Making the Most of Pre-Hire Assessments

Over the past decade, use of pre-hire assessments has been on the rise: recent studies by SHL and TalentBoard have found that a majority of companies use some type of assessment as part of the candidate screening process. But how can you make sure that your tests are helping you find the right talent and not just wasting candidates’ time—or, worse, screening out potential top performers?


Think about assessment design as an experiment: you form a hypothesis, test it, and analyze the data to draw conclusions. The hypothesis you form will have two parts: 1) which traits predict success in the role you’re hiring for; and 2) how can you best assess whether a candidate has those traits? (You might consider what traits top performers in your organization share and how you would have identified those traits during the hiring process.) Then, to test the validity of this hypothesis, you need to implement the your chosen assessments and systematically track whether these assessments predict success on the job. If they don’t, it’s time to revise your hypothesis and try something else.


Why is this so important? Because while a good assessment can improve predictiveness and reduce bias in your hiring process, a poorly designed assessment will do just the opposite. As Atta Tarki notes in Evidence-Based Recruiting, more information is not always better—sometimes, it can make our predictions worse!


Here are three things to consider when implementing pre-hire assessments:



Understand the Different Types of Assessments


There are numerous types of assessments, and many employers use a combination of several in their hiring process. Here are some of the most common:


  • Job-specific skills and knowledge assessments
  • Cognitive tests
  • Personality assessments
  • Simulations (work samples)
  • Situational judgment tests
  • Integrity tests


Consider carefully what type of assessment will best measure what you’re looking for. For instance, if you’re looking for candidates with strong leadership skills, you could use a personality test that measures traits associated with good leaders; you could use a situational judgment test to see how the candidate would behave in leadership roles; or you could test for job-related knowledge that a leader in your field needs to have.


Each of these would have its own drawbacks: personality tests sometimes screen less for a candidate’s personality and more for their awareness of what the tester is looking for; situational judgment tests might be biased toward candidates who happen to have had more exposure to the situations in question; and job knowledge assessments do a good job testing the knowledge a candidate already has, but they don’t capture a candidate’s capacity to learn and grow.


While there may be no perfect assessment, thinking carefully about the benefits and drawbacks of each assessment type will allow you to choose the one that best captures what you’re looking for in new talent.



Systematically Test the Predictiveness of Your Assessments


Tracking whether assessments robustly predict candidate success is crucial to ensuring that you’re making the most of pre-hire assessments. But according to SHL’s 2018 study, a staggering 51% of companies did not track metrics to validate their pre-hire assessments. This means that while they often spend considerable resources to implement these assessments, they have no real data to show whether the assessments actually work.


If you are using an assessment designed by an outside organization, don’t rely solely on their in-house validation. Instead, record the assessment scores of your new hires and systematically track their job performance. If the assessment scores don’t correlate to job performance, it’s time to reevaluate your hypothesis.


And to get even better data on the validity of your assessments, take a page from Google’s book: hire a few candidates that don’t earn passing scores. This may seem counterintuitive, and it certainly involves an element of risk—but it also has the potential to provide you with invaluable information. Because if candidates who fail the assessments perform similarly to candidates who pass, then your assessments may actually be screening out top talent.



Don’t Forget About Candidate Experience


The best assessment in the world won’t help you if your strong candidates are unwilling to complete it. Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and consider what their experience of the assessments will be like. Are their glitches in the assessment or other barriers to entry? Will candidates understand how the qualities the assessment measures relate to the job description? And will they feel that the structure of the assessment gave them a fair shot at performing to the best of their abilities?


One simple thing you can do to improve candidate experience: allow candidates to access their assessment results. Indeed, TalentBoard’s 2020 report found that when job finalists received feedback on their assessment performance, the number of candidates reporting a positive experience increased by 20%. Providing this feedback makes your hiring process more transparent, enhances candidate perception of fairness, and gives candidates helpful information about their areas for development.


It’s well worth your while to take the time to develop assessment methods that are truly predictive, transparent, and fair. Because in the end, a poorly thought-out pre-hire assessment isn’t necessarily better than nothing—in fact, it can be worse.



Etha Williams is a Project Manager at ECA.

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