Notes from HR Tech: Lots to see and do, but a bit Thin in the Pre-employment Assessment Department

Oct 5, 2010
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

After missing last year, I was happy to be able to spend a good part of last week attending this year’s HR Technology conference. As usual between the networking, the tradeshow, and the sessions, it was sensory overload. I made sure to take some time to try and notice the forest from the trees, while still sniffing around for interesting details.

Given my specialty focus on assessment, I want to focus my commentary on my specific thoughts about what the show says about the position of assessment within the bigger picture. However, to frame this commentary, here’s a very short summary of the main overall trends I took away from the show, as follows:

There are many facets to HR technology these days, but hiring and performance/talent management seem to have the lion’s share of the bandwidth. Although assessment is my specialty, I do know a thing or two about these other areas, and this knowledge leads me to the overall conclusion that there is nothing really super-duper new and exciting going on in these areas. We are fully living the ramifications of the dawn of talent management systems and social networking. These big shifts have been going on for a few years now, and it seems that products are all either emerging or refining along the lines of these themes. Still potentially exciting and very useful, but not especially new.

So what about assessment and this year’s HR Technology Conference? My highest-level thought is: “Assessment? What is assessment?”

That is, despite my strong bias as the assessment champion of the world, I still don’t think it’s a stretch to say that assessment is severely under-represented at the HR Tech show. There was only one session with any content related to assessment, and many big names in assessment (and assessment technology) were not represented at the trade show. (I counted nine companies under the “testing” heading in the expo guidebook, some I’ve never heard of; there were a variety of screening companies, but most were things like background checking.) The overall number of assessment companies was a very small fraction of the number of companies in other, apparently more sexy areas, such as ATS, Performance Management, and Learning. Furthermore, assessment does not appear to be a significant part of the product offerings or strategic plans for either vendors of higher-level recruitment products or talent management systems.

Back to my big picture theme: assessment is absent from talent management and social networking. You could hear a pin drop when you ask vendors of these products about their use of or interest in assessment. Heck, I wasn’t even eligible to put my card in the fishbowl for even one chance to win an iPad. Seriously: I wasn’t relevant enough! It’s not like there has been a drop-off from some earlier high-water mark. I guess I have just come to grips with the fact that assessment is just one small piece of the bigger picture when it comes to HR technology.

The optimist in me says the lack of presence means there is room to grow, and this growth is happening. Coming out of the dark years of 2008 and 2009, more firms are turning to assessment as a value-add to the hiring process. My experience and research clearly shows that awareness and working knowledge of assessment is very low amongst its consumer base, and thus it is up to vendors to build, promote, and sell assessment. Assessment vendors are doing a smashing job in this realm, but few vendors of ancillary stuff seem to care.

I do want to stress that I feel the lack of presence of assessment is not due to the fact that it is not an effective tool. We I/O types have decades of experience and data to show that assessment works and works well. Add new technology to the mix and many vendors have products that are more efficient and more effective than ever.

So let’s keep it positive and focus on what I saw from the assessment vendors that were represented at the show. What I did see were some really nice examples of exciting new technology and science within the assessment world. While I have known about these things, HR tech gave me the opportunity to actually play with some of the good stuff. Here is a list of my three favorite assessment-related products from the expo. All of these products are cutting edge and can add tremendous value in ways that have not been possible before.

Please note the vendors of these products are listed in alphabetical order to be sure I am not seen as playing favorites.

Manager Ready — DDI has a really awesome new technology-backed product for managerial selection. This new technology provides the benefits of assessment centers (i.e., highly realistic job content, the ability to measure complex problem-solving, and the use of live assessors) in a short format that is available for a lower price-point then traditional assessment centers. This product is a very nice blend of technology and content and provides a highly valuable way to evaluate managerial performance both pre- and post-hire, allowing for a nice continuum along the employee lifecycle.

Virtual World Simulation — Hats off to Kenexa for taking the initiative to develop an exciting new concept representing the nexus of virtual world technology and assessment science. Kenexa (whom I am working with on the development of this simulation product) has taken the initiative to develop a wide-open virtual world that provides the opportunity to measure and evaluate almost anything related to job performance. The product is currently a sandbox that is ready to be dialed in to a place where it can add value via assessing complex interpersonal interactions. It is a great venue for the delivery and evaluation of training material and even post-hire development. The platform can fill these rolls and more in a manner that allows for highly customized content. It provides the ability to support branding and high levels of candidate engagement. This is the start of a new direction for assessment!

PreVisor — was true to form as one of the leaders in technology-based assessment by showing a wide range of cool technologies it has been working on for the past year. These include:

  • Situational judgment: Motion-capture technology has been used to create a realistic-looking situational judgment simulation product that allows for clients to customize and create new content with relative ease.
  • Managerial inbox: This product provides a nice, day-in-the-life type scenario which requires that the assessee deal with all the fun the things that normally roll across a manager’s desk. These include fun stuff like angry customers and employees, business information challenges, office intrusions, and a phone that rings off the hook.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the theme to be extracted from all of the above highlights is the fact that the newest and brightest technology-backed assessment products all include some form of simulation to make the experience more engaging and realistic for applicants, while also providing a superior ability to predict performance, especially for more complex jobs. This is what you call killing two birds with one stone, and it makes total sense.

Given the focus on simulations and the idea that assessment can be an “experience” rather than a test, I was a bit disappointed to see the lack of attention to the branding aspect that simulations can provide, given their high fun factor. Assessment vendors themselves are well aware of the capabilities here but with the fat stacks of cash being spent by job boards and recruitment branding firms, I am amazed that no one seems to care about the quality factor that adding assessment can provide. I sincerely hope that this represents the next frontier.

When it comes to visibility for the value of assessment, I have to shrug my shoulders and say, “there’s always next year.”

Publisher’s Note: The HR Technology Conference is one of the most influential events in our profession, so has devoted significant coverage to it. John Zappe wrote several articles from the floor of the show, and you can read them here, here and here. John Hollon at our sister publication for HR professionals,, wrote a wrap-up of the event. Raghav Singh weighed in with his opinion here.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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