Hot, Warm, and Cold Trends in Pre-employment Assessment for 2012 (and Beyond)

Jan 10, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

I’ve never felt better about the evolution of pre-employment assessment. In this coming year we’ll see some real progress toward new levels of assessment adoption that will be based more on results then on hype. But there are some significant challenges to be faced.

As we enter this exciting new year, here are the trends that I feel are going to define the future of pre-employment assessment.


The dawn of big data, business intelligence, and analytics. This is by far the most important thing going on in assessment today. It is not just assessment that is being impacted by the increasing power of big data as a decision-making tool. All areas of society are benefiting from our increased ability to use data to identify trends and make predictions to increase efficiency and effectiveness. One of the biggest obstacles for assessment has been the difficulty experienced in proving its value proposition in real terms.

This past decade has been marked by the movement of testing online. The product of this investment has been a significant amount of data and a much more complete understanding of what content predicts specific outcomes. We are now entering a decade in which new advances will be marked less by radical new types of content and more by the ability to view assessment from a business-intelligence mindset in which data supports hiring as a business process.

As I reported in a recent article, this movement is being led by the leading vendors in the assessment world who have begun to create a new generation of tools to help their customers understand complex relationships in their data as well as the relationship between their local data and more general, bigger picture data. While it may take some time to really gain traction, increased analytics will make it much easier to clearly demonstrate the bottom-line impact of assessment on all kinds of valued outcomes. The inability to clearly link assessment to results has been holding us back for decades. As this blockage continues to erode, the use of assessment will continue to grow.

Assessment and matchmaking. The use of assessment to match people with jobs to which they are best suited is proliferating. To understand the basic model for the matching I am talking about, think online dating site. In this model two parties are searching for a match based on a profile-creation process in which the same key pieces of data are collected and sophisticated algorithms are used to identify potential matches based on compatibility in the data. While these sites are far from perfect in their matching abilities, the model works much better than a blind search in which the matching parameters are not clearly defined or consistent.

When it comes to matching people with jobs, understand the value that a scientifically based assessment can provide. Assessment is essential to this process because it provides a standardized, objective way to reliably and accurately measure human traits in a manner that is not possible with simple fill-in-the-blank questions. So, adding assessment to the matching parameters can offer serious value.

This concept is not new. These sites have also exploded because of a continued lack of ability for big job boards to deliver results; the increase in analytic ability (see trend #1); and an increased ability to understand how to measure human traits accurately and reliably.

Expect even more of these companies. Effective matching is an excellent way to highlight those who have more of what is desired and thus help provide better odds of making a good hire using the “official” hiring process.

There are many different takes on this basic model. Explaining them all is beyond the scope of this article (stay tuned though: my next article will be devoted to categorizing the various companies offering assessment-related matching). No matter what the model, the most important thing impacting the success of these sites will be directly related to their ability to build a database that will have value to both parties involved. The best matching process in the world has no value if the database of candidates to match to is empty. The best candidates in the world will not waste their time using a site that has no legitimate openings to offer.

Expect to see many try to jockey for dominance in this area. The winners in this arena will be those that are able to engage both candidates and companies and compel them to give their time and effort to provide the data required for effective matching. The winners will also be the ones who can make joining their sites a viral proposition (Hello LinkedIn and Facebook … are you listening?).


Assessment as a key part of talent management. Talent management is all the rage, and rightfully so. For decades there has been a need for a more strategic focus on how organizations use their people to have maximum impact.

While talent management is a concept that covers the entire lifecycle of the employee and is designed to support development and management of people, pre-employment assessment still seems to be something that few talent management vendors are including in their products and models for success. Talent management is an opportunity to truly impact results via its ability to define what is important for success, and then help ensure that companies are hiring, developing, and promoting people in ways that have a direct impact. Until the talent management concept includes pre-employment assessment, it is incomplete. Vendors will come around to this viewpoint, but they are doing so more slowly then I expected. As pre-employment assessment continues to prove its value and get more traction, expect to see it added to the talent-management equation.

