No matter how elusive finding “the one” can feel when you’re trying to fill a position at your organisation, effective talent assessment isn’t mysterious.
There’s an almost endless well of data, recommendations and types of assessment tests to make this process more precise for recruiters and hiring managers.
Still, taking the standard talent assessments and trying to apply new research on inclusive and predictive hiring is enough to make some people’s heads spin.
Not ours, though; it's what we’re all about at Applied. Let us make recruitment assessment simple and break down each popular tool for assessing future job performance into pros, cons and action items for your organisation.
But, first things first: let’s make sure we’re crystal clear on the big questions.
Talent assessment FAQs
Before understanding the precise changes and nuances to different recruitment assessments, it’s important to understand the fundamentals.
What is talent assessment?
Talent assessment is the process of deciding which candidate, from a pool of applicants, can best fill an open role.
This process can also be referred to as recruitment assessment, candidate assessment or, in a broader sense, the “applicant experience” and is generally handled by recruiters or an in-house human resources department.
What’s wrong with standard recruitment assessment?
The problem with typical talent assessment is that it’s hard to measure success, and the process is biassed towards specific types of candidates. Most standard processes go something like this:
- Telephone interview
- Panel interview
- Meet the boss
- Call references
The peak of this process, in terms of predictability, is in the middle: the panel interview. But despite having this very predictive stage somewhere in the process, it’s sandwiched between two very biassed, un-predictive stages which destroy the integrity of the process.
Even if the best candidate makes it through most of the process, you’re in danger of losing them at the end.
To contextualise this, remember that the recruitment process must only do two things: it must be predictive, and it must be fair. The standard process is neither of this.
The standard process lets in bias and doesn’t predict which candidate will actually perform best in the role. Furthermore, it is unstructured, relying too heavily on feelings and “gut” intuition rather than data.
All this translates into losing a lot of good candidates and increases the odds of your organisation repeating this hiring process 6 months from now because you hired the wrong candidate.
It goes without saying that this outdated process is in desperate need of de-biasing and improved predictability.
What does it mean to be predictive?
You wouldn’t ask a candidate for a head chef position to troubleshoot an IT problem in their interview. After all, that has no predictive value of how they’ll cook. Likewise, you wouldn't ask an IT candidate to make you a soufflé before you could confidently bring them onto your team.
In order to be predictive, the talent assessment process needs to test candidates on the specifics of the role, rather than relying heavily on standard questioning about past job experience or reference checks.
If we focus on what is actually predictive, we can avoid making incorrect assumptions based on experience or previous job titles. This instantly makes recruitment assessment more predictive.
At Applied, we take it even farther: we remove the opportunities for bias and structure the information in a way that’s going to optimize our decision-making. The resulting process looks like this:
Why talent assessment is important
Talent assessment is so much more than the process of getting to know a candidate. This cog in an organisation impacts so many others, like:
- Staff turnover rate. When the wrong people are hired, they don’t stay long.
- The amount of money and time spent on recruiting, interviewing and onboarding.
- Employee satisfaction. No one likes to see their favourite colleagues leave and feel like there’s always a strange face at the coffee machine.
Talent assessment affects virtually every aspect of your organisation, and if done correctly, can also be a power agent of equality.
Long gone are the days of an organisation adding a simple “equal opportunity employer” line on their website and calling themselves inclusive recruiters.
Workplace inclusivity starts with recruiting. There are many ethical benefits of this change, but organisations have huge pay-offs waiting for them, too.
By creating a wider net for candidates, you’re going to have more talent to choose from, and the quality will be raised.
Changing the recruitment assessment tools that you use will have a watershed effect in your organisation. Let’s see which of these tools work and which ones need to go.
Pros and cons of different talent assessment tools
Research on the general recruitment assessment process is clear: tools must be predictive and must be fair to everyone. But, how does that advice trickle down into the employee assessment tools that most organisations are using?
Let’s examine the pros and cons of each individual candidate assessment tool in the traditional process.
For decades, the first round of the hiring process has been collecting and reviewing CVs. Since managers don’t have the time to sit down personally with every candidate for an interview, resumes were used as the gatekeeper to disregard bad candidates before ever having to meet them.
That was the plan, at least. But look closely at resumes: do they actually tell you who possess the skills necessary for your organisation’s open position? Or do they tell you something else?
At a glance, resumes actually say a lot. It’s WHAT they’re saying that needs to be examined.
