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Putting tests to the test – separating assessment myths from reality

Misconceptions about the value of talent assessments in talent management programmes could be sabotaging their effectiveness. CEB’s talent expert, Nick Shaw explores some of these common myths.

Assessments have been used for decades to help firms identify the right people to hire. After all, without the right people in place, an organisation cannot deliver its strategy. However, unique business objectives require a differentiated workforce; an employee who is passionate about service excellence 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 behavioural 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.

CEB research shows that 3.1 million talent assessment decisions are made every day in the UK in order to determine an individuals’ suitability for a role, promotion or development. And yet less than 20 per cent of people decisions are informed by objective data. We’ve been studying assessments and best practices for over 30 years, and have seen and heard a lot of conflicting information about the value of assessments. Like most myths, these stem from practitioners either deploying the wrong assessment tools, using them incorrectly, or misinterpreting the results. So we have explored some of these oft-heard statements, challenge how they hold up against the research, and offer practical advice for countering the untruths.

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 organisation’s unique role requirements.

Assessing candidates’ knowledge and skills is just one part of the talent picture. Increasingly organisations are using 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 organisational 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 – that’s new hires and internal transitions – are considered a poor or are regretted choices.  Using assessments helps minimise the risks of making the wrong people decisions – whether it’s hiring, promoting, developing or reshaping teams. 

The real value is derived from using meaningful insights derived from assessment to understand the capabilities of teams, or populations of people. 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, most people have a negative recruitment experience because 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 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. From 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: ROI on assessments can’t be measured.

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

HR need 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 assessment by connecting assessment data to data captured from other talent programmes, for example showing the links between positive assessment results 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 organisations’ assessment and selection capabilities in the near future. 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 organisations that do deploy assessments to use the outputs to boost workforce performance and maximise employees’ potential in order to realise competitive advantage and ultimately drive growth.