Will the Best Assessment Vendor Please Stand Up?

The continued groundswell of interest in the use of assessment tools brings with it many positive things. First of all, it is really great to see that an increasing number of companies are beginning to experience firsthand the value that a well-planned and properly implemented assessment strategy can provide. What has me even more excited is that the continued integration of assessment with other technology-based hiring tools ó such as sourcing tools and applicant tracking systems ó is an important step in the continued development of a process-based approach to hiring. I really do believe that this is where the future lies when it comes to the intersection of hiring and technology. But while continued interest and advances in both technology and consumer mindset are encouraging, there is still a great deal of hesitancy among potential consumers of assessment tools. While many folks have been sticking their big toe in the water, a large number are still unwilling to dive in. This is understandable, as there are many reasons why thinking about the use of assessment tools can be a bit scary. One of the biggest reasons for this hesitancy is the fact that one of the first steps in using assessment, the simple act of choosing an assessment provider, can be a daunting proposition. Some of the reasons for this include:

  • Low level of knowledge. Assessment is a complex subject matter that takes some effort to fully understand. My research has shown that a lack of knowledge about assessment has continually been the main reason for hesitancy to consider using these measures.
  • Crowded market. There are an increasing number of vendors out there. As the popularity of assessment tools increases, I have already begun to see a proliferation of new products, many of which I feel have been created to help “cash in” on this emerging market segment. Adding to the problem is the fact that there are also a large and growing number of legitimate vendors who have quality products and services.
  • Fragmented market. The market reflects a good deal of variation among the types of vendors who offer assessment tools. Each vendor has a slightly different product, and there is a wide range of products that can be called assessment tools. This, coupled with a growing number of new models for the use of assessment, can create a situation in which there are a good many options available to consumers. While this is a good problem to have, it can complicate the process of choosing a vendor.
  • Homogonous marketing messages. It is amazing how similar the marketing messages of organizations that offer assessment tools can be. Even more problematic is the fact that many of these messages do not provide consumers with the ability to determine what these products actually do. This is partly unavoidable due to the complexity of the subject matter and the need to sell product based on important outcomes such as “value,” “quality,” “technology,” etc. Still, differentiating between marketing messages can be a frustrating task that clearly reinforces the need for a deeper level of evaluation.

All of the above issues can leave potential consumers of assessment tools confused and possibly discouraged. One of the reasons for this is the fact that consumers in this market seem to have a very strong interest in finding the one “best vendor” whom they can call to magically solve all of their problems. I can’t even count the number of times I have been asked the question, “So, who is the best assessment vendor?” To this question I have only one reply: “It depends.” While the need to identify the best vendor is very a understandable mindset, it is also a very dangerous one. This is because, simply put, there is no one best vendor out there. After working in this space for the past 10 years, it has become clear to me that the only way to think about assessment vendor selection process is using a contingency approach. The best vendor in one situation may be the worst in another, even though both offer quality products. The best methodology for assessment vendor selection is a very personal approach, in which the “best vendor” is the one that can best meet a set of very specific needs. This determination involves evaluating vendors based on a set of parameters that define a good fit between a vendor’s products and services and the needs of the consumer. These include:

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  • Understanding pain points and objectives. It is important to clearly understand the reason why it is expected that assessment tools can add value in a specific situation ó is it via a reduction in turnover, helping to increase technical knowledge, the development of certain organizational competencies, helping ensure a legal selection process, or any number of other reasons? It is also critical that the organization’s objectives for using the tool are crystal clear at the earliest stages of the process. A lack of direction can end up causing issues down the line and will definitely make it harder to really identify the best vendor for the situation.
  • Identifying contextual issues. This includes a number of important parameters, such as company size, level of centralization, locations where assessment will be used, applicant volume, timing required for implementation, budget for implementation, etc. Each of these things can be very important during the vendor evaluation process, and I can promise that accounting for them does make a difference in the end.
  • Identifying technology needs. This involves understanding the technology needs related to the use of assessment products. The level of desired technology and the features and functionality required should be clearly identified at the start of the evaluation process. It is also critical to map out the other technology platforms with which the assessment tools must interact.
  • Understanding the jobs involved. This goes beyond merely naming the jobs for which assessment tools will be used to include an understanding of the performance requirements of these jobs. The better performance at the job or jobs in question is understood, the easier it will be to evaluate each vendor’s approach to measuring them.
  • Understanding the existing hiring process. Assessment is only one component in a process designed to support accurate decision making. While assessment tools are important for accuracy, the overall accuracy of the entire process depends on understanding the process as a whole and the impact assessment will have on it.
  • Identifying linkages to other processes. Assessment tools can have a tremendous amount of value above and beyond supporting hiring decisions. It is important to identify the manner in which assessment will be used to support other initiatives such as on boarding and employee development.
  • Understanding cultural/political issues. Implementing assessment tools often requires some degree of organizational change. Cultural issues are enough to doom even the most effective assessment tools. It is especially important that assessment is championed from a relatively high level and that end users of the assessment tools also buy in to their value. Representing the concerns of both of these parties during the vendor selection process is a very important consideration that is often overlooked.