Let’s break down exactly how resumes do and don’t serve the employee assessment process.
Pros of CVs
The only real virtue of CVs is that they are familiar. Everyone in your organisation understands how they work, and every incoming candidate understands how to write one. Writing and reviewing resumes has always been a part of the application process, and keeping it around can provide both the interviewer and the interviewee with a sense of comfort.
By sticking with the same song and dance, there’s no change management required (but we can help with that). But, familiarity isn’t a dead-end, especially once the pros and cons are understood by management.
Cons of CVs
In order to truly understand the limited use of CVs, it is important to take a closer look at exactly what makes them such a poor predictor in the first place.
There are two clear reasons why resumes are best avoided in the hiring process: they have huge potential for unconscious bias and have very little predictive value.
Research has shown that managers and recruiters only spend an average of 6-10 seconds to review a CV.
Let’s appraise those 6 seconds: relatively little time is paid to the things that are commonly thought of as important. Instead, the number one reason for rejecting potential candidates is a mistake in grammar or spelling.
Instead of focusing on the things that at least have a chance of showing a candidate’s strengths, managers tend to focus on trivial things and make snap decisions on whether to invite someone in for an interview. These decisions are often based on prejudices that we are not aware of and are therefore out of our control.
From a candidate’s name to their perceived age and gender, every single element on a CV has the potential for bias. A 2021 Bloomberg survey shows that, despite years of training on unconscious bias and diversity, putting an ethnic-sounding name on your resume still leads to fewer callbacks.
Likewise, any candidate that went to a prestigious school or worked at a renowned company has a distinct advantage. So does any candidate that for example went to the same school as the recruiter. Not very fair, is it?
Besides being unfair, resumes also have very little to offer in terms of predictivity.
Granted, CVs are a list of a candidate's past jobs and therefore show experience. However, they say nothing about their performance, current skill level, or ability to do the job.
Plus, there’s the elephant on the CV: the experiences and skills listed might not reflect an applicant’s actual skills. It’s not uncommon for a candidate to exaggerate or lie about one of the skills mentioned on their resume.
A survey by Checkster, a reference checking company, found that more than 3 in 4 (78%) of applicants falsely claim to have mastered skills, speak a language, or deliberately misrepresent past work experience.
If they are such poor predictions of skill, why do we keep using CVs? Might there be a better alternative to narrow the pool of candidates?
With the foundational shift in emphasis to skill-based hiring, it’s paradoxical that we hold on to outdated documents like resumes.
After all, CVs reflect what a candidate did for their past employers; yet what employers really want to know is what a potential candidate will do for them.
Using resumes in the hiring process should be seen as bad practice. Although certain positions come with a specific set of requirements such as education, licences or qualifications, these selection criteria can be fielded as check-boxes.
What your organization needs to do: anonymize your CVs and remove any information that isn’t predictive for employee assessment.
2. Work samples
The traditional interview is often seen as the moment where you really get to know the candidate. Finally, you get to sit down and assess an applicant’s skills and, by asking deep questions, get some insight into the way they think!
That’s important for employers. So, why not move this testing to the front of the screening process with work samples?
During an interview, candidates are often asked about their past performance. Questions normally cover past projects, previous jobs, a time they resolved a conflict, etc. One of the drawbacks to this sort of questioning is that it relies on a candidate’s remembered version of past events and therefore doesn't have a lot of predictive value.
Work samples are skills assessments that a potential employee must complete in the first stage of their application.
They're similar to a situational judgment test in that they contextualise questions that hiring managers have, taking them from the past to the present - except with open ended, rather than multiple choice answers.
Instead of “tell me about a time when…” you ask an employee to show you what they would do. Work samples look like this:
So, how does this test fare in practice?
Pros of using work samples
Work samples have proved to be 3x more effective than CVs as a first screening phase.
Using work sample questions as pseudo job trials is a much more predictive way of screening candidates. It allows managers to assess a candidate by focusing on actual skills rather than past experience.
Plus, testing candidates with work simulations based on situations that will probably occur in their future job gives you a very clear picture of how that candidate will do on the job.
Work sample questions are by far the most predictive and fair way of assessing talent. Why waste time by sifting through piles of resumes if you can create a much smaller pool of candidates that could actually do the job well?
