New developments in assessments
Get insight into the way assessments are being conducted now. By Ken Lahti
Assessment of talent has moved almost entirely to the Internet. There is some assessment that happens offline, but it is typically assessment centres and face-to-face assessments for more senior leaders where that persists. In countries such as the US and the UK and other markets where the Internet is readily available, such as Australia and New Zealand, paper and pencil forms of standardised tests are simply not used anymore – and for good reasons. Now, assessments are being moved to earlier in the recruiting process to take advantage of the efficiencies and automated predictive tools before companies look at CVs or resumés and before interviewing candidates.
One of the key benefits of online testing is that it moves away from the “test publisher” model of static, inflexible, and infrequently changing tests that were updated maybe once or twice per decade. In the online testing world, organisations buy tests from a “solution provider.” Building solutions instead of publishing tests means putting together the best content to solve a particular business’s needs, rather than simply administering a generic test. This approach allows assessment firms and consultants to be more business-focused.
The engagement starts, rightfully, with the end in mind – with a clear view of what the client/employer is trying to achieve, the specific job they are hiring into, the specific operational metrics that they hope to impact by improving their quality of hire. Whether it’s hiring frontline leaders for a production process, where quality and productivity metrics are likely paramount, or hiring bank tellers or call centre representatives, where customer satisfaction or sales metrics might matter, the key is to work backwards from the business objectives and the business metrics into the job behaviours and then finally get to the assessment content based on these defined needs.
With this solution model, it is now possible to target assessments at increasingly specific elements of jobs that can truly differentiate successful performers. There are individualised tests as specific as software package simulations (such as Microsoft Word 2010), helping with recruitment for nearly every role from entry-level through senior management. So the move to online and the transformation from a test publisher model to a solution model is the big wave, and within that, there is a lot of other cool innovation happening.
Remote testing is a big one. The idea that you can test people earlier in the process and move that process off the employer’s sites – and not deal with the logistics, the real estate, and the technology hassles of managing onsite processes, forcing applicants to converge on you, and instead push this function out into homes and libraries – has been huge. The numbers of employers adopting this approach are steadily rising over the years, with the latest global survey showing nearly 2/3 of employers use remote testing. And there is now science to support that these assessments seem to work about as well as within traditional proctored administration.
When adopting this approach, there are additional safeguards employers (and solution providers) should put in place. Ideally, candidates should be retested later in the process on same or similar job-related competencies, skills or abilities that were previously assessed. However, so far the research shows that cheating does not seem to be pervasive, and if/where it is happening it is not completely killing the validity of these assessment programmes. Many employers are moving their assessments entirely to remote administration and only do onsite interviews and job previews.
Online simulations are also becoming more common. Broadly, there are two types of simulations: one is media enriched assessments involving videos, images and audio related to the context of the assessments; the other is more interactive simulations that involve test-takers actually performing tasks just as they would on the job. In the case of a call centre simulation, candidates are put in the seat of a call centre. They hear audio coming in as if from a real call from a customer with a complaint or a problem that they have. The candidates have to work with a basic CRM system to find the information, and they need to type in information about the customer and their account status. All along they are being measured on all the things they do: typing speed and accuracy, multitasking, ability to navigate multiple screens and find relevant information, and customer service and how well you are helping solve the callers’ problems. And this is all done on an automated basis, with no need for an administrator, and with real-time instantaneous scoring upon completion.
A highly interactive simulation can be done for Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Rather than just asking someone what the correct key for cutting and pasting is, they actually perform that task on the screen. These simulations all run in the web browser, which replicates the look and feel of Microsoft Word down to all the menu options, identical to what version of Microsoft it is (2003, 2007 or 2010). Candidates are given specific tasks, such as to copy and paste a line of text or change the font size or save a document, and they actually do it on screen. They can use any of the ways to do it – right-click, shortcuts, or choosing menu items. These interactive simulations allow employers to see candidates demonstrate their skills as opposed to testing their knowledge by asking them multiple-choice questions.
Media-enriched or multimedia assessments can be as simple as adding in imagery for the candidate. If you’re a retailer of cell phones, the assessment can show some of the cell phone products. The basic addition of media into the assessment helps to keep people engaged, and it’s actually more consistent with what people expect from their online experience. Why should the internet look and behave differently because someone is going through a recruitment process?
There’s also a lot being done with video. Both live-action video as well as 3D-animation are being used to present realistic job situations that people can react to. Often, these situations form situational judgment tests (SJTs), where candidates are asked what they would do in that situation. SJTs are highly predictive and have been shown to be very engaging. But sometimes multimedia is used simply to provide a realistic preview of a job, prior to application. Did the candidate know that managers spend a lot of time in meetings? Did they know that call centre employees sit in cubes with headsets on and have scheduled comfort breaks? These realistic previews can help candidates self-select out if they realise that the job is not really for them. They might think, “Maybe I should get out now while I still can”, and in doing so, hopefully save employers time and money recruiting, hiring and training somebody that ultimately will not stay long.
Dr Ken Lahti is the Vice President, Product Development and Innovation at SHL in the UK, www.shl.com.