9 Pre-employment Assessment Trends for 2009

Jan 7, 2009

A year ago it was business as usual for most of us in the staffing industry. My how things change! Of course the big news for 2009 is the economy. This coming year is going to force all of us to start getting creative and perhaps re-think the way we do things in order to accomplish our goals with fewer resources. But what, if anything, do these changes mean for the world of pre-employment assessment?

The most significant change I expect to see in pre-employment assessments in 2009 is a slowing of uptake as some organizations slow their hiring to a trickle or cut things seen as non-essential (i.e., assessment) from their budgets. I am not going to miss the opportunity to suggest that cuts to the budget for assessment are unwarranted because a well-designed assessment program can provide ROI — no matter what the economic context may be. My thoughts about a slight slowdown in the use of assessment are just speculation; it will be interesting to see if hard data such as that provided by our 6th Annual Screening and Assessment Usage Survey supports this speculation. If you have not taken the survey yet, I encourage you to do so. It only takes about 10 minutes and the information you provide is very valuable.

Despite the possibility of a slowdown in the purchase of assessments, there are a number of trends, nine in all, that will help mark 2009.

Legal compliance will become an even bigger deal. This next year is going to be a monumental one for U.S. politics. No matter who you voted for, the fact that change is coming to our government is a reality. It will be interesting to see what the impact of the new regime will be on labor-related issues. My gut tells me that the reform agenda that will be prevalent in Washington may mean more aggressive enforcement of EEOC and OFCCP regulations related to fairness in the hiring process. The often-heard opinion that using assessment places one at greater legal risk is simply not true. An assessment program that has been properly implemented and evaluated can actually provide increased legal compliance. Score one for assessment in 2009!

The concept of “embedded assessment” continues to evolve. Even a diehard believer in the value of assessments such as myself should be willing to admit that assessment data is not the only piece of information that is useful when making hiring decisions. Good hiring is the result of an informed decision-making process. As technology that helps support this process approach continues to be developed, assessment will continue to be folded into the mix as a key ingredient. As time goes on, an increasing number of hiring products will include assessment in such a capacity that it will be relatively transparent, but will provide data points that will help to support decision-making. This also means that the traditional assessment firm will need to be ready to play well with others as their survival may depend on it.

More assessments available transactionally. One of the benefits that come with a decade of Internet testing is an unprecedented amount of data. This information is being used to help create off-the-shelf tests that are more accurate than ever. In the past, an off-the-shelf test would be extremely general and might have missed the mark when it came to measuring all of the things required on the job. The new generation of off-the-shelf tests leverages data to offer a much more complete measurement model. This trend will continue as an increasing number of companies offer tests that can be used transactionally, with little or no up-front work.

Hello, middle market. Trends 2 and 3 are definitely related to a continued push toward offering easy-to-use assessment-related products to organizations that previously may not have considered them. Productization and the creation of more accurate off-the-shelf tools will allow for a whole new type of product. There is definitely untapped revenue potential in this market segment.

Assessment content stays relatively stable. While the technology that is wrapped around assessments has changed significantly in the past decade, the actual content of the assessments themselves has not changed much. We have done a great job understanding which individual items work better than others, but assessments still require applicants to click radio buttons that correspond to personality-type items. This trend will continue into 2009. Radically different items or assessment modalities are still a ways off.

Simulations continue to simmer. Despite the stagnation in assessment content, I have seen some encouraging progress in the world of simulations. This progress will continue as new technologies become available. The future of technology and hiring lies in simulations. It is going to take some time until we have all the pieces in place to create what will be the first of a new generation of hiring tools. In the meantime the interest in simulations and the technology that is being explored are encouraging.

Continued links to development. The rise of interest in talent management platforms and the natural continuity between pre-employment assessment and performance management/development have continued to increase the links between pre-employment assessment programs and continued employee development. This movement will continue in 2009 as an increasing number of product offerings leverage pre-assessment data as an important input to the employee lifecycle.

Evaluation still not a priority. It seems like I bring this one up every year. Probably the one biggest point that continues to frustrate me is the fact that the majority of assessment users do not take the time to properly evaluate the impact of assessment on important business outcomes. I feel our current economic situation may serve to magnify this point, when sadly, it should do the exact opposite. Yes, assessment works, and the value it can provide is even more important during times when every dollar is scrutinized.

Increased self-awareness. Once we are looking back at these tough times in the rearview mirror, I think all of us are going to have learned some valuable lessons. Our entire industry is now on the hook to continue to add value, and we are all going to have to get resourceful, to adapt, and to learn about ourselves. The learnings we take away will hopefully help us form lasting habits that will help us all to emerge with a new mindset about what is valuable.

2009 promises to be an interesting time in the history of pre-employment assessment. I believe that the quality and variety of options will continue to grow and that technology will continue to allow us to do more with less. The timing for this trend could not be better and I hope that companies can begin to look at assessment as a profit center instead of viewing it as a costly drain on resources.

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