Grow Up Already! Evaluating Your Pre-employment Assessment Maturity Level

Apr 11, 2012

I have worked with hundreds of organizations over the years to help them with the care and feeding of their assessment programs. The starting point for my client dialogues are often vastly different. In some cases I am assisting I/O psychologists who are working on cutting-edge innovative programs. In others I am helping to clean out low-quality legacy vendors who have long ago lost their support base, but somehow continue to exist.

The proper use of assessments is not an easy proposition. Doing it right is something that takes dedication and hard work, and even the most advanced companies must continually make improvements. But these same companies will tell you that the results to be obtained are well worth the effort.

The good news is that it has never been easier for companies to reach a relatively mature state with their assessment programs. Accessibility to quality assessment tools has never been better. As I continue to talk to and work with companies to help them with various aspects of their assessment programs, I have developed a rough set of guidelines to help me evaluate the company’s maturity level with using predictive hiring tools.

The following is a brief list of the key markers across three levels of maturity.


Firms who use no assessments are the core of this category. There are many cases where I wish that no tool at all was in use because the ones that are being used are actually a detriment.

The most common thing that identifies a company that is in this phase of maturity is the presence of a legacy tool that no one really knows much about. In most of these cases no one even knows when the tool was introduced, or why. Often it is the work of past leadership that has long since moved on. This situation almost always involves one business unit or location that has had autonomy to create its own hiring process.

When I begin my due diligence into these tools they are usually low-quality solutions that are not really doing anyone any good. The vendors who sell them often feel pretty threatened when I become involved. Likely, they have been generating revenue through test sales without having to prove any value. 

Vendors and I/O resources:

When it comes to specific tests being used, other key indicators of lagging organizations include:

  • The use of DISC or Meyers-Briggs to make hiring decisions
  • The use of some proprietary “secret formula” for assessment that is outside of the accepted conventions used by testing professionals
  • Extremely long tests that have very unwieldy output
  • A heavy reliance on tools that use a profiling methodology
  • Assessments that are made up of very simple adjective checklists but return a phone book of complex info about a candidate
  • An over-reliance on personality testing (personality testing has its place as part of a whole person approach, but using it as the only predictor has limited value)
  • Homemade screening tools that have not been validated by an expert
  • No internal I/O or no inclusion of I/O psychologists in any aspect of the hiring process

Adherence to key technical requirements:

  • No job analyses performed, no organized competency modeling to support HR initiatives
  • No validation work performed to verify the relevance and impact of assessments used. Or one validation study done by the vendor a good while ago but with no link between that validation and any meaningful business impact.

Strategic focus:

  • No support — or even a bias — against the value of assessments
  • Silos between key functional areas within the hiring process that do not promote the development of integrated programs
  • Incorrect staging of assessments within the hiring process
  • Lack of technology to properly support the hiring process
  • Absolutely no communication of pre- and post-hire activities demonstrating a lack of a talent-management mindset.

Overall the biggest challenge for organizations at this level is a lack of commitment and interest to do it right. Without a champion who understands the value of assessments and the need to make a commitment to best practices, growth is difficult if not impossible.


There are a lot of firms out there that do have some experience with pre-employment assessments and who are very interested in learning about what it takes to improve. In these firms I usually find pockets of understanding and a few instances of very good work. Generally firms at this level have had some success with assessments, and this success has driven a desire to learn more.

When I engage with clients at the average maturity level, I find:

Vendors and I/O resources:

  • An interest in cutting dead wood by removing poor quality, legacy assessment vendors
  • Use of a quality vendor that is supported internally and given the resources needed to demonstrate their value. This vendor’s reach is usually limited to a few jobs or business units and it is not driven by a strategic assessment roadmap.
  • Some I/O psychology resources. These are usually not internal and often supplied by the vendor. This is a step in the right direction, but when your only I/O resources are provided by those who stand to profit off of you, the advice given is not always as neutral as one might like.