Simply identifying the key parameters of a vendor match is only the first step in the identification and selection of your own “best vendor.” The gathering and use of this information should be embedded into a formal vendor evaluation and selection process. While a formal process is not always needed, vendor selection that is driven by misinformation and personal relationships/agendas can be disastrous. Although the formality of the process and the steps it includes can vary quite a bit, I generally recommend the following basic steps:

  1. Create a cross functional team. It is important that as many of the groups who will be impacted by the implementation as possible be represented. It may also be helpful to ensure that at least one team member has some expertise in the use of assessment tools.
  2. Collect data on key parameters. Various team members should be asked to contribute any information that will be needed to clearly define the parameters that will guide the selection process.
  3. Identify relevant vendors. Once data on key parameters has been identified, the team should use it to identify a group of vendors whose products and services seem to meet the basic requirements of the situation. This may require research and initial discussions with vendors.
  4. Open two-way dialogue with vendors. Once a group of vendors has been selected, the process now shifts to one of getting to know these vendors a bit better. At this stage of the process, it is often worthwhile to ask vendors for a demo and to begin asking them specific questions about how they will handle your situation. The goal of this step is to narrow the field down to a small group of vendors whom you will ask to participate in a more formal evaluation process.
  5. Evaluate vendors head to head. This step most often involves a formal RFP in which vendors are asked to submit written responses to key questions, provide a more detailed presentation, and submit to due diligence aimed at ensuring all questions and concerns about their organization have been answered.
  6. Select a vendor. Once all this information has been evaluated, the team can reach a decision and move forward with the implementation.
  7. Post-selection activities. The process does not end with the decision to select your “best vendor.” In fact, this is really just the beginning. Once the decision has been made there is still a need to negotiate contracts and develop an implementation plan. I recommend this step include a pilot study in which the vendor’s products can be tested and evaluated. The pilot study should help provide a very clear understanding of what will occur during full-scale implementation and is important for helping to establish the validity and value of the assessment tools being used. Finally, implementing assessment should never be approached as a static event. Organizations should be sure to continually evaluate the effectiveness of the assessment tools and make any adjustments that are needed.

While there is a great deal of variety both in the needs that drive the use of assessment tools and in the tools themselves, any vendor that claims to offer quality products should be eager to participate in a formal evaluation process. In fact, reluctance to provide information is often an easy way to spot a vendor who may not really be able to deliver on the promises they are making. Even when following the advice I have provided here, the complexity that can be associated with assessment tools can still represent a roadblock for many potential consumers. While this can be difficult to overcome, it should not be allowed to stand in the way. If your organization is having difficulty gaining an understanding of how assessment works and how to ensure you are able to find your own “best vendor,” you might want to consider looking for assistance from an expert. If your organization has an industrial/organizational psychologist on staff, you may want to see if you can involve them in the vendor selection process. If you don’t have internal resources there are lots of independent I/O Psychologists out there who may be able to assist you. If you look hard enough, there is also a decent amount of information available on this subject via the web. For example my company, Rocket-Hire (www.Rocket-Hire.com) publishes a buyer’s guide to web-based screening and assessment tools that can serve as a valuable tool for organizations looking to find their own best vendor. The bottom line here is that selecting an assessment vendor does not have to be scary. In fact, doing it right process can provide a very good educational opportunity for those involved in the process. The result will be a better educated organization and the ability to realize a significant return on the investment made in the implementation process.

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 ERE.net, 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.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drcharleshandler