In separate agreements with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Best Buy and CVS have decided to stop using personality tests as part of their recruiting process, Erin Mulvaney reported at the National Law Journal last week. While the details of the agreements are confidential and neither company admitted liability, the EEOC said a former commissioner had raised concerns about the companies’ policies, prompting the agency to scrutinize whether these practices were potentially discriminatory:
The tests came under increasing scrutiny for their potential to weed out people with mental illness or certain racial groups. CVS had previously agreed, for example, to remove certain mental health-related questions from its questionnaire after a probe from the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.
In recent years, the EEOC launched investigations into personality tests on the grounds of discrimination and has guidelines for these job applicant assessments. Some companies on their own have decided to eliminate or reduce parts of the assessment tests, including Whole Foods Market Inc.
Target reached a $2.8 million settlement with the EEOC in 2015 over its candidate assessment system, which was alleged to discriminate on the basis of race and sex, and ended the practice. The agency has also litigated and won cases regarding such assessments against other companies over the years.
In a recent overview of gamification technologies at Employee Benefit News, John Soat looked at the growing number of ways in which organizations are gamifying HR processes. Soat highlighted three areas in which gamification is most promising: pre-hire assessments for recruiting, training programs for current employees, and encouraging participation in wellbeing initiatives and other benefits programs. Game-like tools are popular and effective because they are fun and engaging, so employees are more likely to use them voluntarily, even outside working hours. This impact on engagement, Soat hears from vendors, is part of the often intangible ROI their clients see from gamification.
This is a trend we’ve been following both here at Talent Daily and in our research at CEB, now Gartner, for several years now. Looking at how various organizations have gamified their processes, we’ve discovered some surprising use cases for this approach and developed a robust understanding of what makes gamification initiatives most likely to succeed.
In the training space, it’s interesting to note that companies aren’t just using gamification for entry level or technical skills. In 2014, we profiled GE’s Experienced Leaders Challenge: a week-long, immersive development session for experienced GE leaders designed to help them develop a leadership mindset aligned to today’s inherently unpredictable business environment. A key part of the program is a simulation that lets leaders practice navigating common challenges and observe the unexpected consequences of their decisions or actions. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can check out the full case study here.)
Sifting through hundreds or even thousands of applications for one job opening is perhaps the most time-consuming task recruiters face in their day-to-day work. This process is seen as a promising target for automation, particularly in hiring for technical roles where a candidate’s mastery of specific skills can be more important than their credentials and experience. Accordingly, many new platforms have sprung up, offering gamified assessments that test candidates’ skills and AI-powered software whose creators say it can make more objective and less biased hiring decisions than human recruiters.
The emergence of these platforms could reshape recruiting significantly by bringing a new level of transparency and objectivity to the process, Ryan Craig, Managing Director of University Ventures, writes at TechCrunch. Craig sees these intermediaries, which he compares to the talent agencies that decide who gets to work where in Hollywood, as the builders of what he calls “online competency marketplaces”:
Competency marketplaces will help candidates understand the jobs and careers they’re most likely to match, and help employers identify candidates who are on track (or on a trajectory to match in the future) and manage long talent funnels in an automated way.
What will a competency marketplace look like?
An illuminating new survey of recruitment professionals conducted by Mercer and the Society for Human Resource Management finds that only 20 percent are fully confident in their organizations’ ability to assess the skills of candidates for entry-level positions using traditional methods such as interviewing or reading applications and résumés. SHRM’s Roy Maurer elaborates on the findings:
Most employers use in-person interviews (95 percent), application reviews (87 percent) and resume reviews (86 percent), but nearly one-half of respondents said they have “little or no confidence” in application and resume reviews.
“Since application and resume reviews are typically the first line of screening for job applicants, many candidates never even get to the interview,” said Barb Marder, a senior partner at global consultancy Mercer. Respondents expressed much more confidence in using in-person interviews to assess candidates. Marder added that entry-level applicants without any work experience often have trouble getting past the review phase because HR dismisses them for lack of experience.
Recruiting experts have become increasingly vocal in recent years about the ineffectiveness of unstructured job interviews, which researchers have found cause interviewers to form strong but inaccurate impressions about candidates that often have more to do with the interviewer’s preferences and biases. Unstructured interviews, especially those including generic questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years,” encourage candidates to perform rote answers or say whatever they think the interviewer wants to hear.
Behavioral interviews, which examine how an interviewee reacts to challenges in their professional life, have emerged as the antidote to the unstructured interview. These interviews typically include asking candidates to give examples from their own experience of times when they faced stress, difficulty, or conflict at work and how they handled it—successfully or not. Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant, however, believes this type of question is problematic in its own right.
Why? Quite simply, Grant elaborates to Quartz’s Leah Fessler, they’re biased against candidates who have less work experience, or who for whatever reason don’t have good stories to draw on:
“When you ask questions about the past—’tell me about a time when you…’—interviewees with less experience in that situation are at a disadvantage,” Grant tells Quartz. The more jobs you have, the more you navigate professional conflict and success, and the more workplace anecdotes you accumulate. Meanwhile, even competitive younger candidates haven’t had enough professional exposure to narrate an equally nuanced story.
Discussing his research in a New York Times op-ed, Yale School of Management professor Jason Dana argues that unstructured job interviews can be worse than useless, as “interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates”:
In one experiment, we had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A. In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive.
It gets worse. Unbeknown to our subjects, we had instructed some of the interviewees to respond randomly to their questions. … Strikingly, not one interviewer reported noticing that he or she was conducting a random interview. More striking still, the students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they “got to know” the interviewee slightly higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews. The key psychological insight here is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative.
Geoffrey James builds on Dana’s argument at LinkedIn’s Talent Blog:
Unconscious bias remains a major barrier to diversity and fairness in recruiting, but it has proven difficult to remove from the hiring process, as by definition, we don’t automatically recognize our implicit biases for what they are. The ability to remove or mitigate the effects of bias on the hiring process is part of the promise of new recruiting technologies that either enable blind interviews, concealing candidates’ race and gender, or make hiring decisions based on skills assessments or even games.
The tech sector has had a particularly hard time diversifying its workforce and becoming a more welcoming environment for women and minorities. In this context, the BBC’s Regan Morris profiles Iba Masood, CEO and co-founder of Tara.ai. Tara, which stands for Talent Acquisition and Recruiting Automation, is an artificial intelligence-based project management software aimed at combating bias by hiring programmers based solely on the quality of their work:
Tara analyses and ranks programmers’ code, removing biographical information such as age, race, gender or where you have worked in the past or where you went to university. The algorithm means that people are judged on the work they have produced rather than who they are or who they know.