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Job Expertise vs. Assessment Expertise

August 23, 2012

I just finished reading an article in Talent Management magazine by a friend and colleague of mine.  The article talks about some of the common mistakes that companies make in their talent assessment practice.   One point in particular stood out to me.  He recommends “not confusing job expertise with assessment expertise”.   In essence, the point is just because you know a lot about the job, i.e. you are a job content expert (JCE), doesn’t mean that you necessarily have any expertise in terms of which assessment tools are effective in hiring people into that position.  In fact, the two sets of expertise are quite separate and unique. 

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Over the years I’ve designed a lot of assessment systems for a lot of different positions.  I studied the jobs, talked with JCE’s about what differentiates between successful and unsuccessful performance, implemented tests to accurately evaluate those traits, or even created new ones if necessary, and then evaluated the effectiveness of those selection tools.   But I can tell you straight out that I was never, nor ever will be an expert in how to perform those jobs.  I didn’t need to be.  It had nothing to do with what my ultimate goal was, which was to help those organizations hire the best people possible in the most accurate, efficient and fair manner possible.  Likewise, I wouldn’t expect a plant manager to be an expert at creating effective hiring tests.  It’s not their job.  Why would anyone expect them to be good at it? 


I’ve always assumed that the person doing a job, or supervising others doing the job, knows a heck of a lot more about that job than I ever will.   Thankfully, no one has ever asked me, nor have I ever thought to offer, my tips for doing that job better.   I’ve never said, “Gee, it seems like tungsten would be the superior metal to use here.”   Likewise, I wouldn’t expect them to provide much information in terms of how best to design an assessment system for those jobs.  Yet, often, JCE’s want to have input into the assessment methodology.  When this happens, we have to step back and ask, “Is this really appropriate?  Is it the best use of their time and expertise?”  Likely, it’s not.


Predicting who will be successful in a job, whether they will stay on the job, work well with others, etc. is pretty difficult.  In fact it’s really difficult.   There’s actually a science to the whole thing and even then it takes time, effort, analysis and some tweaking to really make the assessments perform at their optimum level.   It takes two distinct skill sets and two distinct knowledge bases, one focused on job expertise and one on assessment expertise to effectively establish a good testing system.  When the two come together you usually end up with a really good solution.  

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D. was the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International, which was acquired by PSI. For more than 20 years, he was a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business best-selling book, Hiring Great People.