Employment Tests Say: Give Us Mobile or Give Us Death!

Jun 26, 2013

state dept appWhen it comes to linking people to information and opportunities at scale, mobile devices represent “a perfect storm of opportunity” for driving engagement because they provide personalized information on demand. This allows companies to win customers through dynamic ads that are location- and context-specific and can be based on prediction of intent.

Statistics for mobile device uptake show that it is increasing exponentially over time such that mobile internet access is poised to overtake fixed Internet access by 2015

This trend is even more pronounced in emerging markets such as India where mobile technology allows for the chance to skip over older technologies (i.e., land-based cables) that requires a deeper investment in infrastructure.

We are moving toward the global eventuality that an increasing number of things that we do on a daily basis will involve a mobile device. What seems less clear is a firm handle on where are we in our ability to really use these advantages in a consistent and strategic way when it comes recruiting and hiring. That’s what I’m going to talk about, below.

A full discussion of the current state of evolution regarding mobile recruiting is beyond the scope of this article, we can all agree that it is not going away anytime soon. The overall advantages of mobile devices (personalization, communication, relationship building, etc.) are all key elements of good, strategic recruiting that use branding to drive engagement and ultimately action.

Beyond the obvious notion that our ability to use mobile technology for recruiting is rapidly unfolding, when it comes to the mechanics of finding and applying for jobs over a mobile devices (including screening and testing); we are still clumsily finding our way through the early formative stages.

Good mobile recruiting seeks to divide the sourcing and application process into discreet components based on the technology for which they are best suited. John Sumser says “The end game is that mobile tech will segment the recruiting process into long and short tasks. That’s what mobile does; it completely redefines the work it touches. It’s powerful for short decisions and awful for anything that requires concentration. Mobile is great for work that can be wedged in the time between other things. It’s not so good when thinking is required.”

The same article suggests the minimum level of performance for a mobile recruiting website should be:

  • The ability to apply online
  • The ability to search jobs with results that are readable on a mobile device (pages with three results)
  • The ability to sign up for job alerts in specific areas
  • The ability to join a community and interact with other candidates and company employees
  • Access to publicly available information about the company (including reviews both negative and positive)
  • Insight into corporate culture
  • The ability to participate in screening (documents, references, tests)
  • The ability to get status on an application
  • The ability to schedule, cancel, and reschedule appointments
  • Legally defensible integration with the ATS

Using this mention as a jumping off point, let’s take a deeper look at mobile based testing.

Employment testing is similar to other parts of the hiring process in that it is definitely migrating to mobile platforms. There is not a lot of information out there at present about the speed and nature of this migration, but in April, I attended a great symposium at my annual I/O psychology conference about the state of the art in mobile device testing. In this symposium, representatives from five assessment companies shared the results of their research on mobile employment testing. The summary of this research presented below is as good as it gets when it comes to the current state of the art for mobile employment testing  (please email Neil Morelli (, the symposium chair, if you would like a copy of the full presentation).

  • Mobile testing rates are still low (between 2 percent and 10 percent) of total tests administered by companies; this is increasing over time
  • Research with large numbers (tens of thousands!) of actual job candidates demonstrates that:
    • Testing via mobile devices is more popular amongst blacks and Hispanics relative to whites and Asians
    • Mobile testing is more popular w/females relative to males (particularly black females)
    • Mobile testing is more popular with urban dwellers as opposed to rural dwellers
    • There are differences in measurement quality for cognitive tests administered via mobile devices, such that cognitive tests do not provide as sound of a measurement experience
    • Passing rates are not different for mobile devices (on non-cognitive tests) meaning that those using mobile devices pass at the same rate as those using PCs
    • Psychological measurement is not impacted by taking an assessment on a mobile device, meaning that trait-based measurement is not compromised because it occurs on a mobile device (for non-cognitive tests)
    • Tests results (for non-cognitive tests) do not differ across mobile device platforms (i.e., Android, iOS, RIM, etc)
    • Employment tests are perceived as harder to take on a mobile device, and most still feel they would rather take assessments on a PC
    • Participants did not enjoy taking cognitive tests on a mobile device as much as they did non-cognitive tests (note: these last two bullets summarize research done using a sample comprised of students, so one needs to be careful about generalizing these results)

This all tells us mobile testing is alive and kicking, but is still in its infancy. But it won’t go away anytime soon.

Those demographics that are likely to use a smartphone in lieu of owning a PC are using mobile devices to take employment tests, and it is likely these folks are applying for the types of jobs for which pre-hire assessment is used the most.

Cognitive tests (which often require more intense concentration and are generally timed) do not seem to work as well on mobile devices and are not popular with users.

Given that cognitive tests are:

  • known to show adverse impact ( against the very protected classes that seem to use them most on mobile devices,
  • do not work as well on mobile devices,
  • and are unpopular with those asked to take them on mobile devices, there is one clear conclusion here:

Don’t ask applicants to take cognitive tests on mobile devices!

At least not traditional cognitive assessments anyway. Mobile devices will slowly but surely force employment tests to evolve to a new standard.

We cannot expect tests delivered over mobile technology to carry the same load as traditional online tests. We have to realize the limitations presented by mobile devices as well as the overall limitations of employment tests in general. With mobile devices are replacing PCs at a fast rate, something has to give. Test content of all types is going to need to adapt to the platform or it will end up going the way of the brontosaurus.

I have been crying out for a change in test format for a long time. You can talk about analytics, big data, and technology all you want, but the cold hard facts are that, for the most part, employment tests still look the same as they have for decades. The norm in employment testing is still an endless sea of radio buttons and boring, eye blurring self-report statements that often don’t even seem job related. As more aspects of our daily lives include mobile devices, we will see technology forcing testing to adapt and change. This is a form of technological Darwinism and I welcome it.

Mobile technology offers a new green field of opportunity for testing to move out of the dark ages. Mobile is the perfect vehicle for a new breed of tests that are engaging, intuitive, and easy to use. We as test designers need to being thinking of tests as apps — small engaging programs that are designed to work easily on mobile devices.  We need to view the assets of mobile, touch screens, slider bars, and gamified interfaces as things that draw the test taker in and force them to think and engage in the experience.

All the best qualities of mobile are a perfect fit for an emerging new market segment for assessments, for top-of-the-funnel social job matching technologies. These technologies are poised to serve as a major force in the evolution of employment testing. There a bunch of new firms in this market segment that are about to burst on the scene and all of them use simple, easy-to-use assessments that are actually easy and fun for applicants and satisfy all the rules for mobile engagement. These technologies will serve to pull the rest of the testing industry forward.

There’s still a need for deeper levels of testing down the funnel. We will always have a need for longer assessments that take place after the candidate has been engaged and enticed and an employment dialogue is underway.  This sort of testing requires concentration and is still going to benefit from the environment and user interface that is provided by a more traditional computer.

Still, we are living in an era where technology has an unprecedented democratizing effect on all aspects of our society. Information is power and, for the foreseeable future, individuals are now empowered with information that allows them additional freedoms that were previously not possible and that provide leverage over large entities (such as governments and companies).

Employment testing is no exception and it is slowly but surely going to be forced to adapt as job seekers begin to rewrite the rules for engaging with employers.  Hopefully the pressures of an increasingly mobile, global society will force us to evolve beyond the current cold-war-era feel that is still the norm when it comes to employment testing.

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