Ultimate Guide To Assessing Candidates (By The Data)

Published by:
Kayla Ihrig
January 14, 2022
min read

You’re being radically distracted while assessing candidates.

That is, if you’re using the traditional model of candidate assessment. The standard system is staggeringly inaccurate at determining which candidate would be best for your open position. 

This is a huge concern for companies because it opens up doors (big ones) for bias and discrimination, not to mention hiring the wrong people. 

The situation is dire, but not hopeless! There’s an accurate system for screening and evaluating candidates; one that’s backed by data and proven to result in better hiring outcomes. 

Research has paved a clear path forward that is simple for businesses to follow.

It’s what we here at Applied are all about. But before we can get to the right assessment tools, it’s important that the failures of the old system are laid bare. 

Do you want to jump straight to improving your candidate assessment? Book a free demo now to bring your hiring process into the 21st century.

What’s wrong with traditional candidate assessment?

Almost everything. 

The data doesn’t beat around the bush, and neither should you and I. 

Let’s start at the beginning of the candidate assessment process:

Somewhere in the world right now, a recruiter is picking up a pile of CVs, and the process of effectively assessing candidates is already going wrong

1. The BIG problem with CVs

The information on standard CVs is almost astonishingly unrelated to whether or not a candidate can effectively do your job. 

If that statement rubs you the wrong way, look at the goal of the process: human resources and recruiter's task is to determine which candidate is able to execute the tasks of the position best. 

What do the following bits of information have to do with that mission?

  • University name 
  • Previous employers  
  • Candidate name 
  • Interests 
  • Awards 
  • Home address 
  • The year they graduated 

Let’s call a spade a spade: CVs are full of bullsh*t and we all know it. 

So why would your organization keep using them in candidate screening?

How bias affects CV screening

A company is not committed to a fair hiring process if they still use traditional CVs. 

There have been endless studies proving that a candidate's name alone has negative implications for typically female, Black or Muslim-sounding names - this list goes on. 

If those statistics don’t disturb you, and they should, then what about the time of day when a recruiter reviews a CV? 

A candidate’s position in the job candidate queue has a massive impact on the outcome of their CV review...

Rank order effect study (chart)

Research has proved that candidates at the beginning of the screening process are ranked higher than those reviewed later.  

It makes you hope that your CV isn’t at the bottom of the stack next time you’re applying for a  job, doesn’t it? 

If the company is using Applied, then it won’t matter. The Applied platform randomizes applicant order to create a candidate assessment system that’s fair. 

But let’s say you’re a lucky candidate that was reviewed early in the queue. You predictably receive a high score, and now move on to the next pitfall in a traditional assessment process: an unstructured job interview. 

For more scandalous insight on how CVs are ruining your chances of finding the best person for the job, get your free guide to ditching CVs

2. The BIG problem with unstructured interviews

An unstructured interview is a casual conversation where the interviewer explores different topics and tangents with each candidate. It can mistakenly be considered a “more personal” approach, but it’s very naive. 

Unstructured interviews run full-speed into wall after wall of interview bias. It’s incredibly careless and dangerous to a fair hiring process. 

Unstructured interviews cannot exist in the same space as a fair interview process. 

After all, the definition of fair is “treating people equally.” 

When assessing candidates, that translates to asking all applicants the same questions in structured interviews

Predetermined interview questions should focus on questions that test skill, rather than the run-of-the-mill strength-based questions like “describe your perfect day” that tell recruiters nothing substantial. 

No matter the best intentions entering an interview, lack of structure will cause an inevitable breakdown: 

How bias works

The process must be shifted from spur-of-the-moment tangents to highly relevant predetermined criteria. 

This statement goes for the entire traditional candidate assessment process.

What is a fair candidate assessment process?

That was a brutal eulogy for the traditional method of assessing candidates. Now it’s time to focus on how to move your candidate assessment process into the present.

That’s right: the present, not the future. This process has already been adopted by thousands of companies, and yours will be left behind if you don’t adapt to the data and the societal demand for equal employment opportunities. 

At this point, recruiters and companies who don’t actually want to do the work to improve their candidate assessment process will throw their hands up in the air and grunt that it’s impossible to check every box when assessing candidates. 

Thankfully, there are only two boxes that need to be checked. Your process for assessing candidates only needs to answer two questions: are these assessments predictive, and are they fair? 

Leave your rubbish correlators back in the 1900s and let’s look at the candidate assessment tools that actually work. 

1. Anonymized CVs

We’ve rightfully tar-and-feathered standard CVs, but we haven’t put them in the grave because there is a version of the CV that serves an ethical candidate assessment process. 

It’s an anonomyzed CV; one stripped of all distractions, irrelevant information and opportunities for discrimination. This is also sometimes referred to as “blinding” applications

Redacting this information doesn’t have to be done manually; Applied’s recruiting software can handle all of the CVs and applicant tracking for you. You can book your free demo right now. 

After CVs are corrected comes the most foundational change to your candidate assessment:

2. Work samples

Work samples are situational judgment tests that are designed to test how a potential candidate would think and perform in that role. They’re the single most predictive method of screening candidates. 

If you want to evaluate candidates effectively, you must assess them in a structured way on the real things that they’re going to do in the job. 

This approach to assessing candidates focuses on skill alone. After all, what could be more predictive than testing someone’s skills? 


