A Four-Step Model for Pre-Employment Assessment Success

I wanted to call this article “Implementing Pre-Employment Assessment for Dummies,” but I know that ERE readers are far from dummies — and that pre-employment assessments are a particularly challenging subject to even the most experienced staffing professionals. No matter what title I actually use, this article is meant to provide a relatively high-level overview to help readers understand the basic steps associated with successfully implementing pre-employment assessment tools. Please note that this article is not meant to provide information on selecting an assessment vendor. This is a separate (but no less important) issue that I have written about often over the past few years. Instead, the information in this article is more general in nature and is dedicated to providing a high-level summary of the steps required to help ensure the assessment’s ability to demonstrate value.

Step 1. Discovery: Setting The Stage For Success

Build a proper foundation on which to base implementation. This process should actually begin during the vendor-evaluation process but continues into the first stages of implementation. The central focus of this step is clearly identifying the various elements required to perform the job (i.e., job analysis). But success hinges on much more than this. Building a solid foundation also requires aligning the political forces required to support the various needs associated with the project In most cases, Step 1 typically involves the following activities:

  • Building rapport. Develop the relationships needed to ensure buy-in and success. Without a champion to make sure needs are met, the value of even a perfectly chosen assessment will be hard to demonstrate.
  • Understanding the organizational environment. Develop an understanding of the organization’s business objectives as well as the limitations that must be accounted for and managed during the implementation process. It is often not feasible to obtain the optimal combination of resources one would like to bring to bear. Thus successful implementation requires a very solid understanding of potential limiting factors before implementation begins so that they can be accounted for and worked around when laying out the implementation strategy. A good example is the ability to obtain the performance data needed to demonstrate the relationship between scores on a particular assessment and job performance. It’s important to understand who owns this data, what format it is in, and what is needed to collect it. Ideally, you’ll want to know all this up front, before you begin implementing the assessment tool.
  • Understanding the job. One of the most important aspects of ensuring a successful implementation is developing a complete understanding of all job requirements and related Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, Competencies, etc. that define job performance. These things serve as key drivers for the alignment of assessment content to job performance requirements. This activity is typically referred to as “Job Analysis,” but in many cases it amounts to a more simple confirmation of major performance drivers or the development of a “success profile.”

No matter what the approach, when it comes to this part of the process, you get what you pay for. The more effort you place into ensuring that the performance requirements of the job are clearly documented, the better off you’ll be in the long run. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the more you know about what it takes to do a job properly, the better able you’ll be to align the dimensions measured in a pre-employment assessment with these things. The less overlap between test content and job performance requirements, the less useful the results of the assessment will be for making accurate hiring decisions. Also, the more information you have linking the content of a pre-employment assessment to documented performance requirements, the better shape you’ll be in from a legal compliance standpoint. This is especially true given the new OFCCP guidelines which have placed a whole new level of importance on documentation of job requirements.

Step 2. Recommendations: Creating a Winning Strategy

Once the necessary foundation has been built, clearly map out an implementation strategy. The main goal of this activity is to create a detailed road map of the entire hiring process, with an understanding of the role that assessment tools will play. Assessments are just one guidepost that must be understood within the context of the overall hiring process. The more in sync the assessment is with the process, the greater its potential to provide value. This step typically involves the following activities:

