Using Assessment Results to Make Smart Hiring Decisions

As assessment tools continue to become a more central part of the modern hiring process, the interpretation and use of their results are becoming an important issue to those who are making hiring decisions. The overall issue is that people making hiring decisions have difficulty clearly understanding how they should make use of assessment results in their decision-making process. This is completely understandable, as assessments represent a relatively new area for most folks, and the interpretation of their results takes experience and training. The manner in which assessments are incorporated into the hiring process ó and the results of these assessments used within the hiring process ó have presented many organizations with a series of challenges that must be addressed during the development of the hiring process. How these challenges are met will have a significant impact on the bottom-line results returned via the selection process. Before going into more detail around these challenges, I want to speak my mind about the importance of taking a systems approach to hiring. My overall philosophy is that effective hiring requires a structured combination of assessment content, technology, and the experience and judgment of people charged with making hiring decisions. This approach means that hiring should be viewed as a set of steps designed to foster a two-way dialogue with candidates, for the purpose of making informed predictions about the mutual fit between the candidate and the organization. A process approach is built on the premise that there are successive layers of information to be gathered via a dialogue between job seeker and hiring personnel. This dialogue will most likely involve a wide range of information spread across several different technology platforms. In the case of highly automated systems, some of the dialogue may never involve any direct communication between an applicant and hiring personnel. No matter how it occurs, as this dialogue advances, each party seeks to learn more about the other while collecting the information required to make an informed decision. It is important to understand that assessments are but one part of this dialogue, and that, while assessments can provide a good deal of information about a candidate at different stages of the process, they are not designed to show the whole picture. Rather, assessment results should be but one of many pieces of information that are used by expert decision makers to help collect the data they need to make good, accurate predictions. Organizations who do it right create a process that balances collecting enough information to ensure the accuracy of predictions with the cost (in both dollars and time) of collecting the information. This often involves automating part of the decision-making process, most commonly via the use of tools that can quickly recognize applicants who lack basic qualifications to perform the job. While this part of the decision-making process is relatively easy to perform, its function is a bit different from that of the rest of the process. This early step allows for the removal of those candidates with whom no further dialogue is needed. But it’s how companies further the dialogue with those applicants who remain that really separates the men/women from the boys/girls. Assessments are a critical part of this dialogue. Optimizing the use of assessments is critical to successful hiring, though they should not be the central focus of the hiring decision. If you think this sounds challenging, you are right. Below are three challenges related to the optimal use of assessments within a clearly defined hiring process ó one that combines the insight provided via assessment tools with the expert judgment of recruiters and hiring managers. Understanding these key challenges and taking a smart approach to dealing with them can be the difference between a hiring process that results in marginally effective predictions and one that consistently leads to the hiring of top talent. 1. When should you “knock out” candidates based on assessment results? Perhaps the biggest challenge related to the use of assessment tools is determining when to use assessment information to completely remove an applicant from consideration. This is a big decision. While it is relatively easy to justify based on above-the-surface stuff like basic qualifications, it gets a bit more touchy when based on fuzzier things, such as a set of personality test results. The bad news here is that there is no one hard-fast rule for how to manage this challenge. Rather, the solution is completely dependent upon the situation in which the assessment is being used. The good news is that there are several approaches that organizations can use to manage this challenge. These approaches all require careful planning in the development of the hiring system. First of all, it is critical that the organization take the time to clearly document job requirements and the most critical factors that contribute to the job. Any time you are removing an applicant from consideration, this decision must be made based on job-related criteria only. Therefore, you’d better be able to justify any knock outs made using assessment results by tying them directly to job performance requirements. Once you have done this, there are several additional decisions you can make to help you manage this challenge. The first of these is defining the compensatory and non-compensatory parts of your hiring process. Non-compensatory points in the process involve a hurdle in which failure to meet a passing score results in removal from the hiring process no matter what any other sources of information tell you. A compensatory approach does not necessarily allow a less-than-optimal score in one area to remove an applicant from the process, as other information can compensate for a problem area. In reality, most hiring systems make use of both non-compensatory and compensatory decision points. Balancing the use of these techniques within the hiring process is a very important part of creating an overall hiring strategy and depends on many situational variables. For instance, experienced