  • Talking about their education? 
  • Rehashing past jobs? 
  • Listening to them tell you that your company’s values are important to them? 

None of the standard lines of questioning tell you anything about how a candidate will perform in your role. Work samples (also known as skills tests) are the crown jewel metric for assessing candidates: 

Predictive validity of assessment methods (chart)

It may feel like reinventing the wheel, but it can be done in four steps. 

  1. Decide on the technical or soft skills that you want to test. 
  2. Describe real situations that the employee in this role would come across. 
  3. Rewrite those situations into hypothetical questions for the candidate. 
  4. Design a scoring criteria to judge the responses by. 

Here’s a candidate assessment sample:

Work sample example

Use our Work Sample Cheatsheet to jumpstart this process right away. 

Number 4, the scoring criteria, is a fundamental part of the work sample tests. It’s also fundamental to the interview itself. 

3. Scoring criteria

A terrifying 28% of hiring managers admit that “gut feeling” is their main determining factor in who they hire. 

Job candidates deserve a better candidate assessment tool than a “feeling” that has so little to do with actual talent assessment. This completely empty metric needs to be replaced with data instead. 

A quantifiable, data-driven process for assessing candidates will result in accurate and fair hiring. The process is simple: you just need scoring criteria. 

Interview question with review guide example

By determining scoring criterias, you enter each interview with a candidate evaluation worksheet that is perfectly customized to the role

Using candidate scoring criteria ensures that there is an established standard against which all candidates are being scored. It maintains a status quo where candidates are judged based on their answers to the questions - and nothing else. 

Not the feeling of connection to a certain candidate after you spend 5 minutes talking about your shared experience at the same university (aka affinity bias). 

Or the belief that someone is worth giving a shot to, despite their lack of qualification, because you both have overlapping volunteer experience that speaks to their work ethic (aka attribution bias). 

Unconscious biases like these need to be actively held at bay during your candidate assessment, and scoring criteria play a major role in.  

Instead of leaving the interview with feelings about candidates, you leave with data. 

The switch to making data-driven hiring decisions is this simple. Start drafting your interview scoring criteria today with your copy of Applied’s Interview Scoring Worksheet

With CVs abandoned, work samples established and criteria set, your process for assessing candidates is radically improved. Don’t blow it in the interview itself.

4. Structured interviews 

The interview scoring rubric is one-half of your data-driven interview; it’s married to a structured interview. 

Structured interviews are the antithesis of the random, tangential, ineffective interviews we talked about earlier. 

Structured interviews will lead your interview team around bias landmines such as…

  • Favoring a more physically attractive candidate (aka beauty bias
  • Or assuming that a female candidate is a stronger contender for a caretaking role without any data to fortify that decision (aka stereotype bias)
  • Or simply seeing a candidate in a less-favorable light because they were seen after an extremely strong candidate (aka contrast bias)

These types of interview biases are insidious when left unchecked. Keep interviews as bias-free as possible with the right predetermined interview questions. Get your free guide here

Structured interviews with a score card will treat every candidate fairly and result in quantified data on how candidates performed. Promise not to screw it up by falling back onto weak correlators like culture fit.

Structured interviews with a score card will treat every candidate fairly and result in quantified data on how candidates performed. Promise not to screw it up by falling back onto weak correlators like culture fit.

5. Test for culture fit the right way

Culture fit is a dangerous metric for candidate assessment. It often comes down to a vague feeling of who the hirer would prefer to have a beer with, and that answer is probably someone like themselves

If culture fit feels essential to your organization, ask yourself why. Data has proven that it’s a poor indicator and can’t be quantified, which means it’s not fair to everyone. 

We already know that testing for skills is more effective than testing for culture fit, but if it’s still important to you, apply your core values to your work samples

Create work sample interview questions that are centered around your mission and test for your company values. This will naturally deter applicants who aren’t able to supply an answer to the questions. 

Moreso, the applicants you do get will have their answers measured against a predetermined scorecard, making this a quantifiable process. 

Shake gut instinct for good and rely instead on behavioral science research so that you can ensure your hiring team is getting results out of the interview. The Interview Playbook is here.

How candidates assess this process

This entire process of developing a candidate assessment standard that is proven to be more effective and fair was built for the benefit of candidates who were being overlooked, and organizations who are overlooking the right talent. 

This change in talent acquisition may seem unconventional, but it won’t be for long. 

It’s taking over as the norm, as companies one-by-one refuse to keep using a system that favors the same types of candidates and creates barriers for the rest. 

Applied’s process is also preferred by candidates. This process was given high marks when more than 300,000 applicants were asked to rate the process: 

How candidates rate the Applied process

Candidate experience doesn’t suffer with the Applied method. Our methods for screening candidates are actually preferred over the traditional model. 

Now that you know all of the research and bias that goes into traditional candidate assessments, don’t you hope that your next job interview process is conducted this way?

Assessing candidates: conclusion

Your company deserves better than hiring the wrong people because of irrelevant cognitive ability tests, unnecessary social media evaluation, or any of the other bad candidate evaluation practices out there. 

Recruiting can be easier and radically more effective than that. 

Let Applied make your search for predictability and equality easy. Book a free demo now and stop letting talent slip through your wide-open fingertips. 

Will it still be a struggle to get your CEO to care about fixing your candidate assessment process? Watch our training for tools for persuading them to really care about diversity and equality. 

For broader help with organizational change management, watch our change management training