Improving the World One Staffing Decision at Time: Do Candidates Like Assessments?

May 4, 2004

The most important decision a company ever makes about its employees is the decision to hire them. Every other decision is a cause or consequence of this initial choice. Poor hiring decisions damage companies both directly through decreased performance and indirectly through lost opportunities. Consider the situation when your organization hires the wrong person and the superstar you should have hired is picked up by the competition. It is little wonder that hiring practices have a massive financial impact on organizational performance. The impact of good or bad hiring decisions also extends far beyond the profitability of organizations. Few things cause people more stress than being hired into a job that they are ill-suited to perform. Not only are bad staffing decisions disruptive to employees, but they also negatively impact the lives of their supervisors, coworkers, customers, and families. In fact, flawed hiring decisions undermine the overall growth and success of businesses and economies in general, which eventually hurts all of us. Much of the damage and disruption caused by hiring mistakes could be avoided if companies simply made a commitment to using better selection methods. There is extensive research indicating that appropriate use of scientifically designed online assessments greatly improves the efficiency and accuracy of hiring decisions. If you want to see some of this assessment research we suggest you spend some time reading through peer-reviewed journals such as Personnel Psychology, the Journal of Applied Psychology, or the International Journal of Selection and Assessment. Assessment tools and methods can efficiently measure a range of critical candidate characteristics such as knowledge, skills, personality, experience and culture fit without taking up valuable recruiter time. These assessments provide staffing professionals with quality information that greatly improves the accuracy of their hiring decisions. Taken to a logical if somewhat “idealistic” conclusion, this greater use of assessments will lead to better staffing decisions, which in turn will lead to happier more productive employees, more profitable and efficient organizations, a generally stronger economy and society, and ultimately a better world. Despite the clear and documented advantages offered by assessments, many companies remain reluctant toward using them as part of their staffing process. Over the next several months we plan to explore this issue by taking an in-depth look at some of the reasons why companies resist using assessments. A mix of research and experience has led us to identify several key factors that often act as road blocks to the adoption of online assessment tools. We will identify and discuss each of these roadblocks, explore whether they are rooted in myth or reality, and share methods for either removing or surmounting them. Our hope is that by discussing common objections and concerns hindering the use of assessments, we can help provide knowledge and understanding that will ultimately contribute to wider adoption of assessment tools. The following are some of the topics we will be addressing over the coming months:

  • How do assessments affect the candidate experience?
  • Will the use of assessments place me at greater risk for legal action? Are the benefits of assessments worth the risk of litigation?
  • What are the security risks associated with the use of online assessment tools? How can these risks be managed?
  • Why should I use assessments if I do not even understand what they are?
  • Can you prove that assessments really work? Are there any actual examples that demonstrate their value to the bottom line?
  • Do assessments “de-humanize” the staffing process? Will the use of technology based assessments replace staffing professionals?
  • How can small companies benefit from the use of assessments? Are they too expensive for a small company to use?
  • How can I tell which kind of assessment to use and who should provide them to me?
  • What role should assessment play in the overall staffing strategy? How can other key HR functions benefit from assessment results?

The goal of these articles is to provide you with information that will help you make greater use of staffing assessments within your organization. Toward this end, we welcome and encourage any questions or concerns you may have regarding the use of staffing assessments. Please send your questions to either Charles ( or Steve ( and we promise to respond either directly or through a future article. Is it idealistic to try to improve the world through improving the quality of staffing decisions? Perhaps. However it is worth remembering the even a single staffing decision may determine if someone’s family gets health care benefits. Whether talking about hiring one person or filling hundreds of thousands of positions, hiring decisions are not decisions to be taken lightly. How did you feel the first time someone offered you a job, or perhaps chose not to? As staffing professionals, perhaps it is through better hiring that we can most effectively do our part to create a better planet. Do Candidates Like Assessments? One objection commonly raised toward the use of assessments is that they may alienate or otherwise offend applicants. Potential users of online assessment tools often express concern that candidates may react negatively to being asked to “take a test” as part of the hiring process. These people fear that assessments might offend or otherwise drive away top performers. Asking candidates to do something they may find unpleasant or invasive might also erode the employment brand that an organization has spent much time and effort to create and promote. Finally, many people feel that negative experiences with assessment tools may increase the likelihood of hiring-related litigation. These are all valid concerns regarding the use of assessments. Our experience suggests that issues related to candidate reactions are often among the most important factors affecting a company’s willingness to use staffing assessment tools. Candidate Attitudes Towards Assessment Tools Over the course of our careers, we have personally administered staffing assessment tools to hundreds of candidates ranging from entry-level hourly employees to senior executives. In our experience, candidate attitudes toward staffing assessments seem to be surprisingly similar regardless of the job level. These attitudes tend to fall into four different groups:

  1. The indifferent (the largest group). Most candidates accept assessments as part of the staffing process, and view them as neither good nor bad. It’s just another step in the selection process. If a candidate is really interested in a particular job or organization, they typically do not mind going through some extra steps to ensure their capabilities match the demands of the position.
  2. The enthusiastic. Some candidates express positive attitudes toward the use of assessments. They appreciate that the company has put so much thought into making sure candidates are appropriately matched to job opportunities. The use of challenging, job-relevant assessments increases these candidates’ opinions of the company as an organization that knows what it is looking for and that is willing to invest in systematic, thorough processes to maintain its high standards.
  3. The anxious. Some candidates, although usually a fairly small group, express high levels of anxiety toward completing assessments. This is most likely to happen when using assessments that remind people of “tests” they took in school. If an ADA issue is likely to be raised, it will often come from candidates in this group (addressing this particular topic is well beyond the scope of this article). Although anecdotal, in our experience the level of anxiety individuals express toward an assessment often has little relationship to their actual performance on the assessment.
  4. The annoyed (the smallest group). A few candidates will openly express frustration or annoyance with assessments. These complaints tend to focus on the time needed to complete the assessment, or the lack of job relevance of the assessment questions. These complaints are often associated with the use of personality measures. This could be partially related to the fact that some personality measures contain questions that may not appear to be related to the job for which the applicant is being considered.