hiring personnel can handle informed decision making and are a better fit for a compensatory system, while those with less experience may require a more rigid system that helps make decisions for them. My overall advice for managing this challenge is to set cut scores on initial assessments, which are designed to cast a relatively wide net and remove only those who are clearly not a good fit. Creating proper cut scores is a whole other article, but the basic idea is to be sure you can document that any threshold score is job related. This, along with your qualifications screening knock outs, represents the non-compensatory part of your process. As the dialogue gets more involved and more in-depth assessments are utilized, it is time to begin using the judgment of your hiring personnel to remove applicants from the process and focus on more of a compensatory model. Of course, this is often easier said then done, which leads us directly to the next challenge. 2. How much weight should be placed on test scores? Using assessments in a non-compensatory manner ó that is, where there is no mandate as to how a specific test score should impact a hiring decision ó can often create real problems for an organization. Perhaps the biggest one is helping those using the test results to understand how to use the information to make good decisions within the hiring process. This can be really difficult, because most providers of assessments will clearly state that their test should not be used as the sole criteria for making hiring decisions. At the same time, if an applicant demonstrates a range of “unacceptable” scores, it is often hard for hiring personnel to think of them as an acceptable applicant. The most common situation I have come across related to this issue is hiring managers who rely too heavily on assessment results by automatically disqualifying an applicant based solely on his or her test scores. Of course, the opposite situation, completely ignoring test scores, is also a common problem. There are several things that can be done to help manage this situation. The first involves the creation of structure within the hiring process. This may take the form of a set of tools that will allow those making hiring decisions to see all relevant data organized in one place. This function is provided by many applicant tracking systems, most of which offer a dashboard where all relevant candidate information is displayed. This is important for creating some perspective and context for the assessment data relative to a range of other information. If your organization does not have an ATS, it should be relatively easy to create a spreadsheet that can be used to help show assessment results within a broader context. A second way to manage this situation is to probe more deeply on potential issues raised via assessment results. This will allow hiring personnel to focus their attention on potential “derailers” so that they can collect the information needed to make effective decisions. In a modern hiring process, this is commonly done via the use of dynamically created structured interview guides, which are able to key in on potential problem areas identified via the assessment process. A final way to manage this process is to ensure that those making hiring decisions have been trained to understand the value of the assessment tools being used and the role this information should play in the hiring process. At the end of the day, hiring is a predictive decision that is too complex to be automated. It relies on the talent and experience of those trusted to make hiring decisions. If assessment results are to be part of the process, the reason for their use and their role in the decision-making process should be clear. Of course, this is often easier said than done, which leads me to the next challenge. 3. How do I get buy-in from my hiring personnel? The greatest hiring system in the world will not be effective if it is not used properly. Lack of interest in using assessment tools among hiring personnel is a common problem. This is often the case when an assessment is “grafted on” to an existing hiring process and creates confusion or extra work for those involved in making hiring decisions. Of course this is a very frustrating situation because it is not possible for organizations to reap the benefits of a good process if the process is not used properly. Even more frustrating is the fact that staffing personnel are often unaware that those on the front lines are not on board with the process, making it difficult to gain an understanding of why the system may be lacking in effectiveness. This often leads to the blame being placed on the assessment tool itself, resulting in push back for its use. Here is my advice for avoiding this situation. First of all, any change in a hiring process requires a champion whose opinion matters to those making hiring decisions. The higher up the message originates, the more weight it will have. Secondly, the message sent must be one that focuses on the real value to be obtained via the use of the process. Perhaps the most important way to ensure buy in for assessment tools is to clearly document the results they can have when used properly. This often requires a pilot study with a group, in which a change is needed most and in which leadership is willing to support a new approach. Time and time again I have seen situations in which organizations build a legacy of data to show how effective their hiring personnel can be when given the tools they need to systematically make informed decisions. While there are many complexities associated with the use of assessment tools, their basic purpose is very easy to understand. These tools are nothing more than decision-making aids. The degree to which they are useful as such depends entirely upon the way they are woven into a process and the degree to which those making decisions rely on this process to make effective decisions. Organizations seeking to ensure assessments aid in the accuracy of hiring decisions should work to ensure that the challenges outlined in this article are addressed.

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Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.