Trends in Hiring and Assessment: Notes from the 2008 HR Technology Show

Oct 31, 2008

A few weeks ago I had a chance to visit the 11th annual HR Technology Show in Chicago. While the show includes all types of HR-related technology, there is a definite focus on recruitment and hiring. Below are some of my observations about technology and trends as they relate to the areas of interest to ERE readers and my specialty area of focus: technology based screening and assessment tools.

High-Level Observations

  • The rise of talent management. This seems to be the age of  “talent management” when it comes to the use of technology in HR. I saw a ton of companies offering “talent management systems.” These platforms use technology to cover a broad footprint of key HR areas/functions such as branding, recruiting, onboarding, learning, development, and communication. Talent management products are starting to provide HR practitioners with a technology based backbone that will allow them to integrate major HR functions. The integration of more functions into one platform is a trend that can have significant value given the traditional walls that tend to exist between the major areas of HR in larger organizations. There seems to be variation in the functions offered by the various talent management platforms as well as some gray area around what defines a talent management product. These gray areas are nothing new, and are indicative of the nature of an industry-wide trend that is causing vendors to jump on the bandwagon. While my overall thoughts about talent management products are definitely positive, one wonders how many vendors have just dubbed themselves as “talent management” providers to be trendy, and have not significantly changed their products.
  • ATS Not Hip Anymore. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a significant decrease in companies selling products referred to by the term “ATS”? I could not help but think that much of the momentum in the use of hiring and technology seems to be in the idea of the broader, strategic, idea of talent management and less in the more tactical area of applicant tracking. The concept behind applicant tracking and its related functionalities are still of great importance; it just seems that the term itself is losing favor as traditional ATS functionalities are being baked into other products such as advanced screening/assessment management platforms and talent management systems.
  • Goodbye paper resume. It seems that there is continued movement toward removing the resume from the hiring process. This is definitely true of the paper resume, but there is a broader movement afoot to deconstruct the resume and extract the types of data it usually provides (i.e., skills and experience). Key information about candidates is being collected via other opportunities in the search and application process such as the creation of detailed profiles that have fields that guide the entry of important candidate information in a standardized format. Parsing, another method of deconstructing resumes, seems to be continuing to evolve as a means of extracting important data from resumes. Resume deconstruction methods allow for much more efficient searching, and matching between candidate data and important job requirements. These methods are part of an overall trend that will see the integration of a variety of candidate information into a digital platform that will allow it to be standardized, categorized, and compared to key requirements for a job or career. While we have a long way to go toward the complete death of the resume, technology is helping us to continue the slow march towards the inevitable.
  • Web 2.0 is hot. It almost goes without saying that the latest in HR technology is leveraging the benefits of easy access to information, communities, and data that are at the core of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 was everywhere at this show. It seemed to me that the applications of web 2.0 seemed to be concentrated more in the space of performance management products, but there is no doubt that it is having a large impact on the thinking of those creating recruitment-oriented products as well. I saw a heavy focus on the use of social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook and on products that provide companies with platforms on which to build communities. The data-driven nature of web 2.0 provides a good deal of promise for the area of recruiting and hiring.
  • We’ve come a long way. The products I saw at this show provide a sign of continued progress and evolution that seems significantly more advanced than the products available five years ago in many ways. While the core function of many products may remain the same, we are continuing to develop new ways to connect people and information. The products I looked at seem slicker, cleaner, and more usable than ever before. While it is often hard to cut through the smokescreens when one is looking at products on the tradeshow floor, the overall level of tech-savvy seems higher than ever. I was able to see firsthand the positive impact of technology on a variety of recruiting- and hiring-related products. Of course keeping up and separating faddish technologies from those that truly are game-changers will continue to be a challenge in years to come.

Assessment-related Trends

  • Assessment is still an outsider. While there were a decent number of assessment vendors at the show, as an overall area of HR technology, assessment is still a very small piece real estate. This makes sense to me given the problems that organizations seem to have in understanding the value assessment can provide.
  • Two directions of evolution for assessment. Technology is helping assessment to slowly evolve in two directions. The first of these involves assessment being integrated into the functions provided by bigger, broader systems and products such as job boards, ATS, and talent management. Embedding assessment into other products makes sense when one understands that the core value of assessment is to provide information that can be used in conjunction with other information to support informed decision-making. Pre-employment assessment actually may have the most value when it is an integrated part of a process-based approach into which its results are integrated. This trend has been very slow to develop, but we will continue to see a trend toward embedded assessments. The second direction in the evolution of assessment is toward the productization of assessments to be sold transactionally. While assessment has been sold transactionally for decades, the present state of evolution leverages millions of data points to help provide a new level of clarity about what content predicts certain traits, behaviors, and outcomes. This evolution allows for off-the-shelf products that are more accurate than ever before, while providing documentation to support the relevance of these products for specific jobs.
  • Hello, talent management providers? Assessment seemed to be conspicuously absent from the slate of services provided by most talent management systems. While assessment is part of the deal for some of the big players in talent management, it does not seem to be a core part of the concept at this point. This is upsetting given the value assessment can have, not only during the hiring process, but throughout the entire employee life cycle. Anyone who considers themselves to be a player in the realm of talent management should strongly consider embedding quality assessment tools.
  • Platforms evolve nicely. The software platforms that accompany pre-employment assessment products are evolving nicely. I refer to these as “candidate management systems.” Today’s candidate management systems offer many of the functionalities once seen only in ATS products. This evolution should help support the value proposition of assessment as products become easier to use and provide additional decision-making support.
  • Simulations still lacking. While there has been some definite positive movement toward the creation of more advanced simulations, we still need to be pushing ahead in this area. While there are some nice simulation products currently available, the future of hiring will continue to move toward the increased use of simulations. Not enough steps are being taken toward the development of truly innovative and unique simulations. This is an artifact of a lack of buyer interest and the absence of “killer apps” that are needed to allow simulations technology to advance.

When it comes to HR technologies that support the recruiting and hiring process, we are moving in the right direction and have come a long way over the past five years. The technology level available for assessment both as a core process and as a supporting cast member is more advanced than ever. However, there is a lot more that we can be doing to integrate assessment into the products that seem to be marking the trends in HR and technology. Assessment still seems to remain the misunderstood stepchild of HR, which is a shame since there is so much evidence for the value it can have. I remain optimistic that assessment will continue to be brought more tightly into the fold in years ahead.

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