A Pre-Employment Assessment Candidate Bill of Rights

Jan 14, 2011
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Most discussions about pre-employment assessment are focused on how assessment is used, what type of assessment is used, or how assessment results are used. But what about the actual people whom companies are asking to take the assessment? Shouldn’t we spend some time talking about how assessment relates to them and the experience it creates for them? As those involved in recruitment and hiring continue to develop a sense of importance around employment branding and candidate experience, it’s about time we talked about the rights that candidates have when it comes to pre-employment assessment.  

A brief discussion of the rights that should be extended to those who are asked to invest their time in completing assessments will help those who use and sell assessments better understand this perspective and use this information to make assessment a more enjoyable and meaningful experience for job applicants.

The following list of rights has been compiled based on the general trends I have seen in the past decade of working with the pre-employment assessment programs used by a wide variety of companies. If companies are actually serious about treating candidates as customers, they need to give serious consideration to extending the following rights to their job applicants.

Right #1: Candidates have the right to a proper introduction to the assessment and why they are being asked to take it.

Often, a link to an assessment simply appears as a candidate passes through the various parts of an online application process. Many times there is little or no introduction offered to the candidate; they simply find themselves on a screen that introduces the assessment and asks them to begin. In many cases the actual assessment content is hosted by a third-party vendor outside of the company to which the candidate is applying. In such cases the transition between the careers site and the assessment site is not a smooth one. This is very noticeable to the candidate and can be off-putting or confusing. Candidates have a right to a smooth transition that is accompanied by a realistic and meaningful introduction to the assessment they are being asked to take, and the reason they are being asked to take it.

Right #2: Candidates have the right to an assessment experience that is of a reasonable length.

We have come a long way in this department but it is still the case that many online assessment experiences are longer then they should be. In the early days of online testing, it was common for assessments to take up to an hour. These days almost every vendor has been able to use data and experience to shorten their tests significantly while increasing their predictive power. Asking a candidate to sit for more than 30 minutes is simply bad PR and a poor experience for the user. As candidates move further along in the application process and the dialogue with the employer develops, it is acceptable for assessments to take longer. So, a second round of testing that occurs onsite as part of the interview process can approach an hour or even more. But initial rounds should be subject to strict time limitations.

Right #3: Candidates have the right to know where the assessment fits within the overall hiring process, and what they can expect next.

It is very common for the assessment experience to end with a short thank-you note that simply states, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Of course a thank you is very nice, but I think that candidates should be told honestly what to expect next. How long until someone contacts them? Who will contact them? And what they should expect as the next step is an importance pieces of information. Remember, your candidate is a customer, and keeping customers informed is an excellent way to build trust and loyalty.

Right #4: Candidates have the right to a good user experience.

No one enjoys a poorly crafted user interface or experience when using a website. We have come to a point where almost all interfaces and experiences are pleasant ones in which functionality works and the environment is visually appealing. Assessment should be no different. The pages on which assessment content is presented should be of a manageable length and should be easy on the eyes. A page with hundreds of radio buttons is very hard to mange visually and can unduly raise applicant stress levels. Poorly labeled information and confusing instructions can also contribute to poor user experiences. Assessment experiences should be subject to QA and usability testing just as other web-based experiences are. Assessment should support all browsers and operating systems and should not leave those with older technology or those who choose a less common system at any sort of disadvantage.

Right #5: Candidates have the right to technical support, no matter when they are applying.

Most assessment providers do an excellent job of ensuring that good technical support is available at all times, but I still see examples where tech support is only open during certain hours. Remember that applicants may be applying at any hour of the day and that being denied the opportunity to have important questions answered can present a very poor experience for the applicant.

Right #6: Candidates have the right to assessment content that appears job related.

Assessment content that leaves the applicant wondering, “Why are they asking me this?” or “What does this question have to do with the job?” … this is one of the most common issues with assessments. Personality assessments are particularly poor in this department as they often ask questions about personal feelings and emotions that are not presented in work related terms. As a general rule, the more the assessment content looks and feels like the job or uses terms that are job related, the better. From a branding perspective, applicants should be left feeling that the employer is not asking a bunch of BS questions that present them as weird, uncaring, or out of touch. Many companies still struggle with this one and employers who are adopting assessments should be sure to evaluate content recommended by a vendor and push back when questions raise concern.

Right #7: Candidates have the right to an enjoyable assessment experience.

Most of us don’t think of taking tests as entertaining, and most of them are not. But we have an opportunity to make taking tests a more enjoyable experience. Many vendors have been making great progress toward creating more stimulating and engaging assessments that involve either branded experiences or simulated job content. Employers need to begin to draw parallels between branding and every aspect of the application process. Creating customized application experiences are not necessarily viable options for all. But employers should at least explore their options in this area. Candidates have a right to be entertained if possible. We will see tremendous progress in this area over the next five years and that candidate expectations will continue to shift toward increased engagement.

Right #8: Candidates have the right to know what to expect in terms of feedback from the assessment.

This is the biggest issue when it comes to applicants’ complaints about being asked to complete an assessment. Assessment results are almost never shared with applicants. There are good reasons for this. Organizations often do not have the resources to provide adequate levels of feedback to candidates and it is not advisable to present applicants with information that may be perceived as negative. So what are companies to do about this dilemma? In some countries (i.e., the UK) employers have no choice but to make results available due to government mandates. Here in the U.S. most companies handle this issue poorly. Applicants are simply met with no information about the results policy at all. In the best cases, only those applicants who are hired are able to see results, and this is only after the hiring process has concluded. A viable solution to this issue has proven to be elusive to those of us in the testing world, and I feel it is out of line to demand that applicants have the right to see their results in all cases. So what rights do applicants have in this department? At a minimum employers should present information about what applicants can expect in the form of feedback, and why. Simple straightforward honesty is always a good policy.

Beyond this, more engaging application activities can provide different forms of feedback. Giving applicants the opportunity to interact can provide real-time feedback and exercises that are tied to realistic job previews can often provide very subtle feedback that is of value in helping an applicant understand their fit with the job or organization. It is possible to pleasantly present some form of data back to applicants with regard to their performance. Many organizations have been creative enough in this area.

While it may be a surprise to some, there are still a few assessments hanging around out there that contain some pretty strange questions. In some cases tests that are meant for clinical purposes have been used for selection. These tests can include items that ask some pretty personal questions that are simply not related to job performance in most situations. The good news is that situations where applicants do face offensive questions are few and far between these days. Assessment content should be free from anything that could be offensive to applicants.

While many of these rights may be taken to be self evident (that is, they are no-duh statements), it is amazing how many times I have seen some of them ignored by those who sell and use assessments. By identifying and following the basic things that are required to support the conscientious use of assessments, we can all help ensure the accuracy of assessment results while making assessment a more accepted part of the job application process.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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