How Useful Are Assessment Tools in the Hiring Process?

Like most people who have been in the workforce for longer than a few years, I’ve experienced at least a handful of hiring assessments. One assessment was similar to the kind of standardized test I took in school with math and reasoning questions, while another was a Myers-Briggs-style personality inventory. Considering that I’m a writer and editor, you can imagine how the math test went! The personality test, of course, has no right or wrong answers—unless, of course, you try to “outsmart” the assessment by trying to convince your prospective employer that you’re an extravert when you’re really not.

Assessments can give you a window into a potential new employee’s strengths and personal preferences—or they can tell you very little and even alienate a prospective new hire. A friend of mine took a personality assessment for an editing job and was told by her contact at the company that the assessment showed that something was psychologically off!

With such seemingly unreliable results, I found the following statistic from the Aberdeen Group’s “Executive Assessments: Winning the War for Leadership Talent” study interesting: “Best-in-class organizations are 28 percent more likely to use assessments when hiring executives (73 percent vs. 57 percent) and 30 percent more likely to use them for mid-level manager hiring (70 percent vs. 54 percent).

It seems from these research results that high-performing companies make stronger use of hiring assessments than other organizations. The question I have in light of that: How do you know the assessment you’ve chosen to administer will give you reliable results? Do you ask the vendor who sells you the assessment for evidence that other companies that have used the tool have accurately predicted employee success? And do you follow up in your own organization and track how employees do after they are hired compared with how the assessments said they would do?

If I were tasked with rolling out a hiring assessment, I would do both—get evidence of its effectiveness at other organizations and then carefully track it at my own company to see if it appears to work for my own workforce. I have hunch, however, that many companies don’t bother to do either of these things. I think that’s because of experiences like those I’ve mentioned in which personality inventories or skills assessments seemed unconnected to the job that was applied for. In fact, some of the hiring assessments I’ve experienced seemed to foster narrow-minded hiring.

For example, one of the main results of a personality assessment is determining whether the subject is an introvert or extravert. Why is that important to know? Many introverts, after all, are able to function well in jobs you might assume would be much better suited to an extravert—how many famous performers have you heard of who are actually very shy in their personal lives? I bet many successful salespeople also are shy outside of their jobs, but are nevertheless able to the “play the role” of salesperson well. Similarly, if an assessment shows you are a creative person who is drawn to ideas, does that necessarily mean you won’t be good at executing tasks?

All of us know people who defy their personality characteristics and do things we wouldn’t have expected them to do well given their other tendencies. That’s where intuition comes into play in the hiring process. A manager’s sixth sense can deduce what a skills or personality inventory might over-simplify or make a generalization about. For instance, you might sense after a couple of in-person interviews with a prospective employee that, though she is soft-spoken and an introvert, she also is goal-directed, responsible, and motivated to earn a high commission and support others on her work team. Or you might notice that an obvious extravert up for the same sales job might be a great conversationalist at the bar, but doesn’t seem as smart about understanding client or customer preferences, and, therefore, would find the sales process much more difficult than the introverted candidate.

Personality and skills assessments have their place—but be sure you compare the results to how employees actually perform once on the job, and train managers to put the results in context with the larger picture. One idea is to only give the hiring manager access to the results of the assessment in the last stage of the hiring process—after the face-to-face interviews already have taken place. That way, the first impression of the applicant will come from human interaction, and not from the results of a computerized algorithm.

Do you use assessment tools in the hiring process in your organization? How do you balance the results of these assessments with what your managers observe and experience in the face-to-face interviews?