Pre-Employment Assessment and Candidate Feedback: Letters From the Black Hole

Jul 21, 2011

The web sure is an interesting place. Where else can people you have never met find you and reach out for highly specific advice, providing real world stories that help us keep in touch with the end-user perspective?

I received the e-mail below from a frustrated job applicant who must have found my website when searching for some straight talk about her pre-employment assessment experience.

Hello, My name is #####, and I am an insurance and financial services professional in (city, state). I work for a good company, but just this week I was contacted by large national competitor who was interested in hiring me. After speaking with a recruiter with that company, I was asked to complete a few questionnaires, sign and fax agreements to let this company research my credit and other very private information, and then was sent an email last night to complete an online assessment. I followed the directions, took the 139-question assessment (which took me about an hour) and was emailed this morning saying that I am not able to interview for the position.

I was blown away with surprise, as my credentials are outstanding and I have a clean, strong professional history. I asked for the results of the assessment, and I was denied any information as to why I was dismissed. The questionnaire asked me a few different times about my age, sex, and ethnicity, which I answered completely and honestly. My industry is typically dominated by white male professionals, but I haven’t had any problems with discrimination in the past. I am not assuming that this is discrimination, however, don’t I have a right to know what the results of my professional assessment is? How am I to know what the company views as weak or inadequate professional characteristics without answers or explanation? I want to be as professional and kind as possible with this matter, but I am not sure what to do. Any advice?

Thank you,


Here is my response:

Dear ######,

I am sorry you had this experience.

It is the norm that companies don’t share test results with applicants.

They get concerned about this because they think applicants may sue them.

I don’t know enough about this situation to say if the profile for the job is a good match or not to your skills.

I can say this: if you don’t fit the profile they have developed and you answered honestly, you may not be a good fit for that company and their culture even if you can do the job. This may be a good thing in the long run as no one likes to work for a company culture where they don’t fit in.

What can you do to learn more about why you were rejected in this situation? Unfortunately not much.

I would suggest you call the recruiter directly and ask them to share result with you. If they say they can’t, you do have a right to ask HOW the test results are used and what kind of test it is. You have a right to know about the process they use and then you can see maybe what happened due to your testing scores. However, I seriously doubt if any information at all will be shared with you.

In terms of the questions about sex and race, these should never be required. The EEOC has an optional form that they may have provided but if they required this info from you and if you had no chance opt out then they are not playing by the rules. If you feel discrimination is at hand here contact your local EEOC office or an employment lawyer and they can tell you if you have a case.

I hate to say that the kind of thing you experienced is common, but it is. It is the result of several things, including the fact that companies don’t have enough time to discuss information with rejected applicants, companies are worried about being sued, and companies often do stupid things because they don’t know any better.

In today’s economy you are very lucky to have a good job that you like. When it does come time to apply for another job, do your best to ask about the process that will be used to evaluate your suitability for the job.


Charles Handler

I am willing to bet that the scenario experienced by #### is a common one. This is highly unfortunate. With high-volume automated processes, for entry-level positions the norm is that no candidate feedback be given. In this situation the recruiter was going after a passive candidate for a professional level position and a relatively deep dialogue unfolded.

We I/O psychologists talk a lot about ROI from assessment via predictive accuracy of assessments. This is definitely important but it is also important not to lose sight of the big picture when it comes to assessments and hiring. Value from the hiring process is much more than just a chance to crawl around an applicant with a microscope. It is also a chance to provide someone with a positive experience and build your company’s brand image.

The company that tried to poach #### certainly does not share this perspective. It left the applicant asking:

Do you value my time? An hour is a pretty long time to ask of a candidate. Assessments taking this long are more common for professional level jobs in which the dialogue with the recruiter has progressed down the funnel. Still it was enough that the candidate noted the exact length of the assessment.

Are you being fair to me? The candidate did not say if the race and sex info request was optional or not. I think that candidates often miss the fact that the EEOC form added to all assessments is actually optional, as this is sometimes not very clear. There is definitely a chance that it was not made optional. Users of assessment tools should review this kind of thing from the candidate perspective and make sure that everything is crystal-clear. You can see what happens when this is not the case. When there is a job applicant who has even the faintest thought of legal action swimming around in her head, bad things are afoot. This is a scenario to be avoided at all costs!

What kind of jerks are you all anyway? Most of all this experience smacks of a company that does not understand the impact of its employment brand on applicants. The web and social media are making brand erosion due to poor experiences a serious reality. Treating candidates poorly is something that is going to be tolerated less and less. Each candidate interaction gives a company a chance to show how much it values applicants and how well it treats its employees. Creating a positive, engaging candidate experience should be a prime directive for all hiring processes. Why not create an interactive online application that serves as a two-way street, engaging applicants while informing them about the job and company and collecting relevant predictive data? This is the future for best-practices-based hiring. Get with it!

What’s wrong with me? While we can’t know for sure if the assessment was the stake through this candidate’s heart, it seems likely. While this may or may not have been appropriate, no one deserves to be treated as poorly as ### was, especially after sharing so much about herself. While it is often the case that assessment results are not shared, companies can still provide rejected applicants with some information that allows them to understand why they were rejected. It is amazing how easily we forget the golden rule. In this case silence is not an effective solution. Sweeping problems under the rug may work in the short run, but in the long run it can lead to some really smelly situations!

If enough applicants ask the questions above based on their experience in the hiring process, eventually this kind of thing is going to cost the company customers, good employees, and revenue!

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