Ideally, we would like all candidates taking assessments to end up in the enthusiastic category. However, its probably more realistic to focus on minimizing the number of candidates falling into the annoyed category. Fortunately, there has been a good deal of research into the factors that influence candidate reactions toward assessments. This research provides some useful guidelines for helping ensure assessments are presented in a user friendly manner. The general consensus of research is that candidates tend to react favorably toward assessments if they believe that the assessments are effective and efficient measures of their potential to perform the job. In sum, if you wish to create a positive candidate experience then focus on using assessments that are perceived by candidates as clearly job relevant, interesting and engaging. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the most effective and efficient assessments for predicting job performance are not the most entertaining or openly job relevant. For example, one of the most effective ways to predict the ability to perform jobs that require rapidly learning new tasks and processing information is to give candidate tests of “abstract reasoning ability.” These tests, while very effective, are perceived to be about as fun and job relevant as a college entrance exam. Similarly, while personality tests are among the most effective predictors of “soft skills” that are often critical to job performance, many well-designed personality assessments contain questions that leave candidates shaking their heads and wondering, “Why are they asking me this?” Another approach to ensuring a positive candidate experience is to pay careful attention to how the assessments are presented so that candidates understand, appreciate, and accept their use. This is something that can and should be done for all applications of assessment tools. By providing the following basic experience for candidates, you are likely to greatly increase the number of candidates who end up being enthusiastic about the process while reducing the number who end up in the annoyed category:

  • Explain why the organization using assessments. Framing the reasons for using assessments is an important part of the hiring process. We recommend clearly explaining the value of assessments both in terms of their ability to improve staffing decisions and to support more objective, consistent treatment of candidates. Candidates should understand and appreciate that the organization is very concerned about making sure people are placed in jobs that are well suited for their interests and skills. In addition, assessments are a way to ensure that the organization treats all candidates in a fair, accurate, and consistent manner. What applicant could argue with that?
  • Explain the reason for using each particular tool. It is very important to explain the reason for using each particular tool that an applicant is asked to complete. Indicate that the tool was chosen based on a thorough analysis of the job and work environment and is designed to focus in on key job relevant knowledge, skills, interests, and abilities. Helping applicants understand the use of a specific assessments relative to job requirements can also provide them with a realistic preview of what they can expect on the job. There has been much research indicating that such realistic previews can have a meaningful impact on turnover and other variables such as organizational commitment.
  • Pass the “why are they asking me this?” test. As we mentioned previously, assessments should not leave candidates wondering what the contents of an assessment they are asked to take has to do with the job they are applying for. We recommend carefully reviewing any assessment you are considering to be sure that it is not offensive and has clear relevance to the job of interest. Depending on the assessment you are using, you may even go so far as to admit that the assessment may ask some seemingly odd questions, but that it has been rigorously designed and tested to tap into underlying characteristics and interests that are critical to the job.
  • Explain how the results will be used. One of the most critical aspects of fostering understanding around the use of assessment tools involves explaining the role the assessments will play in the hiring decision. As a general guideline, we recommend that you do not say anything that suggests the hiring decision will be solely based on the assessment (i.e., that it’s a “pass/fail” measure). A phrase we often use is that the assessment results are one “piece in the puzzle” that will go into the overall hiring decision. They are an important piece, but just one piece among many.

These guidelines can help companies reduce the number of candidates who react negatively toward assessments. However, it is unlikely to completely eliminate the presence of certain candidates who respond negatively to requests to complete assessments. In these cases companies simply need to make a choice of whether they want to hire someone who is reluctant or unwilling to go through a formal, standardized evaluation process. Of course when someone says they do not want to take an assessment, a natural question that should arise in the mind of staffing decision makers is, “Why, do they have something to hide?” Interestingly, we have found that the strongest criticism of assessments’ effect on the candidate experience often comes from recruiters. Such recruiters appear to advocate what we cynically call the “prima donna” approach toward recruiting. High potential candidates are deemed so valuable that they should not be subjected to any form of rigorous, systematic evaluation during the selection process. Such recruiters often seem more concerned about retaining candidates than they are about making good staffing decisions. This approach seems both illogical and counterproductive given the importance of verifying candidate potential prior to hiring them. Having a recruiter argue against the use of well-designed assessments because they might damage candidate relationships is like having a real estate agent tell a buyer they should not conduct a housing inspection because it might offend the seller. In sum, there are a range of valid questions around how staffing assessment affect the candidate experience. However these questions should not be framed as whether companies should or should not use staffing assessments. Instead these questions should be used to frame discussions to ensure that assessments are used in a way that candidates view them as a positive, effective, and fair method to ensure the job is right for them.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!