Before You Throw Away That Long, Boring Pre-employment Test …

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Sep 30, 2019

While the topic of candidate engagement and experience with assessment has been written about many times before, the stakes are higher than ever. The prime directive for talent acquisition is providing an excellent candidate experience across the board because:   

  • Unemployment is historically low creating a seller’s market for candidates and intense competition for talent.
  • Competition between brands for consumer dollars is intense Your brand is everywhere all the time and any interaction or impression has ramifications, good or bad. Your hiring process is viewed as inseparable from your consumer brand.
  • High expectations for user experience — Candidates nowadays expect a consumer-grade experience for each and every online interaction. Those that don’t match expectations stick out like a sore thumb.
  • Attention spans continue to shrink — Everything we do is on fast forward. Technology has made this a truism that transcends generations and is amplified as younger generations enter the workforce.

While every component of the hiring workflow is coming under increased scrutiny in terms of its impact on candidate experience, assessments have become the poster child for poor experience and the scapegoat for candidate dropoff. It is easy to see why. No one likes taking tests, and the longer and less relevant tests seem, the harder it is for employers to feel good about them. Companies holding assessments accountable for poor candidate experience feel they are left with only two options:

  • Scuttle the testing program in the interest of candidate flow and branding, or
  • Seek “advanced” predictive tools that do not require applicants to complete a test, but are unproven and present risk. 

There is hope for using the power of assessments while providing a great candidate experience and minimizing the exposure from using unproven tools. Success demands dedication to the following seven elements:

  1. Take a critical look at all the pieces of your talent acquisition workflow When it comes to candidate attrition problems, don’t throw the assessment under the bus. Assessment is just one piece of a larger process. After a tedious ATS application process and a lack of contact with a human on the front end of the process, the assessment may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Getting candidate experience right requires a critical look at your entire process. 
  2. Make the candidate the hero (or partner)  The messaging around your assessment is where perceptions about your process are made or broken. Try selling the value of the assessment instead of apologizing for it. Informing the candidate about why the assessment is important, how long it will take, what to expect, etc will create a shared understanding of value that can go a long way.
  3. Ask the right questions in the right place — Match the assessment with the workflow and deliver it where it has maximum value and engagement has already been established. Lead with a short powerful screen, collect more information to move the best applicants forward, then go for the longer assessment later once the applicant is engaged.  
  4. Keep it relevant — The worst thing you can do is to allow an applicant to think “why are they asking me this?” Good assessment experience is driven by a real connection between the test and the job. It is easy to see how asking candidates questions that do not appear relevant to the job can erode their faith in you. Leaving applicants concerned that you are not evaluating them on job relevant criteria is a major fail.
  5. Up the engagement factor — Interactivity is a great way to break up testing monotony and engage applicants. A 20-minute multiple choice test does not have the same feel as a 20-minute test that is interactive. A test does not have to be a game to be interactive. Videos, pictures, as well as swipeable and draggable questions can all boost candidate engagement.
  6. Focus on what matters most — The No. 1 complaint voiced against assessments in 2019 is that they take too long. True, no one likes taking tests. And the longer a test is, the more likely a candidate will be to get fatigued and drop out. But length is a factor that can be controlled within the context of your process. The most frequent solution to this problem, dropping the assessment altogether, represents a step backward. Running to unproven technology just because it is short is also not a good strategy. Refocus the assessment only on what matters most. Use a job analysis to identify the top three things needed for success in the job. Measure them early on in the process. A 5-10 minute screen based on the stuff that matters most can provide a strong signal while reducing applicant fatigue. Use the latter steps in the process to dig more deeply. A much longer follow-up assessment later on in the process is much easier to sell once the candidate feels they are closer to a decision.
  7. Don’t compromise the science. Do a job analysis and local validation study to ensure the test is relevant and defensible. Work only with firms that have experienced I/Os who follow the basic formula. Short tests that are not valid or reliable don’t really add value. They do add risk. If you are considering advanced technologies as a substitute for traditional tests, make sure to work with an I/O psychologist to ensure they are properly validated.

Assessments are not glamorous, and typically they are not fun. But they do have tremendous value to organizations and applicants alike because they help put the right people in the right job. Believe it or not, applicants will be happy to take your assessment if you are smart about the process. The problem is short sightedness, not long assessments.

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