Based on feedback from candidates themselves, using work samples in the hiring process is the preferred method of assessment. Candidates feel like they had a fair chance and felt like they were tested on their potential rather than their background.
In our research, we’ve found that 60% of hired candidates would’ve typically been passed over without a skills test.
But, you’re probably thinking: what’s the catch?
Cons of using work samples
Work samples are the single best candidate assessment tool, yet organisations that struggle with change will experience some resistance.
As may be expected, using work sample questions is more time-intensive than the traditional way of sifting through resumes. Before you can start accepting applications, you first need to devise questions and rubrics specific to that position, which is a time-consuming process if done alone (but we can help you with this).
Additionally, using work samples can give you a distorted view of a candidate’s performance if done incorrectly. Since candidates know they’re being evaluated, there is a risk of them behaving differently from what they would normally do.
This is called the “observer’s paradox,” but this risk is present during any form of evaluation.
Although it may seem that there are risks in this method, what this really highlights is the need to create a good set of work sample questions.
The questions must test a candidate’s skills in a relatively small amount of time. Use this cheat sheet as a starting point.
Even though work samples give a very clear indication of a candidate’s potential, there are certainly relevant factors that are normally not included in this type of assessment. For example, something as basic but important as work speed isn’t measured.
Because of the amount of time this process takes, it may not be the preferred method of assessment for shorter contracts. When you’re trying to fill a temporary position, spending a relatively large amount of time properly assessing a candidate might not be worth the investment.
What your organization needs to do: listen to the data and start writing your for your open permanent positions.
3. Scoring rubric
Although the hiring process becomes more predictive with work sample questions, that’s not the only step needed for improved predictability. After a candidate has completed their work samples, you need a standard with which to assess them.
That standard is your pre-determined scoring rubric.
Pros of scoring rubrics
A scoring rubric allows the hiring team to gather data, and it’s used throughout the entire hiring process.
The scoring rubric is decided in advance of the interview or work sample review, and offers hard data on each candidate performed.
In contrast, without a rubric, the hiring team will leave an interview with feelings. Feelings of who performed best, who was most confident, who they each connected with most.
All of these are vague and are a playground for common types of unconscious bias:
Scoring rubrics are also anonymized. Rather than looking at your notes and thinking “I had a good feeling about her, the one with the strong accent” or any other potentially biassed internal monologue, you have data summarizing “candidate E.”
On that rubric is data, not feelings. Left to chance, we will always end up remembering the feelings we had about a person instead of sober assessments based on actual performance.
Yet, some organisations resist the use of rubrics in interviewing because of the drawbacks.
Cons of scoring rubrics
A scoring rubric needs to be determined in advance of an interview by a panel of people that understand the demands of the role. They shouldn’t be technical in nature once distilled, but the team writing the rubric must understand the nuances of position.
This can be a more time-intensive task for certain roles. If your organisation is hiring a solo position, such as a one-person IT team or human resources department, the development of the scoring rubric may require research from the hiring team’s end.
However, once written and implemented, they add invaluable ease and speed to the review process.
There’s no doubt that a potential employee’s personality affects how they’ll fit into your team. But, how much does it actually matter to the fulfilment of the role? And how much should employers care?
Pros of assessing personality
It’s well known that diversity in a team increases productivity and overall harmony. Well, this also applies to personality. Having different personalities work together allows a team to utilise the strengths that each member brings.
Be that as it may, hiring for personality still presents a challenge. Personality tests, such as the Caliper Test, are a good way of avoiding certain biases. They normally consist of multiple-choice questions that leave out a candidate’s background and focus on skills instead.
Testing for personality fit gives quick results that would have otherwise taken a long time to find. It gives the hiring manager some valuable insight into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. This information can then be used in the following interview and the result will be a more predictive hiring process.
However, favourable personality test results must never be the sole reason for hiring someone. The information that they yield should be used to tailor the other steps in the hiring process and make the process as a whole more predictive.
Cons of assessing personality
The primary drawback to personality tests is that they often come with inherent bias. These tests might look standardised, but they risk seriously disadvantaging people who are neurodiverse or who speak the target language as a second language.
Additionally, personality assessment is not cheap. Tests can often cost hundreds of pounds per person, which makes it a very ineffective way of measuring a candidate’s suitability.
The results acquired by personality tests are only useful if the test is a good fit. After all, you can’t ask the same questions for every position. This makes testing for personality time intensive in addition to being cost-intensive.