Continued (but slow) movement from test to experience. Those who read my articles regularly and know and have worked with me are well aware of my passion for simulations and engaging assessments that provide an experience rather then a boring and frustrating testing session. These types of assessments are the future. I am not backing down from this stance; however, this is not happening as fast as I had expected. While we have seen some cool new simulations and branded experiences over the past few years, we have yet to see the technology needed to really move this area to the next level. This will come with time.

For now it is exciting to see new products and solutions that represent a step in the right direction. I am encouraged to see vendors continuing to invest in making their assessments more engaging, but the bulk of assessments are the same as they always have been in terms of their content. We are still living in an age where most pre-employment tests are simply web-enabled versions of their former paper-and-pencil selves. Luckily we have been able to make the testing experience much shorter while also making it more accurate. The next steps forward are happening, but the revolution in this area will take time.

As the years go by I am continually encouraged by the new and creative solutions that I am seeing. My workshop at the ERE Expo last spring provided me with enough examples of engaging assessments to fill up several hours of time. I encourage those who are creating assessment products to continue to place themselves in the candidates’ shoes and to understand the value-add to your brand from a branded experience or simulation.

Increased access to assessments for SMBs. The manner in which assessments are adopted remains a bit curious. My research shows that companies of all sizes tend to use assessments. While enterprise is likely the area where the most companies are using assessments, we all know that small and medium businesses actually have more total employees because there are so many of these companies out there. Most vendors are very focused on the big fish, enjoying the prestige of landing Fortune 500 companies who have the resources to do cool and interesting things with their hiring process. Bigger companies also provide healthy numbers that are conducive to validation work and program evaluation.

Small to mid size companies do have options. Many vendors do have the ability to serve these companies with the same types of products as the enterprise. However, smaller companies often don’t even have a dedicated staffing person and it is hard for them to think strategically. In most cases smaller businesses must rely more on guesswork when implementing assessments, as best practices used by enterprise are often beyond their means and understanding.

Vendors are realizing the opportunity to offer the SMB market something better. I am seeing new vendors who are creating solutions that are focused on helping SMBs. Many of these involve other trends I have already discussed in this article. Namely, we have so much data on hand now that we are able to understand the truth about what items are predictive in many general situations (such as customer service), and companies are creating new matching tools to make this knowledge accessible within software-based systems. So, SMBs are gaining access to the more accurate off-the-shelf assessments for a lower cost.

Expect slow but continued movement by vendors to serve the SMB space over the next few years.


Clarity around legal standards. New models for assessment that are continually being developed are subject to a set of legal standards (the EEOC’s Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures) that were developed in 1978. The core idea of these Guidelines — that to be legally compliant a test must be job related — is without question and will be relevant forever. However, for many reasons that I won’t go into in this venue, the Guidelines are sorely out of date.

Assessment has changed a good deal since 1978 and it would be nice if the legal standards for their use could directly relate to these changes.

The legal ins and outs of assessment are one of the more challenging aspects of selecting and implementing assessment programs. I continue to fall back on the silver lining here, that the prime directive of the Guidelines is that we must demonstrate that all assessments are job related. The good news is that job-relatedness is also the driving factor in determining ROI. So, doing it right provides both legal CYA and money in the bank.

Still, it continues to be frustrating to see so many new and exciting ways that assessment is being used to do good with no Kosher stamp provided by the powers that be. At the end of the day, the threat of investigation by the Feds is pretty low given the resources they have available, so most companies continue to play the odds rather then invest the time and money in ensuring compliance.

Sadly, I do not predict that there will be any changes to this in the coming year. It troubles me that there is silence around how the new sophisticated data modeling tools and matching products meet government standards. These tools are the future and as they evolve and proliferate, the gap between assessment models and the rulebook will continue to widen.

We have a lot to be excited about in 2012. Organizations of all sizes should take advantage of the many opportunities to make hiring a strategic asset.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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