Are Standardized Assessments the Way to Win Quality Recruits?

by Chris Brown | Jun 05, 2017
Pennsylvania CPA Journal

When it comes to employee recruitment, evaluation for promotion, or identifying employee strengths and weaknesses, the use of assessments in the workplace is a growing trend. If they are not already in place at your business, the idea of using these measures has at least crossed the minds of human resource managers, recruiters, and upper management. But with the increasing pressures of recruiting and retaining quality employees, are standardized assessment programs the correct choice when employees are not one-size-fits-all?

To correctly answer this question, we must first understand the types of assessments as well as the quality control measures that are applied to them.

Assessments come in many forms and measure many different attributes – such as relevant job skills, personality, and IQ – to unearth valuable information on potential or current employees. There are many factors to consider when deciding if using an assessment would be beneficial to your company. These might include, “What am I trying to achieve through the administering of this assessment?” or “Does this assessment align with my industry, company, and (potential) employees?” Understanding the types of assessments, the quality measures of the assessments, and the potential drawbacks to their use is vital in making your decision.

To choose the right assessment, know specifically what it measures. Cognitive assessments, such as the ProfileXT, may be an appropriate choice when screening for candidate experience. The Caliper is a hybrid assessment that combines logic and reasoning – as well as personality measures that can be tailored toward the role or position for which the person is applying – to find if that individual would be an appropriate fit. An assessment such as the Hogan attempts to predict future behavior, which can be used as a tool when reviewing a current employee’s promotion or possible career path. With all the possible assessment options available, it is necessary to select one that both fits your needs and identifies the relevant criteria to assist with your decision-making.

In the time it takes to have a candidate interview with the hiring manager and other relevant managers, an appropriately chosen assessment can be administered to gauge a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. When there is a larger candidate pool, an assessment can serve as a screening tool to identify those who have the most relevant skills and experience necessary, outlining the best fits. This will save time and energy among the hiring and recruiting team, allowing them to use their resources in other ways related to the hiring process (orientation, employee on-boarding, etc.). Information derived from assessments can serve as evidence as to whether or not a candidate proceeds to the next round of the recruiting process or to why one candidate is a better fit for the position and company over another. Candidates who have similar backgrounds and experiences, appearing to be equal on paper, can be ordered by relevance from the results of an assessment. Another beneficial aspect of administering assessments is that they are a uniform measure: every time it is used, the method, questions, and presentation of information is the same. By contrast, subjective methods of information retrieval in a recruiting process, such as phone screenings, are not consistent. They are subject to the underlying biases of the individual completing the measure.

The three measures that are used to determine the ultimate integrity of an assessment are reliability, validity, and norms. Reliability is the degree to which an assessment produces stable and consistent results. For example, an individual who is given an assessment twice should produce similar scores on each of them, regardless of when it was administered. Major discrepancies between the scores would show that the assessment does not give accurate results. Validity, on the other hand, is how well an assessment measures what it is supposed to measure. To give an example of validity in everyday life, take a bathroom scale. If a scale is not calibrated correctly and you have to add five pounds to each reading, this would make the scale reliable but not valid. It does not accurately measure your weight. So, an assessment can be reliable but not valid if it provides incorrect information. Norms, which can also be referred to as “percentiles,” are sets of data to which the results from an assessment will be measured against. Not every assessment has norms, but if they do it is vital to ensure that the norms that the individual is being compared with are relevant to the person, role, or industry. These three factors are important to take into consideration when deciding on an assessment.

Assessments should have documentation explaining the choice of norms that were picked, as well as the reliability and validity scores of each measure. Those without documentation would not be worth the time (or money) spent on them. It is important to research the quality of the assessment before deciding if it fits your needs. An understanding of what you want the assessment to measure is necessary once you determine what the assessment should measure.

After selecting the appropriate assessment, interpreting the information correctly is the final step to ensuring that you are successfully getting the most out of your choice. Publishers can offer support to interpret the results, but it is necessary to confirm beforehand that the assessment is able to accommodate all employees (such as an ability to be offered in multiple languages).

Assessments can be seen as an attractive option for obtaining relevant information in a less cumbersome way, but there are drawbacks that suggest the use of assessments may be a flawed science. In some cases their application actually can be a detriment.

While administering assessments may limit bias, the interpretation of results is still subjective. For example, to assist with the recruitment and selection of potential employees, assessments can be influenced by what the hiring manager sees as relevant and attractive in a potential employee. Not only should the perspectives within the company be taken into consideration when understanding the risks of assessment, but the candidate/employee also must be understood. During the administration of an assessment, candidates and employees can create false positives by perceiving which answer might be desired, rather than what would be most relevant to them. For example, an introverted candidate takes a pre-employment assessment that measures personality. Even though aware of his reserved nature, he answers the assessment based off of what he believes is “right” for the role or company, rather than what is true to himself. This creates a false-positive candidate measure, leading the hiring manager or team to believe that the candidate possesses qualities or characteristics that may not be present at all.

Other factors to consider when deciding whether or not an assessment would be beneficial are the cost, hindering nature, and maintenance of the assessment. Assessments aren’t free. Depending on the type and use, costs can range from as low as $15 to over $200 each time the assessment is administered. In addition to the price of each use, some publishers charge an up-front cost as well. The hiring process can be taxing on the candidates as well as the hiring team, and assessments add another step to what already can be a drawn-out process in some cases. Adding another hurdle to the hiring process, especially when multiple candidates are required to complete the assessment, can delay the hire and possibly lead to changes among the candidacy pool (such as from their accepting another position or withdrawing from consideration). This process fatigue can influence responses too, and may ultimately lead to an increased chance of false-positive responses. Even when you have found an assessment that matches your company’s needs, know that the assessment must change over time. It is vital to make sure that, after continued use, any assessment will align with the current needs of your company and continue to reflect the purpose for which it was originally chosen.

While there can be advantages and useful information gleaned through the use of assessments, they do not come without risks and other impacts. In the end, assessments cannot replace the decision-making of a human. Assessments cannot easily quantify interpersonal abilities, presentation, and the ability to think on one’s feet and handle challenges in person.

And don’t wholly reject our own subjective assessments. They may be more accurate than you think. Intuition, sometimes referred to as a “hunch” or “going with your gut,” is a powerful guide for many when it comes to decision-making. Throughout our experiences in our careers, we gather emotional and social data that allows us to use “unconscious information in our body or brain to help guide us through life, to enable better decisions, faster decisions, and be more confident in the decisions we make.”1 In fact, our intuition increases in accuracy the more that it is used. So, a manager is able to make accurate employee assessment and hiring decisions that benefit the company based off of experience within the company and industry. In other words, there is no substitution for experience when making these decisions, and the information that an assessment may present is not new, but rather a support component of the decisions that the manager had developed from the start. The assessments industry is growing, and the intrigue surrounding them continues to increase too. But these “must-have” accompaniments to any employment search, as we have seen, are not a perfect science, and there are drawbacks that go with them.

To ensure that a correct personnel decision is made, understand both the positive and negative effects that implementing an assessment could have on your hiring process and employees.
1 G. Lufityanto, C. Donkin, and J. Pearson, “Measuring Intuition: Nonconscious Emotional Information Boosts Decision Accuracy and Confidence,” Psychological Science (2016).

Chris Brown is an associate recruiter at Attolon Partners in Philadelphia. He can be reached at
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