  • Auditing current practices. Approach implementation with a careful review of current hiring practices. This understanding is critical for ensuring the basic process into which the assessment tool will be placed. Clearly understand the data that hiring professionals are provided with as a result of this process and think about how data provided by pre-employment assessments will be used.
  • Identifying disconnects. The selection system audit should provide the ability to identify gaps between current hiring practices and key success factors. This step is much easier with the results of a good job analysis in hand, as this will allow one to clearly see what performance dimensions are not being accounted for in the hiring process.
  • Strategic decision making. Making the decisions needed to evaluate the most practical and effective manner in which to close any gaps that have been identified. This is where the need for a specific assessment tool is clearly identified. If something’s going to potentially derail your work, it should have been identified earlier in the process and it must be accounted for so that workarounds and contingency plans can be developed. It is in this step that the game plan for what type of assessment tools to use and where to use them will be formed.
  • Due diligence. This involves a careful evaluation of any assessments or components of the hiring process under consideration. Often, it includes a thorough vendor evaluation in which vendors who can supply the tools called for in the roadmap are identified and their products evaluated. This can often be a very quick and easy process but can also involve a more formal Request for Proposal. The level of rigor is determined by a number of potential factors, but the bottom line here is “buyer beware.” The information collected thus far should be used to ensure the selection of a tool that is most aligned with organizational needs and the existing/planned hiring process.
  • Careful planning. Once a specific test or vendor platform has been selected, begin working with the vendor to plan the implementation process. Do what it takes to ensure all the various aspects of implementation are focused on gathering the data needed to predict success, rather then simply “dropping in” a test. An often overlooked but very important part of this process is making sure the process is user-friendly for applicants. Understand the end users’ perspective. This will help ensure that applicants feel good about the process and will thus help their overall impression of your organization.

Step 3. Action: Implementing Success

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This is where the rubber meets the road. It involves the execution of strategies developed in the previous step, as well as the technical work required to ensure effective implementation. This will provide an initial indication of the value gained from adding an assessment to the hiring process. This step typically involves the following activities:

  • Change management. Ensure that the implementation of assessment tools is carefully managed in order to ensure that all personnel impacted by the hiring process understand its value and are on board with any changes to be made.
  • Initial evaluation. Once an assessment has been chosen for use, begin evaluating its relationship to job performance and thus its impact on the bottom line. This involves some form of statistical work in which data collected as part of the hiring process is examined in relation to the subsequent job performance of incumbents. There are many ways to approach this, a full discussion of which is well beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that this most often involves either a predictive or concurrent validation study. These types of studies are an excellent way to clearly demonstrate the ROI the assessment is having via its impact on desired performance outcomes.
  • Process refinement. Statistical analyses should be used with a six-sigma type of mindset. That is, the results of any validation work should be used to make adjustments to the process and create relevant hiring guidelines (i.e., norms, cut-scores/pass-fail thresholds, decision-making guides, etc). This will help to ensure that the assessment is “dialed in” in a manner that will increase its ability to provide results.
  • Documentation. All of the work done to this point, especially job analysis and validation work, should be documented. This documentation amounts to a certificate that will demonstrate the relationship between job performance and your hiring process. Should any potential legal issues arise, such documentation is absolutely critical. Documentation should include the analysis of adverse impact analysis, as this is an important part of legal defensibility.

Step 4. Ongoing Evaluation: Closing the Loop

Once an assessment has been implemented, think of it as a dynamic entity. This requires the ongoing evaluation of its use in the hiring process in order to clearly understand the impact that it, as well as other components, are having. This impact is definitely subject to fluctuation due to changes in both the job and the labor market. My research has clearly shown that most organizations using assessment tools do not work to evaluate the impact they are having. This is unfortunate, as it is difficult to justify the investment in these tools when one has no idea of the impact they are having. This step typically includes the following:

  • Re-validation. This involves revisiting validation work performed previously to understand ongoing effectiveness.
  • Ongoing evaluation of ROI. Whenever possible, steps should be taken to set up continuous data feeds such that it is possible to continually re-examine objective measures of effectiveness and the impact on strategic business objectives. This may include test validation data but also includes any other information that can be used to help understand the accuracy of decisions made by hiring personnel.
  • Process improvement. There is always room for improvement, and taking a six-sigma approach can ensure optimization of system performance. All data collected should be analyzed to help provide an understanding of what adjustments should be made. This also includes qualitative feedback from hiring personnel that can help identify any specific problems they feel are present in the process.

While properly selecting, implementing, and evaluating pre-employment assessments are a critical part of the effectiveness of most hiring processes, these things can be a pretty tricky proposition for the uninitiated. The above should help provide hiring personnel of all experience levels with some basic guidelines to help them understand what it takes to create value via the addition of pre-employment assessments into their hiring processes.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as ERE.net, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drcharleshandler