Assessments for Hiring


by Dr. Jeanette K. Winter

A reader recently posed the following question:  “I’ve been tasked to investigate pre-employment assessments to help improve recruitment.  What should I look for and what questions should I ask?”

This question is one of “good currency” (meaning this is a HOT TOPIC). Google the term “assessment,” and you will get about 2,500,000,000 possible resources.  Boil that down a bit further, and you will find there are some 800 assessments touted as resources for organizations to “cure” a variety of ills, e.g., reduce attrition, improve quality hiring, build better performing teams, even advance engagement.

There is more than adequate reason for organizations to look at assessments.  Here are a few findings that should get our collective attention:

  • On average, 47% of high-performing employees left their company last year. (2020 State of Talent Optimization, The Predictive Index)
  • $223B is the cost of turnover due to workplace culture over the past five years (SHRM: The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture; 2019 SHRM Omnibus Survey)
  • The cost of replacing an employee can amount to one-half to two times the employee’s salary. (Gallup, This Fixable Problem Costs US Businesses $1 Trillion, March 2019.)
  • “40% of executives hired at the senior level are pushed out, fail, or quit within 18 months.” (Kevin Kelly, former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles)

Chatting with two colleagues (both assessment experts), asking them their thoughts on how organizations should evaluate assessments, we discussed some valuable insight.  Jackie Dube, SVP, Talent Optimization at the Predictive Index, offered several practical tips on finding the right assessment tool:

“First, you need to find the right tool to support your objective. Get clear about what you need and want to accomplish. Let’s say that you want to improve recruiting. Maybe your challenges are to improve time and efficiency, create a process that enables you to scale to hire more people as you grow, reduce turnover, or simply need to avoid hiring the wrong person.  Look for an assessment which will:

  • Allow you, your recruiters and hiring managers to focus on the candidates most likely to be successful.
  • Take out bias by focusing on skills, behaviors, and drives. This approach helps avoid only hiring those that look like ourselves.
  • Define the job expectations and requirements to ensure alignment among all relevant parties. Figure out who expects to have input and who has a vested interest.  The time to align everyone is before interviewing a single applicant.
  • Define the job fully (requirements, deliverables, and expectations) and ensure alignment between the hiring manager and the work team members the new employee will join as well as a stable fit with organizational culture.
  • Collaborate with your legal team on their concerns relative to adverse action and potential legal consequences (if not used consistently and correctly).”

Jackie and her colleague, Danielle Dawkins, Communications Manager at the Predictive Index, then detailed how they would evaluate the rich array of assessment tools.  Here is the list the three of us assembled to evaluate each instrument:

Determine whether the assessment has been validated for the specific purpose for which it will be used (e.g., hiring, engagement, promotion potential).

  • Read and understand the reliability and validity studies that demonstrate that the assessment tests that which it purports to evaluate and does so consistently over time and multiple uses. If you find the information taxes your understanding, get specialized assistance (this can be tough stuff to ferret through).  Author’s note:  if you would like additional information on reliability and validity, contact me for a white paper on that topic.
  • Carefully review the candidate’s experience (meaning as he/she takes the assessment).
    • How long does it take to complete?
    • Can it be completed on a mobile device or only on a desktop/laptop?
    • How difficult is it for Human Resources to administer (overhead, time, and intricacy)?
    • What reports and read-outs are provided with the assessment?
    • Have you and your legal colleagues reviewed adverse impact, compliance, EEOC, and other potential regulatory concerns?
  • What costs are associated with the assessment (including training your staff to administer and debrief the results)?
  • What changes will you need to introduce into your processes to integrate the assessments?
  • What will you need to do to secure buy-in from hiring managers and leadership? Change management is not something to take lightly.
  • Calculate the financial impact on the use of assessments. What contribution to the organization’s bottom-line does your assessment strategy deliver?
  • Conduct reference checks. Consult with current users of the assessment you are considering.  Ask the toughest questions so you are prepared to face potential pitfalls.

Ms. Dube stressed a vital point:  “Assessments are a point of reference.  They should never be the single deciding factor or as a way to filter out applicants, to hire, promote or assign to a team.  Using only assessment results in decision-making leads to a point where “bad things can happen.”

Likewise, do your research.  Jackie and Danielle highlighted research reinforcing the use of assessments in talent acquisition:  “Companies using pre-employment assessments are 60% more likely to hire a candidate who will be successful in his/her new job.” These are pretty good odds and well-worth the time and effort necessary in undertaking such an investigation.

I sincerely appreciate The Predictive Index staff, Jackie Dube and Danielle Dawkins, for their willingness to discuss the subject of assessments.  I’ve tried to represent their thoughts fully; however, you are reading my interpretation of our conversations.

Remember:  learn something new each and every day.  It best guarantees you will remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing global workforce.