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How to start conducting talent assessments at your company

April 5, 2019

How to start conducting talent assessments at your company

11 min read

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the importance of hiring the right talent for the job. Skilled candidates are at a premium these days, and the cost of a bad hire can be as high as 1.5 times an employee’s annual salary. That means that recruiters need to use whatever tools and techniques they have at their disposal to find, and hire the best candidate. A talent assessment is one of these techniques that can help you achieve an effective, repeatable system for hiring top talent.

Talent assessment is a broad term and recruiters have many options for how they develop and implement this type of system. In this article, we’re going to walk you through:

  • what assessing your candidates means and it’s benefits,
  • how to plan your candidate assessment program,
  • assessment questions and techniques,
  • and how predictive analytics can help you achieve the best results.

Before we dive into how to implement this type of program, let’s take a look at what talent assessment is.

What is talent assessment?

In a nutshell, talent assessment is a process that companies use to identify which candidate will perform the best, and be the right cultural fit. It aims to predict a new hire’s on the job performance, as well as their retainability in the long term. Assessing your candidates is typically done in the pre-screening, interviewing, and post-interviewing phases of the hiring process. Candidates are tested against specific criteria and skills that the company has flagged as being critical to success in a given role.

Talent assessment programs will typically test candidates on two main criteria groups: eligibility or suitability.

  • Eligibility criteria refers to attributes such as years of experience, education, skills, and abilities.
  • Suitability criteria, on the other hand, refers to more abstract attributes like motivation, interests, integrity, cultural fit, and perceived impact on team performance.

But, testing candidates and collecting data on their answers is only one part of the equation. Proper candidates assessment requires recruiters to analyze recruitment trends and case studies within their companies to determine what makes a successful candidate. This data will then inform what criteria are most important, and what the desired benchmarks are for testing. Candidate assessment, therefore, is more than just asking candidates to complete a job test. It’s about understanding what makes your best employees tick and deploying testing techniques to find like-minded and similar candidates.

Candidate assessments can also relate more broadly to techniques used to identify high performing employees for development purposes. Internal processes that identify skills gaps, and develop employees to fill those holes also fall under this category and qualify as a form of talent development.

Done properly, assessment programs give companies a distinct advantage in identifying and attracting top talent and avoiding the costs associated with bad hires.  Because of this, companies like Macy’s, PetSmart, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, Walmart, and Burger King have all adopted robust candidate assessment programs.

Before we get into how to create a candidate assessment program, let’s look at some key challenges and considerations you will need to address when starting your own program.

Challenges to implementing a candidate assessment program

Like any recruitment program, there are challenges to implementing a successful applicant assessment process. The most common mistakes that companies run into are:

  1. Candidate assessment programs are often not aligned with the company’s overall strategies and goals.
  2. Recruiters lack the processing power to analyze the data they collect or they don’t take the time to gather useful intelligence into high-performing employees.
  3. They’re often created in a vacuum, are not aligned with the company’s goals and values, and are not done in consultation with leaders and hiring managers.
  4. Recruiters aren’t using the right candidate assessment tool or tests for their needs.

Luckily, each of these challenges can be addressed with solid planning based on collaboration and data-driven decision-making.

Creating a talent assessment program at your company

Like everything is recruitment, the most important part of planning your candidate assessment program is to know what your goal is.

Step 1: Know your company’s needs

The first step in creating a candidate assessment program is to sit down with your team and the leaders at your company to determine your goals, and how you’ll reach them.

It’s important that everyone, from the top down, is on the same page about what kind of employees you want to hire and what makes a successful candidate. It’s impossible to test if someone will perform well or be a good cultural fit if you don’t have a gold standard for what that looks like. Hold a group brainstorming session with all of the important stakeholders to come up with a clear overview of your values, culture, and the vocabulary you want to use when promoting yourself and open positions.

This approach will give you a high-level idea of what characteristics new employees should have to fit into your company culture and value system. The result will be a blanket persona you can judge all candidates against, regardless of role. It will also give you the chance to hear directly from senior management about what the company goals are for the future, which will help guide your decision making for new hires.

Align with your hiring managers

The next level of Step 1 is to know what is required for each role that you’re testing for. Sit down with the hiring manager to determine:

  • job success factors,
  • tasks to be performed,
  • specific responsibilities,
  • key performance factors,
  • specific skills.
  • and any other factor that relates to job performance.

Come up with a list of eligibility and suitability criteria that relates to those requirements. Next, write a detailed job description and an ad that promotes those requirements through your favored sources of recruitment.

By going through this exercise, you should have a clear list of criteria that you can both promote and test for with each candidate.

Step 2: Choose your testing methods

This is where most of the work begins when planning your recruitment assessment program. There are a ton of different job tests you can use to evaluate virtually every aspect of your candidates (with varying degrees of success, of course). Some of the most common test types include:

  • Cognitive ability and problem-solving tests
  • Personality and psychometric tests
  • Structured interviews
  • Work samples and simulations

Each of these categories has a wide variety of individual test types that you can choose from. Most pre-screening tests are completed online, while interview or work simulation tests are often completed either virtually or in the office. The good news is that, if you were diligent in Step 1, narrowing down to the tests you need should be easy.

