In June, an article in Time magazine delved into the use of assessments in employee selection. It wasn’t the first time the mainstream media has found a story in assessments, and it probably won’t be the last. The article added some interesting thoughts to the ongoing dialogue, providing examples of companies that use assessments and why they believe in the tools and tying the use of assessments to the growing Big Data trend in business. However, it also reiterated much of what’s been said before, including the common lament that assessments are a “black box” and that relying on this kind of data is somehow more fraught with the potential for error than relying on other selection tools, such as in-person interviews.
It always surprises me that people searching for jobs, and even some organizations, treat assessments as if they are completely unique from other selection measures. In reality, when comparing selection tools, it’s not an exercise of apples versus oranges, it’s more Honeycrisp versus Red Delicious. Every step of the hiring process, every tool and technique used in the process, is designed to tell the organization something relevant about the candidate. It’s like a first date – you don’t walk into the restaurant with no idea of what’s going to happen. You know from the start that you’re going to be looking for those subtle signs, that certain something, that will tell you if the person on the other side of the table is a good fit for you. Your goal is simple: Determine if a second date is warranted or if it’s more a handshake-at-the-end-of-the-evening situation.
As soon as a candidate comes into contact with a potential employer, the organization is assessing the individual. Perhaps it’s an evaluation of qualification for the job based on the education and work history listed on a resume, an evaluation of interpersonal skills based on performance in an interview, an evaluation of strengths based on what references say about the candidate, or an evaluation of potential fit for the job based on a validated personality assessment. With each activity, the organization is building a comprehensive picture of the candidate as a future employee – to determine where the person will shine, how he/she will fit with the team and the culture, and the kind of training and development that will be needed. The goal of every organization’s hiring process is to get to know a group of strangers and select which one has the greatest potential for future success; ultimately every selection measure used provides insight into what one person brings to the table that his/her competition doesn’t.
When used correctly for employee selection, validated psychological assessments are no more mysterious or risky than any other selection measure from resume reviews to in-person interviews. With that in mind, my advice to candidates is: try to represent yourself well throughout the selection process. Ensure your resume reflects your most relevant and unique qualifications; arrive at interviews well-prepared and ready to answer questions about your previous experience (successes and failures); and complete standardized assessments by following the instructions given. My advice to organizations: leverage assessments as one piece of data in the hiring process that can help you (1) get to know more about individual candidates, (2) better differentiate multiple candidates from one another, and (3) ultimately inform a sound hiring decision.