The War With Talent — Epic Battle No. 2: Talent assessment violates the golden rule

Feb 26, 2015

1936 Grand Canyon photoPart 1 of this three-part series identified a growing rebellion in which individuals looking to obtain meaningful work opportunities (i.e. talent) are taking up arms against the companies for whom they are trying to work. Part one focused on the use of public data as a substitute for more the more traditional talent assessment fare, a battle that involves chess-playing terminator robots, hackers, psychographic profiling, drones, and the like.

While the first battle is more about covert ops, there is a second battle that is raging directly in the public eye. This battlefront is the job application process, and the reason for the rebellion is especially visible to anyone who is applying for a job these days.  

The way job applicants are being treated in 2015 is a flagrant and direct violation of the golden rule. A quick reminder: the Golden Rule is the big Kahuna of all rules and it simply states, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It represents a timeless philosophy that is grounded in empathy, compassion, and the ability to see things through the eyes of others.

The typical hiring process represents an EPIC FAIL when it comes to the golden rule.

In an age where disappointed customers have the viral power of Ebola — the collateral damage that a lack of empathy can have on a company’s brand is making CMOs squirm.

Make no mistake about it: candidates are customers and they are currently winning the battle, by hitting companies where it hurts them the most — their wallets! Expect to see much more carnage as companies thumb their noses at consumers’ (i.e., candidates’) expectations for usability and friendliness in the job application process. At a time when candidate expectations for a positive experience have never been higher, the typical job application process is an act of treason against the golden rule.

The danger to the status quo is that the balance of power is shifting. The ranks of the workforce are swelling with fresh faced members of the “application economy.” Young and empowered by technology, the members of this force stand ready to fight for their rights.

This next generation isn’t just tech-savvy, but massively tech-capable. What we see as ground breaking, they see as normal. When they graduate and hit this workforce we will experience the most powerful biggest generation disruption in business history.” — CA Technologies chief executive Mike Gregoire.

History has repeatedly shown that command of technology operates as a significant force multiplier. This effect is especially significant when it comes to revolutions. In his awesome book, Smart Cuts, author Shane Snow describes how Che Guevara used technology — the radio — as a force multiplier. Via his Radio Rebelde, Guevara was able to spread the message of the revolution to large numbers of isolated peasants that would have otherwise had no access to his message. It’s really incredible that technology as simple as a radio transmitter provided a means to galvanize citizens into a force large enough to topple the status quo — and make history in the process.

And the value of technology as a force multiplier has increased dramatically in the past five decades. Internet-connected mobile devices have played a central role in uprisings across the globe — creating an information revolution that is putting the power to overthrow empires in the hands of humble citizens.

So with the rise of the information revolution and the application economy, there are no longer “job applicants” — only consumers, real people whose expectations are directly aligned with the golden rule.

And these consumers are becoming increasingly disillusioned by the inability of organizations to meet them where they are at. The byzantine, iconoclastic, and draconian gauntlet that is the hallmark of applying for jobs in 2015 represents a Grand-Canyon sized disconnect to the younger generations who are rapidly shifting the demographics of the workforce.

To better understand the forces at play here, let’s take a look at today’s hiring process through the lense of two important “consumer first” concepts: customer acquisition and user adoption. In the application economy, these concepts are inexorably bound to a common goal of understanding how to build things that people fall in love with and truly want to use. This is not just a bunch of touchy-feely crap either. There is a lot of science behind these concepts.

Research in consumer psychology has shown that making people fall in love with a brand requires “narrowing the psychological distance” between the buyer and the product. In other words, people are capable of, and interested in, identifying with brands and branded experiences on a deep emotional level.  The more connected a person feels to a brand via a mutually shared identity, the more they internalize what the brand stands for, helping them form a love connection with the brand identity!

There is a real science around why consumers adopt technology. Out of this discipline comes the Technology Acceptance Model which in a nutshell says that for people to choose to use a technology, it has to be both useful and easy to use.

The Golden Rule kicks in and people become excited about sharing the love with others! This shared love powers a tidal wave of virality that packs enough force to wash away the status quo.

Now back to the battlefront. A basic understanding of the psychology of consumer adoption provides us with a set of X-ray specs that reveal the structural failures in the job application process.

A full review of the specific technical and experiential problems with the job application process in general is the beyond scope of this writing. But in a nutshell the inability to approach HR technology with a consumer mindset is a major factor here. That’s right. Human resources functions are failing to actually understand basic human psychology. Oh, the irony!

The heart of the problem is a mixture of both technology and psychology. When the typical enterprise hiring process relies on legacy technology systems that are cobbled together to create a byzantine mess, the candidate’s ability to connect to the company is lost. So while corporate HR is continually trying to focus on people, they can’t get out of their own way because they are chained to technology systems that keep them hopelessly trying to turn a battleship without a rudder.

The use of talent assessments within the hiring process provides an excellent example of how companies are adding fuel to the revolutionary fires by putting technology and process ahead of connecting with candidates. Despite a significant track record of value creation, the typical talent assessment process is becoming a dinosaur among robots. In the ongoing war between employers and talent, talent assessments are leaving job applicants no choice but to bust out a secret weapon that makes them invincible: opting out!

