Employment Tests Are Anything but Irrelevant

May 21, 2013
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Last week, I found myself wearing down several hours sitting in an airport by catching the latest and greatest in the HR/employment sphere through LinkedIn, when I stumbled onto an article by Dr. Charles Handler titled “Employment Tests Are Becoming Irrelevant for Predicting Job Success.”  I was intrigued. After all, I am a consultant for a company in which a core area of our business is from said employment tests. Especially with that title, shock value achieved.

The article brings to light a number of interesting ideas about big data via social media and how it stands to influence the way we look at pre-employment. However new and edgy gathering such data via social media may be, it isn’t without its flaws.  Furthermore, if someone has to stand up for employment tests, I begrudgingly accept.

From the first excerpt, “The Impact of Publicly Available ‘Free-range’ Data,”

People born in the past decade or so, along with all persons to come, will begin accumulating a personal digital fingerprint that will be associated with them from cradle to the grave … We are even starting to see research that suggests we can gauge an individual’s job success from social media data such as one’s Facebook usage.

To test a hypothesis, I logged onto my own Facebook and started with the news feed summary. Within the first minute, I counted 12 females, nine males, three mentions of children, five mentions of weddings, announcements of seven birthdays (complete with age), and two mentions of religion.

Hypothesis confirmed: Facebook is a Title VII nightmare. Even for the most well-intentioned onlookers, things cannot be unseen. If Facebook vetting is a part of your process, sooner or later a plaintiff lawyer is going to come knocking with a discrimination suit. The ability to defend that (insert protected class) didn’t influence your decision is compromised once the individual’s Facebook record is shown to the jury.

We know from employment tests that “The Big Five,” referenced in the above study predicts performance. Until we find a search engine that filters out all of these criteria (any developers out there?), why not measure those personality traits the best way we know how, objectively, and free of sensitive information. Your HR and legal departments will sleep better at night. Reading the conclusion of the study: Dr Kluemper appears to agree.

“We’re not advocating employers use this technique,’ Kluemper said about the Facebook ratings.”

In his second heading, “The Rise of Structured, Sanctioned, Verifiable, Shareable Personal Data,” the article states that they:

They were able to show that a variety of rationally hypothesized factors (i.e., # of positions held) impacted key variables such as turnover.

Gauging “turnover likelihood” based on number of jobs on a resume is something that people have been doing with resumes for the past 40 years. We just have switched mediums. While this is interesting, what I find most helpful is whether Person A has a personality that predisposes him/her to turnover because s/he is lazy and unmotivated. The great news is that employment tests can do that. In fact, decreased turnover is the most frequently observed positive outcome of implementing these tests.

They also found evidence of less-rational relationships such as the fact that those who gave more recommendations had higher job success levels than those who received them.

Interesting — definitely — but not shocking. Tying recommendations to job success — everyone has a few friends who didn’t quite “make it.” We still love these friends all the same, but I don’t imagine they have a lot of people asking for recommendations on LinkedIn. Contrarily, higher performers at higher levels within organizations probably receive more requests for recommendations. It’s lonely at the top. I don’t envy the number of requests those top-achievers probably get.

I’m not all-knowing. I won’t even claim to be half-knowing. Let’s say big data revolutionizes how we look at our job seekers. What do our job seekers do? They adapt. I ran an Internet search of “Make an amazing resume,” to get 68 million results. Let’s use the example in the article about Klout:

Currently, a great example is the Klout score, which can be used to help evaluate someone’s level of engagement in social media and is often cited as a key piece of data for those being evaluated for marketing and advertising jobs.

Step 1: Make a profile on every social media venue available. Step 2: Connect to everyone you “kind of” know on these networks. If there was ever a time to add your dental hygienist, high school principal, that one bar down the street, (and yes) even your exes … today is the day! Social media big data could likely lose its value quickly.  I’m reminded of my friends who are professional recruiters and what happens to a resume when they “tweak” them. Social media is very much a “resume for the new millennium,” with the same candidate-to-candidate inconsistency.

Contrast this with assessments, which are getting increasingly more advanced in how they measure these pre-employment predictors of performance. You want someone with attention to detail? Assessments have real-time simulations that actually test it. Organizational skills? Give them a simulated e-mail account that updates real time and has 100 backlogged in the inbox. Assessments have been around for many years and they continue to become more engaging, accurate, and consistent. Furthermore, many people far smarter than I are improving these assessments in ways so advanced that that will keep assessments around for a long time. Item response theory analyses, ideal-point assessment scoring, and more realistic job simulations/in-baskets are just the beginning.

What’s the take home here? Assessments are not only still relevant, they are becoming even more valuable. In fact here are three concrete areas where assessments continue to grow:

  • Manufacturing in the U.S. is back with a vengeance on the heels of increased shipping costs and stabilized domestic demand, and supported with very strong government initiatives. Manufacturing isn’t making the same mistake it made last time. Other countries have cheaper labor costs, so these organizations are going to compensate by paying to bring in elite, highly vetted candidates who often take two or three assessments as part of the hiring process.
  • Healthcare is going lean.  Healthcare reform is forcing individual healthcare providers to consolidate into systems. In addition to being providers of healthcare and offering remedies to patients, physicians are now also looked to as employees who are responsible for maintaining a company reputation. Healthcare professionals with high emotional intelligence have been shown to have higher patient satisfaction scores (Weng et al. 2011)  This trait is also nearly impossible to train. Hello employment assessment.
  • Retailers are losing revenue from theft at an alarming rate. Although these numbers (30+ billion dollars) are best-case estimates, integrity/ethical reasoning assessments are of the quickest growing type of assessments out there. Sending more inventory where it is supposed to go equals more dollars in the pockets of all of the employees, managers, and shareholders.

Don’t bail out on pre-employment assessments so fast. Assessments still have our back … at least for a few more years.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!