Assessment and Job Boards: Two Years Later

Aug 6, 2008

Back in 2006 I wrote an article discussing the integration of assessments into job boards. It was an example of the continued movement toward the inclusion of assessments into the mainstream of recruiting and hiring products and systems.

In this article, I praised the progress being made in understanding the value of quality assessment products in the modern hiring process.

I strongly believe that the words I wrote in 2006 are as relevant today as they ever were; in fact, they are more relevant now than ever. The days of the big job boards and their keyword matching strategies are numbered.

A lot has happened in the world of online recruitment in the last decade. The focus of most of the evolution has been on candidate quality and on increasing accuracy. This is in opposition to the focus a decade ago, which seemed to be on quickly delivering a large volume of candidates. What we have learned since then is that without a way to quickly evaluate candidate quality, we end up saddled with information overload. So, the objective for recruiting products is shifting to one that is focused on the alignment of personal characteristics with those that are required for performance on the job. This is a good thing. This movement has definitely been aided by the choice of several leading career portals to embed candidate quality into their bag of tricks.

A slice of the content of the original article from 2006 appears below. It has been updated to include a few examples of a few career portals that are now using assessment to help them better serve their clients (both job seekers and employers) by providing them with a way to quickly focus on candidates who have what it takes. Before we get started, I want to offer a few disclaimers here.

  1. I am not saying that using assessment as part of the job search and match process provides all the data needed to make a good hiring decision. Rather, I am saying that it provides an excellent way to address the idea of “garbage in, garbage out.” By creating an applicant pool of individuals who are at least qualified and motivated, we are taking a very important first step towards ensuring systematic quality in the hiring process. I think of it as pre-screening that comes before pre-screening because it provides an applicant pool that will give one much better odds of making a successful hire.
  2. In this article I am going against my policy of not ever naming the names of any vendors who provide the type of products discussed. Please note that none of the vendors discussed here have been included due to anything other than my personal opinion that they are good examples of the trend I am documenting. I was not compensated by them, nor does my inclusion of them in this article mean they are the perfect solution for your problems.
  3. Although I am an expert in this space, I do not know everything, and there is definitely a chance that I failed to mention a company that provides the exact type of service I have described. I encourage someone from such companies (or a fan of one of these companies) to contact me to let me know what you are doing.

Below are some relevant highlights from my original article.

Folks are finally starting to get the idea that assessments are but one component of a broader process designed to help hiring professionals make systematic predictions that result in good hiring decisions. There’s much to be gained from this process-oriented approach, so it has been great to see assessments being used to help at various phases of the hiring process.

Despite the continued integration of assessment, there’s one area in which assessment has been underused. This area is the use of assessment tools during the job-searching process. Specifically, the integration of assessment tools into the searching/matching component of career portals.

Traditional methods available to users of career portals for locating jobs are extremely crude, consisting mostly of keyword searches or matching based on simplistic profile elements.

The fact that this basic process has endured as the standard for almost a decade now clearly reflects the quantity-over-quality focus that has reflected the marketing-centric attitude of many job boards since day one.

Blocking Out the Noise

This crude matching process results in excess noise. For applicants, noise means they’re presented with, and encouraged to apply for, a ton of jobs for which they’re not qualified. For hiring professionals, noise means no mechanism to assist them in making an initial high-level determination of applicant quality.

Noise makes it difficult to make good hiring decisions because it greatly increases the chance to make systematic errors.

The good news is that I am starting to see a shift in focus that will go a long way toward a reduction in noise and an increase in the ability to differentiate candidates based on various quality factors.

This shift involves the use of assessment tools as an integral part of the services provided by career portals. The use of assessment to help fill the hiring funnel with applicants who have the attributes required for success has numerous advantages, all of which are explained by simple probability theory.

Think about it: the more qualified the individuals in your applicant pool, the better chance you have of hiring someone who has what it takes. Over the past few years, I have learned of an increasing number of companies who are seeking to change things by integrating assessment into the matching process.

The basic aspects of this include the following:

  • Seekers create profiles. This part of the matching process works as part of a registration process, before a job seeker has even expressed interest in a specific position. Along with other information collected during this process, the job seeker creates a profile based on a short assessment of basic qualities such as work attitudes, personality measures, etc.
  • Corporate users define high-level requirements. This part of the matching process requires hiring personnel to create a template of the basic things it takes to do the job well. This often includes standard things such as skills and experience but also includes qualities often measured by assessments (personality factors, dimensions of fit, work values, etc).
  • Noise is squelched. When a job seeker searches for a job using the profile he/she has created, results include jobs for which they are suited based on the compatibility between their profiles and those of available jobs.

There are many twists on this formula but the basic idea is the same: deliver an applicant pool that has less noise and makes the recruiter’s job easier. This is the start to ensuring quality hires because it’s sure hard to hire superstars if they aren’t even in your applicant pool to begin with.

