Four tips for success with pre-employment assessments

How much customization should go into pre-employment assessments? How should HR managers select a vendor? Hear what users at Houlihan's and Avis say.

Especially for large companies, incorporating pre-employment assessment technology into the recruitment process is almost a no-brainer. Besides making the process faster and more efficient, it helps hiring managers base their decisions on more than just intuition.

But there are other, less obvious benefits that extend beyond the hire date. Pre-employment assessments "allow you to build bench strength -- to be able to create future leaders of the company by understanding and measuring people," said Dr. Charles Handler, executive scientist at assessment vendor Logi-Serve and founder of consulting firm Rocket-Hire.

In addition to succession planning, pre-hire assessments can also help inform a company's learning strategy. "I think that [they] provide baseline data [organizations] can use to understand how to develop people effectively," Handler said. "It allows them to get an inventory of who they have, and what skills and abilities."

Anna Cosentino, vice president of organizational development at car rental company Avis Budget Group, headquartered in Parsippany-Troy Hills, N.J., said pre-employment assessments have provided two important benefits to her organization: bolstering retention and improving overall business performance.

"When we hire candidates that best fit our organization, we reduce expenses related to turnover," Cosentino said. She added that the company has quantitative evidence correlating higher sales amounts with sales associates who earned top scores on the pre-employment assessment.

But simply deploying assessment technology isn't a silver bullet, and HR managers need to put in the legwork to reap the rewards. The following four tips can help ensure successful vendor selection, technology deployment and ongoing use.

Choose a vendor carefully

"A fit between a company and vendor is a multifaceted thing," Handler said. "Too many times the decision of what vendor to select is driven by contact with a vendor [instead] of by the company saying, 'We need this or that,' and being wide open" to the options on the market.

Handler listed several things HR managers should assess when vetting vendors. First, he recommended ensuring that the tool is built on a strong scientific background and that content is developed by experts. He also suggested evaluating whether the level of technology involved in the tool is the right amount for a given workforce, and making sure the vendor can cater to the organization's size and industry.

Handler also mentioned the importance of cultural fit, a point that Thuan Nguyen, director of recruiting at Houlihan's Restaurants Inc., said plays into his decision making.

"We choose assessment companies that we feel best represent our brand as well as share in our beliefs," Nguyen said. "The [vendor] must also be easy to work with and understand our company and personal goals." Houlihan's, based in Leawood, Kan., uses pre-employment assessments from vendor Corvirtus.

Cosentino suggested several questions for HR managers to ask potential vendors. "How have their tools been validated? Can they prove their tools deliver the promised return on investment? How flexible are they in partnering with your organization to meet your needs?"

She also recommended pressing past the sales pitch. "It's important to challenge claims and promises in order to make the best decision for your organization," Cosentino said. Avis uses CEB’s SHL Talent Measurement Solutions for assessments for customer-facing roles, another vendor for sales positions and a third for customer support candidates, she explained.

More customization means more precision

A common question that comes up during the vetting process is customization -- how much is the right amount? Handler said it hinges on a company's parameters regarding deployment.

"The more time and energy you spend understanding jobs and aligning tools to [them], the more precise these tools will be to predict [success]. The only issue is doing so takes time and money," he said. Companies that do not have the bandwidth to customize will trade off precision, but they will also be able to deploy a tool faster -- which Handler pointed out is sometimes the goal.

Cosentino's company opted to customize tests for customer-facing employee and manager roles. "While SHL had many off-the-shelf solutions, we preferred to customize the tools so that we could be certain [they] were measuring the key attributes for success in the role," she said. "This involved partnering with SHL to complete in-depth job analysis reviews that often included focus groups and surveys of incumbents and/or managers of incumbents in the role. Once the analysis was complete, SHL recommended the key solution components to build our custom [tools]."

Nguyen also said his company customizes its assessments. Feedback gathered from relevant parties -- both top-level executives and hourly workers -- helps build the unique candidate requirements for a particular position. After the customized assessment is complete, Nguyen said, high performers take the test to generate a benchmark result for a particular job role.

Weigh test results along with other hiring processes

"Tests don't occur in a vacuum," Handler said. "It's critical to understand that assessment is one piece of a process, and if you ignore the rest … you start to get out of whack."

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This observation has bearing on the effective use of pre-employment assessments. Just as it's not ideal to rely solely on gut feeling in hiring, it's also not good to depend exclusively on pre-employment assessments or devote a disproportionate amount of resources to them. Both Nguyen and Cosentino said assessments are only one piece of the larger hiring process, and low scores in certain areas don't necessarily toss a candidate out of consideration.

"We utilize the assessment results during our application process to filter candidates that are clearly not recommended for the role. The results are also [used] during the interview process to ask questions about competencies that the candidate did not score well on in the assessment," Cosentino said. "In the end, when making our decision we consider prior experience, how the candidate performed in the interviews and the assessment results."

Similarly, Nguyen said assessments are just one of six processes involved in hiring at Houlihan's.

Don't forget to assess the assessments

Handler said companies often forget to follow up to measure the effectiveness of assessments, which is an important element in the business case.

"You can't really prove any value of assessment tools without including that step," Handler said. "It becomes difficult for companies to justify [the] investment if they can't justify existence of these tools.

"It's probably the most common mistake I see," he added.

Besides measuring the larger impact of the assessment, Cosentino said Avis regularly revisits the tests to ensure they are still meeting the company's needs.

"As the business evolves, so do the roles we are measuring, so it is important that we know we are measuring the right dimensions for success," she said. "No assessment tool will ever or should ever remain static."

Emma Snider is the associate editor for SearchFinancialApplications. Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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