For this article, we’re going to focus on the following test types:

Cognitive ability and problem-solving test

Cognitive ability tests aim to measure your candidate’s reasoning and logic skills, ability to learn new material, and reading comprehension. They are typically administered as a pre-screening test and can be done online. This type of test is highly effective because there is a proven link between specific cognitive abilities and job performance, especially for more complex jobs. They are also very cost-effective to administer and easy to measure.

Problem-solving tests, likewise, are highly effective at assessing leadership skills, potential, vision, insight, and intelligence.

Personality or psychometric tests

Many companies perform a personality or psychometric tests for recruitment after a job interview in order to gather complementary information about their high-potential candidates. Personality tests shouldn’t necessarily qualify or disqualify a candidate but they can provide valuable insight into how they will think and behave in the workplace.

Personality tests assess an applicant’s thought processes and analyze their behavioral and emotional patterns. These candidate assessment tests ask the candidate to evaluate themselves through a series of structured questions.

An example of a personality test question might be:

“It is important to fully analyze all data available before making a decision.”

The candidate would then choose a multiple-choice answer between “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree”. The aggregate of these responses, once analyzed, will give you a window into the candidate’s personality.

Structured interviews

Structured interviews aim to standardize the questioning of each candidate who sits down with your recruitment team. Every interview question is written to assess one specific hiring criteria. No question during the interview will relate to something outside of the predetermined job requirements, and any follow-up questions will also adhere to a structured approach.

By administering, and then measuring, all interviews in the same way, recruiters take the subjectivity out of assessments. Structured interviews are a great way to ensure that the most personal stage in the hiring process remains professional and objective, allowing you to choose the most suitable candidate.

Work samples and simulations

This stage of applicant assessment typically will occur after the interview, and during the time when you’re evaluating your short list of candidates. Work samples and simulations let you see the candidate in action, and assess job-specific skills and decision making in a real-world setting.

A work sample will usually involve a specific assignment that is a subset of the tasks they would be expected to complete on the job. It can be in the actual work environment, using the tools and equipment needed for the job, or it can be remote.

Simulations, on the other hand, will typically be administered in a fictitious environment that mirrors the actual job. Specific scenarios and tasks will be administered during the simulation to assess how the candidate reacts in a real-world situation. Think of a pilot going through exercises in a flight simulator to test their ability to problem solve in high-stress situations.

Job trials are a great way to get the best of both work samples and simulations. This is when a candidate comes into the office to meet the team, and is assigned a challenge that mimics the type of work they would be doing. Job trials allow you to measure the candidate’s skills, experience, and cultural fit in as real a setting as possible. It also gives them a taste of what it’s like to work for your company.

Work samples and simulations are two of the strongest predictors of job performance. They also require the most customization for every job you hire for, meaning planning and accuracy are key to administering this test correctly.

Whichever tests you choose for your talent assessment program, ensure that they are the best technique for assessing your specific job criteria.

Step 3: Execute and measure the results

Once you’ve determined your company needs, and choose the best tests to evaluate candidates, the next step is to execute them and collect the results. Most recruitment assessments can be administered online, meaning you can likely tie them into your existing Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

This will allow you to pull in a wide variety of data points about each candidate that you can then use to measure and compare applicants. Be sure to measure enough different variables to give depth and variety to your data. Most ATS platforms will have built-in tools, called predictive analytics, to help you process your applicant data and determine actionable outcomes.

The key to executing talent assessment tests is to ensure that they are all administered in the same way. Every applicant should receive the same test, in the same setting. This will give you a nice body of objective data that can be processed and analyzed.

Step 4: Use predictive analytics to process your results

Talent assessment alone is only one piece of the puzzle. The other pieces involve taking the input data that you’ve uploaded into your ATS and making sense of it in an actionable way. Predictive analytics tools read this input data and apply an AI-based model into order to provide a useful output.  

This model is applied to all “inputs” available for a given candidate in your ATS, meaning the platform will be able to weigh information from their CV, cover letter, assessments, and so on. This holistic, and automated approach means that you are able to rapidly gain a full picture overview of how well a candidate is likely to perform on the job relative to others. Predictive analytics platforms like Recruitee have been proven to reduce hiring costs by 70%, and time to hire by 30%.

It’s important to note, though, that predictive analytics is only as smart as the person telling it what to do. This is where Step 1 comes into play again: knowing what your company needs. You will need to tell your predictive analytics platform which KPIs you value most, which will point it in the right direction for the evaluation.

As always, it’s important to know your goals, understand what a candidate will need to perform on the job, and then deploy the right tools to test and evaluate your applicants. Talent assessment programs are as varied as they can be complicated, but the payoff is a highly efficient recruitment process that can drastically improve the quality of your hires.

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Brendan is an experienced writer and content marketing professional with experience working for various HR tech and SaaS companies in Canada. He has an extensive background in web content marketing and journalism.
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