Admittedly, my description of this process is overly simplistic. In job matching, just as with making hiring decisions, assessment data should serve as one of many data points that are used to identify the best candidate for the job. Truly effective matching systems will use parameters that include other key determinants of success such as experience, knowledge, and skills.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

Overall, the use of assessment in the matching process offers the following five advantages:

  • Reduces noise. Allows filtering based on actual job-related parameters.
  • Helps determine corporate fit. This process is a good way to find and hire applicants who fit a company culture.
  • Increases quality. Allows insight into applicant’s ability to deliver what it takes for success.
  • Educates job seekers. Allows applicants some insight about themselves and how suited they are for a particular job or career.
  • Results in branding. It can provide a good applicant experience, leading to support for employment brands.

Of course, there are potential drawbacks to the use of assessment as part of the matching process. These include the following five issues:

  • Learning curve. Users must learn to understand how to define jobs in terms of relative importance of the parameters used for matching.
  • Accuracy. It is critical to match the templates against which applicants are matched to accurate reflections of the job.
  • Uncertainty. Predicting performance is a difficult task, to say the least. Assessment-assisted matching is not a panacea and does not eliminate possibility that mistakes will happen.
  • Quality control. To be effective, assessments must be created using the proper methodology; substandard assessment products will produce substandard results.
  • Legality. While the use of assessments in matching is not illegal, it does require awareness of some potential legal ramifications (see original article for full coverage of legal issues related to the type of products discussed in this article).

So who is actually using some sort of assessment as part of a career portal or job board? I believe the companies below are all doing great things to move us forward toward an era of embedded assessments that can help reduce the noise associated with finding and applying for jobs online.

Climber: uses some really cool technology to create a comprehensive applicant profile that includes an assessment of work values. The complete applicant profile is then compared to a profile created by employers making job postings. Part of this process includes an employer work-values profile that helps capture the values of the organization in order to help ensure that users (both applicants and employers) are matched based on a mutual “fit.” Climber goes beyond the norm for this type of exercise by using sophisticated data analysis techniques and AI in order to help optimize the search/match process for its members. It is truly on the cutting edge when it comes to delivering candidate quality via tight searching/matching through the use of sophisticated data analysis techniques and AI.

Jobfox: Provides applicants with the opportunity to take a short personality assessment once they have registered. While the results of this assessment are not currently used to help match job seekers and employers, Jobfox members are able to see the results of their assessment and use them for self-understanding and developmental purposes. Jobfox also has a very nice skills matching technology in which applicants take the time to create a skills profile that is then matched against the skills profile that is created for each position that is posted by organizations using Jobfox. The result is a match score that provides candidates with an idea of which of the jobs available on Jobfox are a good fit for their skills and experience.

Monster: Monster has partnered with DDI, a leading assessment firm, to provide its clients with the ability to add assessments to any job posting. This product is known as the Monster Performance Assessment or MPA. The ability to provide the MPA for most job postings is made possible by DDI’s extensive experience with assessment tools as well as the data it has collected over the past several decades. The MPA package represents a groundbreaking offering, as it is the first time assessments have been sold transactionally as part of the process of posting job openings. The MPA does not use assessment to help candidates identify jobs for which they are matched; rather, it provides recruiters with much richer data about a candidate’s qualifications for the position of interest. This allows recruiters to quickly shortlist candidates based on a set of standardized, job related data. While there are still some details being ironed out, Monster’s approach represents an interesting and potentially effective way to help deliver quality. Monster is also the only one of the mega-boards that has been bold enough to step out with an assessment-related solution.

eBullpen: eBullpen is a job board that uses a personality assessment as part of the process used to match job seekers with available openings. eBullpen has been working on its process for several years now and provides a legally sound, useful approach. This approach asks companies posting jobs to outline the personality traits, activities, and requirements for the job. Job seekers provide data on their personality traits, work preferences, and qualifications. Matching alogrythms are then used to help match job seekers with available openings.

Each of these four companies are stepping out into uncharted territory and is doing so with a slightly different approach. The specifics of these approaches aside, the big picture is what matters the most here.

This big picture is the idea that each of these folks provide a way for job posters to break down a job into a series of key data points which are then matched to a series of related data points in a profile or assessment snapshot created by job seekers.

Detractors have often lobbied against this kind of matching, saying that no candidate (or company for that matter) is interested in taking the time required to create the profiles needed to fuel this kind of process. I firmly disagree. Good hiring takes an investment on the part of both the job seeker and the employer, and good investment often takes a bit of effort. The old adage, “you get what you paid for” along with my personal favorite “garbage in, garbage out” both apply to this situation. I am confident that as we travel further down the road of embedded assessment, the data will bear out the fact that the small amount of time taken to fuel the matching process will prove to be time well spent

Despite this, within the next five years I expect to see career portals offering an increasing amount of value by beginning to change the focus from quantity to quality, with assessments as one of the core elements of this switch.

I think all stakeholders involved in the hiring process, including applicants, stand to benefit from this trend.

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