Monday, October 23, 2006

The costs of assessment

Recently, Todd Rogers over at ERE wrote an article about the "cost" of assessment. The article isn't about ROI formulas or utility analysis, but focuses on turning off high quality candidates with bureaucracy and a mountain of application forms and requirements.

Yes, to the extent possible, assessment should be streamlined. And candidates should be given good reasons why they're being put through the paces. But let's not confuse content with process. Let's break things down:

1) Remember folks, EVERYTHING we do to narrow down the candidate pool is, legally, an "assessment." This includes minimum qualifications, phone interviews, resume reviews, etc. We're not just talking applications and written tests.

2) Good assessment takes time.
We know from studying thousands of candidates that assessments that are put together well and gather significant information plain work better. Unstructured interviews and casual phone screens have NOT been shown to be reliable and they are definitely not as legally defensible as structured interviews or targeted skills testing. They will work every once in a while, just as phrenology might, but over the long haul are not the best tools in our toolbelt. Not only that, but for employers sifting through thousands of applicants they're not going to have individual conversations with all of them.

3) That said, there's no reason to put candidates through hell (other than because we're evil test developers). On-line testing, good ATS packages like
Neogov , and clear job previews and requirements help things run smoothly.

4) A rigorous assessment process, in addition to likely being more valid and defensible, sends several messages to candidates: we've done our homework, we know what it takes to succeed in these jobs, and being hired here means something. Far from being a turnoff, people usually respect this and are likely to spread the word, probably to those passive candidates we're all after. You don't have to be Microsoft or Toyota to establish a reputation as a selective employer.

5) The more you allow someone to tell YOU about THEM, the greater the risk of falsification and spin. On-line profiles are fine and dandy, but caveat emptor.

6) An example is given in the article about a friend who routinely "beats" a drug test. This tells me the organization isn't doing their job in making sure the tests are valid--it says nothing about the usefulness of a good drug screening process.

Last, let's be careful with our terms. The phrase "psychological test" is used to refer to anything from a traditional interview to the
MMPI , but most people in the assessment field would think of the latter, which is a very different type of selection mechanism and involves different legal considerations . Finally, very few people go through anything approaching "psychoanalysis" as part of a hiring process, so in general let's avoid that term unless we're talking about individual interviews for public safety positions or the like (and even then it makes most folks think of Freud).

I'll be the first to agree that lengthy forms doth not good assessment make. But rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, let's focus on defining the competencies we need, reaching out to the most qualified, marketing ourselves properly, and putting together a solid selection system. In the end, that will have the biggest payoff for both the organization and the job seeker.

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