Talent Assessment — A Missed Opportunity

Looking at talent assessment through the lens of consumer psychology and user adoption provides clarity as to why the status quo in talent assessment is in clear violation of the golden rule.

Consumer concept No. 1: Psychological distance

When it comes to helping job seekers to identify with the values of a company on a deep psychological level, the typical talent assessment takes things in the complete wrong direction.

Here’s why.

Questions that are not job related. Through the eyes of the job seeker, most talent assessments do not even seem relevant to the actual job for which they are being used. We I/O psychologists call this “face validity,” and while we love the concept, it is one that most corporations are not willing to pay extra for.  Using obtuse and seemingly unrelated questions  is just plain sloppy in the eyes of most job seekers and drives an immediate psychological wedge between them and the employer.

Black holes suck candidates into the unknown. Probably the biggest fail for talent assessment in 2015 is the fact that candidates are given absolutely no feedback from the assessment process. No one likes taking tests, but at least the typical experience with them (i.e., final exams, SATs, etc) involves some kind of closure. The status quo is that employers are expecting applicants to share intimate information collected via a cold and impersonal process and then completing ignoring the basic human right to receive something of value in return. Some countries such as the UK actually have laws that allow candidates to have access to their employment testing results.

Want to create a lot of psychological distance really fast? Ask your customers to take an unfun test that doesn’t seem relevant to them and then act like it never happened. This is an epic failure in today’s application economy, and it’s costing companies dearly, driving away good candidates in droves.

Consumer concept No. 2: User adoption

When it comes to consumers, acceptance and adoption of technology is all about utility and access. What have you done for me lately, and how fast did you get it done? These important questions are creating a new type of accountability for employers who are on the spot to provide easy ways to create value for job seekers.

The status quo for talent assessment represents an epic fail in this department as well. Despite the clear and unstoppable global adoption of mobile technology, the job application process and talent assessment in particular are not mobile ready.

The employment testing industry is doing a very poor job of supporting mobile assessments, and the impact of this is starting to become very clear. Job applicants hitting non-mobile assessments that can take up to an hour to complete are choosing to opt out of the process completely. Lack of access is another epic fail when it comes to connecting with today’s candidates on a psychological level.

Why is talent assessment so behind the times?

It’s not because we don’t care. We are psychologists after all, and our ethos is to care deeply about others and help them to lead happy lives. Professionally we are definitely trying to make an impact. A recent survey of almost 8,000 I/O psychologists sponsored by SIOP, our professional organization, showed that mobile talent assessment is the No. 1 issue on the minds of I/O psychologists worldwide.

But all the good intentions in the world do not change the cold, hard facts., The reasons why talent assessment is struggling to adapt include:

  1. Context. Talent assessment is failing because it is shackled to bloated and outdated processes that are already unfriendly and broken. The mindset of enterprise is still mired in the increasingly psychosomatic “pain” of system integration that is becoming a myth in today’s world of APIs.

  2. Afterthought. Talent assessment is rarely a priority. It is relegated to last place as companies are continually upgrading their other HR technology systems (i.e., ATS, LMS, etc).

  3. Lack of perceived value. Companies don’t truly value talent assessment enough to sponsor investment in alternatives that are more user friendly. The testing industry need to be pushed by its customers — and so far the pressure has not been strong enough

  4. Analysis paralysis. We psychologists don’t do anything without data. We still fear the unknown way too much, causing good ideas to take years to hit the market in the form of usable products.

  5. Iconoclastic perspective. Testing has historically been a compliance-driven industry that is stuck in its ways. Many of the old guard feel that mixing in new technology is heresy.

  6. Lack of creativity. Our industry is not using creativity to advance the science of testing. There are a lot of assessment companies out there who are fat and happy with doing things the old way.  These folks had better beware because the wolves of natural selection are on their trail.

Conclusion: What Can Be Done to Achieve Peace?

Attributing the failure to connect with candidates to a lack of empathy on the part of employers is unfair to everyone involved. With the help of great programs and research such as the Candidate Experience Awards, many firms are working hard to connect on an emotional level with humans seeking work opportunities. But these firms are still the minority.

Talent assessment has a dual personality. While it is currently fomenting revolution amongst job seekers, it actually has the power to make peace. A rainbow bridge that can unite companies and candidates so they can help one another achieve success.

The formula for success is easy. Follow the golden rule and treat others like real humans. Making talent assessment fun, informative, and easy to access gives something back to the user and provides substance for the formation of deep psychological connection. Believe it or not, these goals can be achieved without sacrificing the core value proposition of talent assessment: helping put people in jobs they love. When companies get this right, the golden rule takes over and peace rules the land.

Unfortunately, while the path to peace is clear, the war rages on as companies continue to fail to understand how to connect to other humans, leaving the members of the application economy no choice but to opt out and take their talents elsewhere.

In the third and final installment of this series, we will visit another raging battlefront in the war with talent: genuinely caring about employee happiness vs. phoning it in.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
The longest running and most trusted source of information serving talent acquisition professionals.