for every candidate. MOST COMPANIES DON’T CARE.

    1) For the majority of hiring companies, if you aren’t part of the drooled-and fought-over “Fabulous 5%”: YOU DON’T MATTER.

    2) For “employers of choice”, if you aren’t part of the drooled and fought over “Fabulous 5%” AND know someone powerful within the company: YOU DON’T MATTER.

    “It is amazing how easily we forget the golden rule.”
    Exactly- the Golden Rule states:
    “Those with the gold get to make (and break) the rules.”

    -Keith

  12. Darryl Clements

    Keith,

    You’re right that it’s symptomatic of “You Don’t Matter.” It’s also undeniably representative of HR done wrong. Uninspired, lazy recruiting participants and practices are very common in companies.

    Everyone thinks they recruit well. Everyone doing it thinks they’re the best and get the best candidates. Yet very few have experiences that are meaningful.

    In the corporate environment, I repeatedly tried to create an efficient, effective, and memorable recruiting experience only to find internal resistance and lack of resource support at almost every level. EXCEPT when it related to not having to make a decision (upfront assessments).

    I’ve never sided one way or another on assessment tests because my only desire has been that they’re used at all levels and for all jobs. Funny how assessments for high-level positions tends to be done offline or not at all. And it’s certainly not done as an initial experience.

  13. barbara goldman

    I have experienced the ‘test first’ interview later process that some companies insist on. A test should never be the sole predictor of success. It should be used as part of the hiring decision, not the whole thing. It is a ridiculous way to screen out potential hires when used as a sole predictor.

    I had a candidate fired because of reference verification.Someone verified his employment with his current employer before interviewing him. (not us) Of course, he had filled out the company paperwork on line, so the bozos were allowed to call anyone they wanted to call. Now, he’s out of work.

    HR can be callous, clumsy, and dangerous when verifying references before an interview. Just because it’s a company policy, doesn’t mean you have to recruit for that company. I wouldn’t. In fact, I would take the matter up with the highest authority in the corporation. Not HR, talk to the person who decided on the policy. Don’t work with clients who can potentially harm your candidates.

    What is the difference between an ‘inside recruiter’, and a third party recruiter? One screens, the other recruits.

  14. 7/28/11: Top Talent Development Posts this Week

    [...] From Charles Handler: Pre-Employment Assessment and Candidate Feedback: Letters From the Black Hole “I received the e-mail below from a frustrated job applicant who must have found my website when searching for some straight talk about her pre-employment assessment experience.” [...]

  15. employment letter - USEFUL DOCUMENTS – USEFUL DOCUMENTS

    [...] Pre-Employment Assessment and Candidate Feedback: Letters From the … blog post — titled Pre-Employment Assessment and Candidate Feedback: Letters From the Black Hole – should make anyone involved in recruiting, staffing, sourcing, and hiring sit up and ask, [...] …http://www.ere.net/2011/07/21/ .. [...]

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