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Julia Lansing

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Assessment Testing and Organizational Arrogance: Avoiding Talent Turn-Off

Posted by Julia Lansing on Fri, Jul 17, 2015 @ 11:07 AM


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A recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled, Ace the Assessment cited recent research showing that “about 76% of organizations with more than 100 employees rely on assessment tools such as aptitude and personality tests for external hiring. That figure is expected to climb to 88% over the next few years.” 

Hey, we get it.  Good executive recruiting firms use assessment tests too, including us at Nutmeg Healthcare Recruiters.  But here is what most organizations don’t get about assessment testing:

From the perspective of a quality, passive candidate, assessment tests are obnoxious.

I love the dating metaphor relative to the interview scenario because people inherently get it.  So imagine, for a moment, the reaction of your high-quality date sitting across the table when you say, “Hey, before we order drinks, I hope you wouldn’t mind taking a little personality test?  I just want to be sure that you have the right stuff before we spend too much time sort of getting to know each other.” 

Now, how long do you think it would take for that quality person to get up and walk out of the restaurant after that kind of statement?   Exactly.  

Most of the time, high-quality candidates know what they have to offer an organization and often don’t accept the premise that somehow they are lucky to be interviewing with your company -- no matter how great you believe your company is.  It amazes me how deeply leadership candidates will connect with the concept of humility when they are on the job market and also how quickly they forget it when they are employed and on the other side of the interview table in their roles as HR leaders or hiring managers.  If I had to take an educated guess as to why that is, it would be about the types of candidates most organizations usually interview – candidates that need a job (i.e., “active candidates”).   Active candidates typically communicate differently with perspective employers during the interview process than those that are not actively on the job market, much like a perspective suiter looking for, say for example, a new spouse with cash.   With most active candidates working hard to impress, many quality organizations can get used to feeling sort of “superior.”   And like celebrities and the uber wealthy, these companies often times get away with being organizationally arrogant in their “dating” process. The result?  Shallow candidate pool. Compromise hires. Lack-luster productivity and moral. Higher turnover. 

Alas, assessment tests are great tools in the hiring process.  Am I suggesting abandoning them?  No.  What I am suggesting, however, is to more carefully consider the timing of when the assessment test is introduced in the process.  Don’t make it part of the initial screening process.  Instead, consider waiting until the interview process has yielded positive impressions for both your organization and the candidate. To use the dating metaphor again, wait until after the second or even third date.  At later stages of the interview process, most quality candidates understand the opportunity more fully and are interested in continuing the process for all the right reasons.   An interested candidate is always much more willing to do what is reasonable to prove they are up to the task in order to land an opportunity seen as personally and professionally advantageous. 

“Wait,” you say, “most candidates have no idea we do these assessments until they arrive at the first interview.  At that point we have them so why waste the time with the interview if they don’t measure up on the test?”  Well, you may physically have them in your HR office and they may even take your test, but in the limbic, decision-making part of their brains – an area incapable of expressing language – most candidates leave those assessment test meetings feeling sort of “exposed” and generally turned-off.   Perhaps that’s par for the course for an active candidate who needs the job and has no good choices but to acquiesce to an organization’s hiring process, but our experience is that assessment tests during initial interview rounds are a definite buzz-kill for a high-quality, passive candidate with choices.  Those are the candidates -- the ones that are attracted to your opportunity on the merits despite their other good choices -- that often make the best hires.

So if you want a second and third “date” with the best candidates out there, an emotionally intelligent interview process is the right way to go.  Save the assessment test until your confident you've got “Mr. or Mrs. Right” and you’re confident your candidate feels the same way.

Tags: candidate preparation, C-Suite Advice, HR Leader Advice, HR Thought Leadership; Transformational Leadership