As we already talked about, personality tests should never be used as a deciding factor in the hiring process. Although they provide some indication of strengths and weaknesses, they never paint the whole picture.
There’s also an inherent risk of a candidate just providing answers that they think recruiters want to hear. They might think that there is a right and wrong way of answering the questions and try to answer in such a way that will get them the job, as opposed to being true to how they feel.
What your organization needs to do: Hiring for personality fit is ultimately subjective. Adopt the use of work samples and skills tests in your hiring process.
5. Culture fit
In ways, hiring for culture fit is even more vague than hiring for personality. We can all sense a good chemistry with a new teammate, but finding that chemistry with the entire company? Trying to find top talent that fits into your unique workplace culture is a challenge on its own.
The term “organisational culture” was coined in the 1950s, and it has risen in popularity in the professional zeitgeist in recent years.
However, where does it fall amongst our hiring assessment tools?
Pros of assessing for culture fit
I know how important culture is to organizations. Culture feels like the beating heart of your team, and jeopardising it might give a sense of dilution.
Workplace culture isn’t that different from the bond a group of people can have over a shared love of a sports team. It feels like the glue that unifies an otherwise diverse group of people.
There’s a comfort in that. But, the comfort does not mean that this is a predictive skills assessment.
Cons of assessing for culture fit
Out of all of the employee assessment tools, culture fit might be the least definable. By definition, that makes it unfair.
Anything that cannot be measured cannot be fair to the hiring process or candidates.
Fairness requires each individual to be treated the same. There need to be specific questions with responses that you can rate on a predetermined scale in order to make it fair.
Reframe your culture fit into a test for valued soft skills instead, and make them measurable.
Below, you can see how we've included Empathy (one of our values) into scoring criteria:
What your organization needs to do: identify what’s at the core of your culture fit needs and adjust tests to remove bias and evaluate soft skills instead.
6. Psychometric tests
Psychometrics tests are used to assess skills and attributes like critical thinking, mathematical ability, emotional intelligence and time management - one of the most famous examples being the Myer Briggs Personality Test.
Psychometric tests consist of two types of assessment:
Aptitude tests: These are typically multiple-choice questions designed to test a person’s proficiency in a specific skill or ability (such as situational judgment, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning etc).
Personality tests: The idea here is to get a sense of whether or not someone has the right personality fir for the role - what their motivations are, how they make decisions, how they respond to feedback etc).
Pros of assessing with psychometric tests
Psychometric tests are undoubtedly a fairer, more predictive means of assessment than CVs. Where CVs require hirers to make assumptions, psychometric tests actually test for skills and attributes that the role might require.
They can also be done anonymously.
Cons of assessing with psychometric tests
Whilst psychometric tests might be fairly effective at testing for certain attributes, there doesn't seem to be much concrete evidence that says these attributes make someones good at their job.
So although you could candidate say that a candiate has solid non-verbal reasoning skills and a given personality type, this doesn't mean they'll perform on the job.
This is why we use work sample at Applied - because they test candidates using the exact tasks they'd be doing in the job rather than making inferences based on proxies.
7. Unstructured interviews
The traditional interview is something we’re all familiar with: you arrive early, have a strong handshake, are asked a series of somewhat predictable questions. It’s a familiar song and dance, but how effective is it at actually assessing talent?
Pros of unstructured interviews
Traditional interviews can provide a sense of ease, for both interviewers and interviewees. Everyone understands the concept and the process, which can provide a feeling of confidence and ability to prepare.
Many hiring managers enjoy the opportunity to ask candidates wildcard interview questions. This strategy can make it feel like you really get to know each candidate individually, instead of on a generic surface level.
Traditional interviews are also familiar to organise, conduct and execute. But, without proper structure, there’s little to no benefit.
Cons of unstructured interviews
The setbacks of traditional interviews outweigh the advantages.
A traditional unstructured interview is utterly unhelpful when it comes to comparing the different candidates. Unless you structure the interview and ask each candidate the same questions, it is impossible to see which candidate is better.
Traditional interviews are prone to bias. For example, physical attractiveness plays a big part, whether the hiring committee is consciously aware of it or not. Beauty bias, or the tendency to think more highly of more attractive people, is completely irrelevant to someone’s performance and therefore should not be taken into account when hiring.
