Assessing Candidate Potential – Part 3: Assessment Tests Today

Most people come across ‘assessment’ in organisational terms when they are applying for a job, being considered for promotion or transfer to a new role. Or maybe they are preparing an Individual Development Plan and need to set a ‘base-line’. Or when, as managers, they are asked to provide or organize ‘assessments’ for one or more individuals.

In the past, assessments were generally limited to either

  • reasoning tests,
  • performance appraisals– the annual judgment day by managers
  • ‘psychometric’ tests
  • assessment centers, where groups of candidates gathered together to take tests and do exercise and make presentations

Reasoning Tests

Reasoning tests assess how well you can deduce conclusions from given facts; how easily you see patterns and sequences.

Reasoning tests are very useful as a measure of the ‘hard-wiring’, or thinking ability – the capability to analyze and reason and come to conclusions based on logic. That is something personality or work-preference tests don’t give you.

Many reasoning tests are not well-suited to business and management, but reasoning is a necessary capability that university qualifications do not necessarily guarantee.

Performance Appraisal

Secondly, manager appraisals of performance, where your manager judged your results and attitude over the previous 12 months, were very subject to accusations of bias. Coming as they did once per year from one individual, they often gave a one-sided view over an unevenly documented period of performance. The result is low credibility and a general dislike of the practice by a majority of managers who apply it with lip-service only. Annual appraisals are now getting substituted by multi-rater assessments (360 degree), or are being shelved completely.

Psychometric Tests

Psychometric tests were developed from academic studies of human behaviour and later adapted to work assessment purposes. They often had to be explained by a ‘certified psychologist’ at the end of the process. There is usually no empiric evidence linking Psychometric Test results to a person’s potential for successful performance in a specific job.

Managers find psychometric tests ‘mysterious’. HR claims expertise in interpreting them thus increasing their perceived ‘expert’ power. Line managers are pleased to have a reason to leave decisions to HR (claiming they are not sufficiently ‘expert’), and then have the luxury of blaming HR for the poor candidates who are hired. This is not conducive to effective people management.

Modern and Cost Effective Assessment

Today, assessments are getting cleverer and easier, and the results can be read easily by line managers after taking in a few guiding notes.

The most recent ‘online’ questionnaires (such as the Harrison Assessment questionnaire, which we use and represent) that assess individuals for ‘job suitability’ can be completed in about 20 minutes, (or up to 40 minutes if it includes an eligibility questionnaire). As they are online, they can be completed at home or office. When used with a follow up interview, they have a ‘predictive reliability’ as high as assessments center exercises.

The first stage in a recruitment campaign completes a template for a specific job (the vacancy to be filled). It specifies (1) the education and specific experience that is preferred for the job, and (2) the kinds of behaviour and abilities that the job needs. All that is need to be successful in the job.

External candidates usually start with ‘Eligibility testing, integrated with the job specification. Specifications that refer to educational or vocational qualifications and past experience, we call ‘eligibility’. Collecting eligibility data (schools, grades, jobs, personal data, work records) has to be done systematically and it is easier to maintain consistency by using a template that has been set up. Newer assessment tools include a module that can be easily tailored to the company’s needs.

The second questionnaire then probes the ‘suitability’ of candidates by drawing up a picture of the traits, interests and values that will really drive success in the job. As the benchmark for the job is already specified in the template it is then easy to find the ‘best-fit’ out of several candidates. Companies often use only the ‘suitability’ questionnaire for internal candidates, as HR already holds records of their education and experience.

The Harrison system (it’s our best example) comes complete with ‘recruitment campaign management’ (internal or external) that allows integrated testing, ranking, tracking – and produces ‘Interview Guides’ for consistent professional interviews that align with the job specifications and the person profile; and finally, guidelines for HR and Managers on ‘How to Attract This Candidate’ – see our post on Assessment Reports next week.