The Assessment Time Capsule: What Has and Has Not Changed in the World of Pre-employment Assessment

Aug 7, 2012

I was cleaning the attic the other day when I discovered a book that Kevin Wheeler and I put together back in the fall of 2001. This dusty tomb provided me with a treasure trove of insight along with a good deal of food for reflection.

Our book, titled “ Screening and Assessment: Best Practices” includes a variety of information about screening and assessment tools including the results of a usage survey examining use patterns for assessment tools, a summary of best practices for screening and assessment, and predictions for the future.

While a full review of the information in this book is beyond the scope of this article, it provides some highlights that are worth sharing. This book simultaneously provides strong evidence for both some immutable laws around effective assessment usage as well as great insight into the changes that are driving the continued evolution of screening and assessment tools.

Assessment Usage

The survey summarized in this book is very important if for no other reason then it was the genesis of the Rocket-Hire assessment usage survey which had a six-year run here on ERE (and which will return in a new format in the near future).

In general, the usage data were not extremely surprising given the nascent state of on-line assessment a decade ago. Here are the highlights:

In the master-of-the-obvious category: Results indicated that a smaller number of companies reported using screening and assessment tools 10 years ago than they do today. Pre-employment assessment has, and will continue to become easier and easier to use. The newest technology based systems have created a situation where assessment is dangerously close to becoming mainstream. This was just not the case a decade ago when a handful of consulting firms and test publishers ruled the roost.

In the fear-factor category: Respondents indicated a general lack of confidence in screening and assessment tools and were very concerned about the security and legal defensibility of assessments, especially the online variety. The actual usage of pre-employment assessment in the real world has provided the data needed to assuage these concerns. We have fully embraced the unproctored remote assessment as a legitimate tool, and legal compliance has proven to be agnostic to the delivery method of an assessment.

In the solid-as-a-rock category: No matter how much technology and science have been able to support new models for screening and assessment tools, the four-step model that I preach with my clients today is just as relevant now as it ever was. The immutable laws of success with assessment mandate the following steps:

Step 1: Define — Create and document clear understanding of exactly what is required for successful job performance and fit with the organizational context.

Step 2: Measure — Choose screening and assessment tools that are reliable and valid measures of the things you have defined in step 1, and configure them into a sequence that creates a strategic hiring process in which the right information is collected at the correct time.

Step 3: Decide — Use the output of the measurement tools to support informed decision-making. Ensure that those responsible for making hiring decisions can access relevant information from the various steps in the hiring process to help them use their expertise and experience to make better decisions.

Step 4: Evaluate — Close the loop by collecting post-hire data that can be used to examine the impact of the measurement tools. This step can involve both qualitative in quantitative evaluations. The goal is to fully understand the value-add of the measurement and decision-making process.

In the shame-on-you category — Unfortunately, the fourth step in my model — evaluation — was as foreign a concept a decade ago as it seems to be today. Our continued survey work reveals that very little has changed in the area of evaluation in the past decade; that is, companies just don’t get the importance of assessment program evaluation. This is a shame since such evaluation is absolutely mandatory for proving the business impact of the hiring process.

Dusting Off the Crystal ball — Decade-old Future Predictions

Perhaps the most interesting part of our 2001 publication is my predictions for what is to come in future of screening and assessment tools. I have edited the full list down to what I feel are the most relevant ones and present them below along with a few comments about the accuracy of my abilities as a clairvoyant.

Prediction 1 — Effective sourcing requires a unique employment brand effectively communicated to entice applicants to visit the employment portal.

  • True: While I did not forsee the rise of social media, increasing numbers of companies are working hard to create a brand that helps communicate with a targeted group of potential applicants. In short, employment branding is even bigger business then ever, and success in this area is essential for feeding a good hiring process because it increases the odds of making a good hire.

Prediction 2 — Introducing scientifically based measurement to selection systems will offer relatively inexpensive ways to increase their predictive ability.

  • True: The cost of assessments has come down significantly over the past decade. In fact assessment consumers can now get more for less. Technology and Internet delivery have provided two key things that drive commodotization, access, and data.

Prediction 3 — Systems using databases of job performance taxonomies will allow users to define one set of job-related competencies to be used throughout the selection process, improving ease of use and efficiency.

  • Kind of true: We still have not seen the level of integration between pre- and post-hire systems that is needed, but we have made significant strides over the past decade. Where the conversation was not even present a decade ago, nowadays companies are at starting to express a desire to figure this one out. It all starts with intention!

Prediction 4 — Future systems will in need to integrate the ability to process information into small amounts of data that is meaningful for making selection decisions.

  • True: One of the biggest reasons why assessment has become more popular is that technology systems have made it much easier to access relevant information to support decision making. In the past assessment reports often approached 20 pages or more. Now we have dashboards and other tools that make it even easier for non-psychologists to use assessment data effectively.

Prediction 5 — The future will see data collection and metrics become an integral part of system design. The more information demonstrating the effectiveness of these systems, the easier it will be to fuel investment in the development and implementation.

  • Kind of true: We are on a path toward technology systems that offer what I refer to as “closed loop validation.” This simply means that these systems capture a continual stream of post-hire data that can be used to understand the impact of the selection process in quasi real time. The first of these systems are popping up now and with the advent of big data, we can expect to see progress on this frontier.

Prediction 6 — Systems will have to consist to address customer concerns over legal defensibility accuracy and candidate honesty.

  • True: In most cases concern over legal issues, security, faking, and reliable delivery have been put to rest by the fact that millions of persons have participated in online assessment programs with very little evidence of malfeasance or legal complaints.

A Look at the Market

Finally, the appendix to our book, which contained contact information for leading screening and assessment providers, provides interesting insight into the assessment market. Of note is the fact that of the 22 vendors found in the appendix, only eight are still in business today using the same name and corporate structure as they were a bit over a decade ago. Another 6 of those 22 have either been acquired or merged with another company. Finally, eight, or over one third of the list of vendors, have completely gone out of business in the past decade.

A look at our decade-old vendor list definitely captures the fact that the assessment marketplace has been marked by a good deal of consolidation while it continues to see the tried-and-true companies that have been around for decades still holding a good deal of market share. This tells me that while there is plenty of room for new and innovative blends of technology and selection science, those vendors who base their business on the four steps for success are extremely relevant today and are providing a major influence on the future of assessment.

So what are my predictions for the next 10 years when it comes to preemployment assessment tools? Let’s just say I think it’s going to get a whole lot more interesting.

We are entering into a new era in which the data yielded from the talent acquisition and talent management process will begin to support new levels of insight that were previously not possible.

Stay tuned for a more detailed article covering the trends I expect to see in the near future. For those who can’t wait Here is a teaser in regards to what I expect the next decade to bring:

  • Integration of assessment into sourcing tools (job boards, social networking)
  • Lack of evaluation will be helped by big data and the technology created to harvest and manage it
  • Integration of talent acquisition and talent management (that is pre and post hire HR activities)
  • The creation of portable, verifiable credentials will provide the ability for job seekers to prove what they know and differentiate themselves easily during an online application process.

I can’t wait to fast-forward 10 years to see if I’ve still got it!

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