How a candidate performs in an unstructured interview is proven to be a poor predictor of future performance. After all, you can be good at interviewing yet bad at your job. This is more likely to happen when interviews are run-of-the-mill and not focused on the exact needs of the role.
Flawed, predictable questions lead to rehearsed answers that don’t really offer any insight into how a candidate will do their job. My biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist, you get the idea.
The lack of predictability creates a problem in accurately assessing talent. Only by asking each candidate the same set of specific questions relevant to the position you’re offering can you make an informed decision on who to hire.
What your organization needs to do: enter every single interview with a scoring rubric. After the interview is over, you leave with data instead of feelings. These rubrics are also anonymized to shield candidates from unconscious biases. Instead of thinking, “the handsome blond handled the questioning without faltering,” you’ll look at the numbers and be able to see that candidate G scored higher on their answers than anyone else. Get started with our free Interview Handbook.
8. Word of mouth (referrals and references)
Relying on word of mouth is an old technique, and the service seems harmless. But, what’s there that doesn’t meet the eye?
Pros of word-of-mouth referrals
Getting employees to refer their connections seems like a no-brainer. It can speed up the process and save human resources from working with headhunters or pounding the virtual pavement with the job listing.
The same instinct stands for references: what better way to find out how a person is as an employee than to call a past employer or colleague?
Cons of word-of-mouth referrals
The downfall with word-of-mouth references is hiding in plain sight: no one ever puts down a bad referral.
It’s not unheard of for candidates to even put down friends or family members as “past colleagues” and ask them to give a glowing review.
The risk of word-of-mouth referrals is that employees will refer people who they…
- Went to university with
- Live next door to
- Worship with
They’ll refer people like themselves, resulting in a more homogeneous workforce.
What your organization needs to do: direct all employee referrals to apply through your portal like all other candidates. You won’t lose any truly interested candidates with this process.
9. Bonus: job description
While it’s not technically a part of assessing candidates, the job description is the seed of the entire recruitment process.
Pros of traditional job descriptions
Sitting down and letting your aspirations for a position flow from the heart can make you feel very connected to the future candidate and the hiring process.
Some companies see their job descriptions as a place to display what makes them unique. Quirky job titles and colourful language feel like they paint a picture of what kind of culture they’ve cultivated, and what kind of candidates they hope will apply.
Or, there’s the other side of the spectrum: those who dislike the task and want to write the job description as quickly as possible.
In essence, the pro of a free-form job description is the freedom to write whatever you like without overthinking the process. But, the process needs to be overthought…
Cons of traditional descriptions
Without understanding the preventive action necessary to remove bias from this process, it’s also going to limit the people who apply.
Research shows that traditional job descriptions uses coded language, and this has a huge impact of who applies:
What your organization needs to do: use our job description tool to help you publish fairer, more focused job descriptions that attract more candidates. You can try it for free today.
Listening to the talent assessment research
The research is clear on how to use improved candidate assessment tools for a fairer, more effective hiring process:
- Remove unnecessary obstacles to fair opportunities, like names on CVs
- Test candidate skills rather than candidate interview confidence
- Use skills tests at the beginning of your recruitment assessment process to yield a more concentrated, fruitful batch of applicants
- Make your hiring decisions based on data from interviews and work samples
This is a hiring process I’d rather go through as a candidate; wouldn’t you agree? Most talent does.
How does talent assess this type of talent assessment?
This research-backed method of hiring is a win for everyone, even candidates. The candidate experience is greatly improved when talent feels like they’re being given a fair chance at the position.
A bad candidate experience might seem like a private matter, but it’s actually a watershed that often goes public.
Negative talent experiences translate into dodgy statistics:
- one in four candidates will walk away from a recruitment process with a negative impression of the company
- one in three will share their bad experience with their social circle
- 12% of them will talk about their experience on social media
- one in five will stop using that organisation's products or services in the future
The debiased approach to talent assessment has very different results. Candidates love the Applied method, and on average give it a 9/10 rating.
We’ve talked about a lot of pros and cons today, but it’s clear that the only drawback to research-backed hiring methods is that they require change.
And we can help with that.
Talent assessment template
When it’s time to take action and improve your process for assessing candidates, don’t start from scratch.
The research is done: it’s been synthesized, distilled and is waiting for your hiring team to implement.
- (Blog post) Internal vs External Recruitment
- (Blog post) How to Recruit Talented Employees in 2022
- Take our free training session
Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.