Improve Hiring with Assessment Tools

vince dicecco

Vince is a dynamic and sought-after seminar speaker and author with a unique perspective on business development and management subjects, primarily in the decorated- and promotional-apparel industries. With 20+ years of experience in sales, marketing and training, he is an independent consultant to various decoration businesses looking to profit and sharpen their competitive edge. Visit his website or send an email to Vince@ypbt.com.

At a recent Printwear Show, I met Josh, a decorated-apparel business owner who professed to have a “sixth sense” about determining a job candidate’s potential by just chatting casually with an applicant in an interview. His hiring-acumen claim piqued my interest since, for a long time, I’ve wanted to know if this was an acquired talent or one with which a person is naturally born. I asked him when did he first realize he possessed this unique ability and he replied, “I’ve always been a good judge of character. Heck, sometimes I think I am a human lie detector.”

Josh went on to explain that, within fifteen minutes, he could predict if the person was a winner or a turkey. I was afraid to ask him which group he put me in since it had been about that long since we first began talking. I asked him if he had ever heard of the Pygmalion Effect—the self-fulfilling prophesy that causes things to turn out exactly how one might expect them to, because of one’s expectation. Josh admitted he knew that high expectations beget superior outcomes more often than not and that the opposite—low expectations leading to poor performance—was probably true as well, but he stood by his original statement.

I asked him if he ever used assessment tools, such as a literacy or math skills test or the Myers-Briggs Type Indictor, to evaluate a person’s aptitude and potential. He looked taken aback at my question, craned his head from side-to-side as if to see if anyone was eavesdropping on our conversation and then whispered to me, “That’s my secret. I cheat. Isn’t it interesting what you can learn about people—and yourself, for that matter—when you read the interpretation of those tests?”

More business owners should discover Josh’s secret in order to make better hiring decisions. The Harvard Business School determined that, on average, bad hires cost employers three to five times the worker’s first-year compensation. Further, failure to manage and develop a company’s talent could cost the business its growth potential and future. Turns out there is a science to correlating skills and personality assessment scores with performance on the job; and, once hired, to creating measurable and sustainable improvements in an employee’s performance in the form of successful business results. And many assessment tools are available at little to no cost. Care to learn more? Let’s explore. . . .

The theory behind assessment tools

Before proceeding to test all future and current employees willy-nilly, take a moment to understand the process of choosing the right assessment tool and the best time to administer the instrument. There is a logical sequence of steps when a business decides to utilize an assessment program.

The first step is to define the success criteria of the plan. If assessments are to be used during the hiring process, determine what the goals and objectives of the hiring search are before soliciting resumes and applications. Will you have the time and resources to train the successful job candidate in key skill areas once she reports to her first day at work? If so, the assessment should indicate if the person has the aptitude to learn to perform the skill in your company’s own unique manner. If the time and/or resources to train are not available, the most appropriate assessment tool should measure the ability of the candidate to perform the skill today, not the potential to develop the skill later.

Along with identifying the hiring goals and objectives, an analysis of the job itself and the way it impacts the organization’s business goals should be completed. This sounds more complex than it really is. Simply, study the deliverables—the tangible benefits the company enjoys when an employee does his job correctly—from each work position. For example, if an accounting clerk prepares a tax form and submits it, on time and without errors, to the comptroller for signature, the tax form is the deliverable and one could identify all of the skills the clerk used to complete the task. Some of the skills the clerk utilized to accomplish the task include (1) the ability to read and follow IRS instructions, (2) the ability to assemble the correct facts and figures and have the tax form numbers balance and make sense, and (3) the ability to manage time wisely and complete the work on schedule. Without re-inventing the wheel, there are assessment tools available that could give an employer heightened confidence and predictability that a worker will consistently perform at a satisfactory and acceptable level.

The second step to adopting a well-developed assessment program is selection. With the desired individual characteristics, workplace behaviors and business outcomes firmly defined, find the right assessment tools to identify the right knowledge, skills, abilities, traits and competencies to fit the position. This can be done for an incumbent employee as well as new hire. Assessments are excellent tools to assist a manager in conducting performance evaluations as well as selecting the best candidate out of a pool of applicants.

There is a wide variety of assessment tools that can easily measure a person’s interests, skills, personality and values. There are instruments that can measure such job skills and competencies as listening, critical thinking, mathematics and problem solving, reading and writing, judgment and decision making, customer service, mechanical aptitude, equipment maintenance, operation and troubleshooting, and social perceptiveness and adaptation.

Likewise, there are a number of companies that can connect you with the right test for nearly every situation. The Occupational Information Network (online.onetcenter.org), the eSkill Corporation (eskill.com), and Quintessential Careers (quintcareers.com) are three such websites that can assist you in selecting the most cost effective means to get the information you need. The primary beneficiary of these sites are job seekers and folks contemplating career changes, but the tests serve an employer’s needs as well.

Some of the assessment tools are either self-directed—that is, can be used and the results interpreted without a licensed or trained professional—or those that require interpretive assistance, usually accompanied by a fee.

The aforementioned Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has been the gold standard for personality assessments, but it is imperative that a MBTI-certified practitioner provide an explanation of the test results. A self-directed version of Myers-Briggs can be found in the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (keirsey.com), which is easy to use, less time consuming and renders simple type descriptions for free. A more detailed report is available for a nominal fee. The book Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey helps to match with a higher degree of confidence certain MBTI types with certain occupations.

Implement and measure

The third—and arguably the most important—step of developing an assessment program is evaluation. Unbiased administration of the assessments, proper communications as to the purpose of the instruments with test takers and managers alike, and the validation of the assessment results are all critical components of the evaluation of the entire program.

Assessment test takers are often not told what the tools are designed to indicate until after the instrument is administered. This practice helps to ensure the applicant or employee doesn’t give answers that he or she thinks the company is looking for. In fact, most assessment tools don’t have right and wrong answers—just responses that reveal tendencies related to the type of assessment it is.

Once a company begins to utilize assessments and the employee has been on the job for a period of time, it should refer back to the interpretation of the tool and see if that worker’s performance measured up to the indication of the assessment. Unfortunately, after the employee begins work, there are so many factors that influence his or her eventual performance. The immediate supervisor, changes in the work environment or job demands, and/or the reward/incentive structure of the company can take a high scorer on an assessment and reduce her to an average employee. Still, developing a basic assessment program for any-sized company can reduce the number of bad hires, help develop and manage existing talent and improve the company’s chances of realizing its business goals. Good luck!