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Putting Tests to the Test: 5 Talent Assessment Myths to Avoid

Talent assessments are an incredibly useful way to work out which people to hire, promote, or send on a training course; some managers are reluctant to use them because of five persistent myths

Assessments have been used for decades to help firms identify the right people to hire. After all, without the right people in place, no company could put its strategy into practice.

But different business objectives require different types of employee; one who enjoys providing good customer service may thrive in a high-end, luxury goods retailer, but struggle in a hard-discount supermarket where the values and service promise are different. Tests are used to determine how individuals think and solve problems, their workstyle behavior and preferences, their values, and the natural aptitudes they possess.

Science-based assessment tools – with human interpretation of the results – are proven to be far more reliable for recruitment, development, and promotion decisions, than human judgement alone.

The Five Myths

Over three million talent assessment decisions are made every day in the UK – according to CEB data – to see whether someone is suitable to take on a new role, a promotion, or some kind of learning and development. And yet less than 20% of  all “people decisions” are informed by objective data.

Based on CEB’s study of assessments and best practices for over 30 years, there are five myths that persist about talent assessments; all of which don’t hold up against the research. Each of the five tend stem from practitioners either deploying the wrong assessment tools, using them incorrectly, or misinterpreting the results.

  • Myth 1: Assessments don’t add value.

    Fact: Decades of research show that assessments are proven to be the strongest predictor of job success. And they are still the most accurate tools for identifying the best-fit and highest-potential candidates based on an company’s unique role requirements.

    Assessing candidates’ knowledge and skills is just one part of the talent picture. Increasingly, companies use assessment data to gain a more holistic view of the workforce. This includes evaluating an individual’s capacity for change, collaboration, and leadership, as well as their alignment to values and organizational goals.

  • Myth 2: Assessments are hiring tools.

    Fact: Identifying the right people for a role consumes substantial time and resources, but one-in-five decisions – about both new hires and internal transitions – are considered as “poor” or “regretted” choices.  Using assessments minimizes the risks of making the wrong people decisions – whether it’s hiring, promoting, developing, or reshaping teams.

    The real value comes from using the meaningful insights produced by assessments to understand the capabilities of teams, or groups of employees. This provides a valuable source of information on strengths, development needs, and limitations at a group level to determine how ready the firm is to change strategy, for example, or compete in a new market.

  • Myth 3: Assessments scare off candidates.

    Fact: It’s actually the lack of transparency in the application process  (not knowing the steps involved, why assessments are used, and what the outcome of their tests are) that deters candidates from applying for jobs not the assessment process itself.

    The reality is many people have a bad experience when it comes to applying for a job because the right information is not made available to candidates, the day-to-day requirements of a role are at best inaccurate – and at worst absent – and candidates rarely hear back from an employer after submitting an application.

    Companies need to be more transparent with applicants about the stages in their recruitment cycles and the effort they will need to put in at every stage. This results in a more positive brand experience for the candidate and a more qualified, higher-performing applicant for the employer.

  • Myth 4: Assessments can be faked.

    Fact: Robust assessments are designed to detect and expose cheating. While information in resumés/CVs and interviews can easily be embellished, if candidates attempt to manipulate their responses or try to hide their true preferences during tests, their consistency score will be low.

    It’s not easy to cheat at an assessment; credible assessment providers have built-in safeguards to detect and reduce the risks of cheating. Things such as randomly drawing questions from a vast database so no two candidates complete the same test, or by evaluating response patterns to check whether an individual is trying to give a misleading impression of their personality characteristics.

    Ultimately test-takers that intentionally falsify answers only serve to cheat themselves into poor-fit roles and high job dissatisfaction.

  • Myth 5: The return-on-investment on assessments can’t be measured.

    Fact: HR teams should be able to quantify the business impact of talent acquisition and mobility programmes – important measures include employee productivity in role, job performance, future potential, and employee engagement. Through assessments, HR teams can consistently measure and collect data to prove the value of all recruitment and development initiatives.

    HR certainly needs to report on the operational process, such as how many assessments have been completed, for which roles, and in which parts of the company, but they also need to validate the business impact of assessments by connecting assessment data to data from other talent programs. For example, they could show the links between positive assessment results and those employees with long-term career potential.

    Aggregating outputs from assessment processes can provide crucial intelligence on the capabilities (and limitations) of the workforce to shape talent strategy in line with business strategy. Around two-thirds of recruiting executives plan to upgrade their company’s assessment and selection capabilities in the near future, according to CEB data. So it’s no longer a question of whether to use objective assessment tools or not, it’s about finding ways for both companies and candidates to gain greater value and insight from the experience.

    Most importantly, it critical for firms that do deploy assessments to use the outputs to boost workforce performance and maximize employees’ potential, which, ultimately, will cement a company’s competitive advantage and drive growth.


A version of this post originally appeared on HR Director.


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