Adherence to key technical requirements:

  • Most companies at this level have done at least some job analysis or strategic competency modeling. This is usually conducted as part of the work done by the current vendor. This work is usually limited to the specific assessments in use and represents the formula required by the vendor.
  • Minimal validation work has been conducted. This often follows minimally required strategies and does not focus on showing the business impact of assessments.
  • A lack of training for end users of assessment. Failure to understand the change management needed to ensure recruiters and hiring managers buy into the use of assessments.

Strategic focus:

  • An interest in understanding what it takes to use assessment correctly. This is usually driven by the presence of a champion who creates a general level of support for the use of assessment tools as a strategic asset to the organization.
  • The development of a hiring process in which assessments are properly staged
  • A recognition of the importance of removing silos within the hiring process, but no strategy to make it happen
  • Assessment still being used tactically to fight fires. Usually there are several implementations of assessment that have been done correctly, but the drive to develop a global assessment strategy or roadmap is lacking
  • An interest in the concept of talent management as a bridge between pre- and post-hire activities

Overall the biggest challenge for companies working at this level is figuring out how to move from a tactical assessment program to a strategic one. It usually takes a champion. They’re able to align the resources required to drive a best-practices sort of mindset. And they can scrap all of the sub-par solutions currently in use.


The hallmarks of maturity with assessment include technical competence; a strategic viewpoint; the drive to demonstrate business impact; and a pre-hire-to-retire viewpoint on talent management.

In some sense there is no real perfection when it comes to the use of pre-employment assessment. There are always new challenges to be handled and work to be done to ensure optimization.

I do get the chance to work within organizations functioning at the mastery level. Most of these organizations have a deep tradition in using assessments and have learned a lot of lessons about what works for them. In this work I see:

Vendors and I/O resources:

  • An internal I/O team that is dedicated full time to selection and assessment programs
  • An interest in exploring technologically advanced assessment methods
  • Creation of their own assessment tools using best practices and I/O resources
  • Leverage to push vendors to their limits, ensuring they do not cut corners and that they provide high levels of customization
  • A high level of partnership between I/O resources and the business. This includes business leaders as well as recruiters and others who are ultimately the internal customers for the assessment tools

Adherence to key technical requirements:

  • Organization-wide competency modeling initiatives that support a talent management focus and which allow an understanding of performance at every job and role
  • Up-to-date job analyses to anchor assessment tools and customized assessment content
  • A high level of deference for compliance issues. Taking the time to ensure that all assessment work is fully within the guidelines provided by the EEOC and OFFCP.
  • A strong focus on ongoing validation work. Beyond this mastery level demands a focus on demonstrating the business impact of assessment tools.
  • A focus on the emerging technologies and strategies for talent/business analytics. Ensuring the development of a program and infrastructure to ensure that data is used to help drive key decisions regarding the entire talent lifecycle.

Strategic focus:

  • Support for assessment from the C-suite
  • A global or overall assessment strategy that does not focus on fighting fires but rather on an integrated view of talent’s value to the organization
  • Strategic vision for the entire hiring process. A focus on including assessments at the right time and place within a well-planned and structured process. Elimination of silos within the hiring process.
  • A focus on the importance of employment branding and candidate experience
  • Linking pre- and post-hire assessment data to support a developed pre-employment assessment strategy
  • Full change management to support the value of assessments and to ensure that end users buy in and receive proper training

The biggest challenge at this level is scaling across the enterprise. Creating a global, strategic assessment roadmap is not a simple endeavor and it requires a good deal of resources and understanding.  This is something that must be driven by the top of the organization and supported with expertise and proper resources.


There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to what assessments to use and how to use them. Getting the most out of assessments requires an approach that is based on due diligence and expert input to ensure optimization. Failure to optimize leaves money on the table and reduces the organization’s ability to meet its strategic objectives.

However, the effort requires is definitely worth it. Ask any of the organizations who are currently working at the mastery level and they will tell you that the use of assessments have had a definite business impact.

photo from Bigstock

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