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4 Experts Weigh In: The Most Common Misconceptions of Employee Assessments

February 9, 2017


When implementing assessments at a new company, we often hear many expectations and assumptions about the tests. Some of these are true, but a lot are false. Making decisions about an employee assessment based on untrue assumptions can lead you to choose a tool that isn’t as robust as it should be. Sometimes the decision-makers in an organization are the ones who have these negative views which can lead to more resistance to trusting assessment results.

So, we compiled together the four misconceptions we hear most often about assessments. Here they are:

1) Applicants respond negatively to long tests

The Expert: Alissa Parr, Ph.D. – Senior Consultant

The age-long battle in HR is wanting to have an employee assessment that will measure all job-relevant competencies accurately but also wanting a short assessment. The fear by HR is that candidates will be turned off by an overly long assessment. However, there is a tradeoff. A very short assessment can only do so much – it’s limited by the number of competencies and skills that it can reliably and accurately measure. Is this debate really well-founded? Well, not really…

In a recent whitepaper, we examined applicant reactions to shorter and longer assessments across different industries (i.e., manufacturing, service/sales, professional). Overall, we found there was no decline in applicant reactions until the timing went over 100 minutes. Meaning, applicants have the same reaction to a 15-minute assessment as they do to 90-minute assessment. This may seem counterintuitive, but longer assessments provide candidates with a greater opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities, which would increase feelings of fairness.

So, next time you’re making this trade-off between time vs. accuracy, maybe accuracy should win out.

Related: Do Longer Employee Assessments Lead to Lower Candidate Engagement? [Video]


2) Assessments will solve all of our turnover problems

The Expert: Christian Spielman - Leadership Solutions Associate

Turnover is an issue that most companies experience to some degree. It’s no secret that there are hard costs associated with turnover – costs to your company can be anywhere between 1.5 to 2.5 times the individual’s salary. But, there are also other negative outcomes that impact the employees who remain with the company (e.g., poor morale, increased stress or frustration, and a potential snowball effect causing even more turnover).

employee-turnover.jpgWe often hear clients say that they need a pre-employment assessment to fix a turnover problem, but turnover is an immensely complex problem and there is no “magic bullet” that can entirely eradicate it. Assessments can certainly play a part. Turnover is more likely to occur if you hire employees who are impulsive, who lack integrity or self-esteem, who can’t adapt to change, or who have an external locus of control. When these types of personality traits are the driving force behind turnover, an assessment can be extremely impactful. We’ve conducted numerous studies and have seen turnover reduce significantly when a screening tool was introduced to identify and eliminate those types of high-risk candidates from the hiring pool.

Unfortunately, individual personality traits tend to have only a small impact on a company’s overall turnover. Often times, turnover is a result of characteristics of the company itself. For example, it will be hard to retain good employees if the pay isn’t competitive, the workload is extremely demanding, the culture is negative, and the leadership team thinks more about the bottom line than the welfare of employees. Furthermore, the labor market in general is going to impact turnover at a particular company. If an employee can get a comparable job with a competitor and make a lot more money, it’s going to be difficult to incentivize that employee to stay.

Turnover is a tough nut to crack. Hiring the right type of employees will certainly make it easier to retain them, but the best approach to reducing turnover is to be sure you truly understand what’s causing it and then take the appropriate steps to reduce the impact of those factors.

Related: Turnover Reduction: A Complex (But Achievable) Goal [WEBINAR]


3) Applicants fake their responses on assessments and therefore we can’t trust their results 

The Expert: Lindsey Burke – Consultant

One of the most common questions we receive is whether or not we can detect if someone is faking their responses during an assessment. As you can imagine, most candidates want to put their best foot forward when applying for a job. This typically involves some sort of inflation in a candidate’s responses.

For example, you may identify that you “Strongly Agree” with the following personal beliefs statement: “I am never frustrated with my coworkers.” However, there are likely at least a few times in which you’ve been frustrated by a coworker. Since we see this kind of inflation from the majority of candidates, and not in just a small subset of candidates, the validity of our assessments is not compromised. In essence, our assessments continue to differentiate those who are top performers from those who are poor performers accurately and consistently.

Select International does mitigate the effects of candidate faking during an employee assessment. One strategy to combat faking is using alternative forms of our personality scales. When using alternative forms, it’s harder for a candidate to maintain a response strategy and stay consistent since the items measuring a particular competency are mixed up among different items, randomized and then split up.

Another strategy we use is ideal point scoring. With ideal point scoring, candidates are forced to answer on one side of the scale (i.e., agree or disagree), and the correct answer may not be an extreme score (e.g., choosing “1” or a “6” on a 1 – 6 scale). Select’s research and development team has and continues to make faking research a priority.

Related: Detecting Fakers in Your Assessment Process


4) Candidates will be much happier and have a better testing experience if they can take an assessment on a mobile device.

The Expert: Megan Why – Consulting Associate

mobile-assessment.jpgThere’s no denying that mobile devices are everywhere and have become an essential part of our day to day lives. Most people own at least one smartphone or tablet and use it on a regular basis, even for job and employment activities. With the growing use of mobile devices, Select International has been tracking mobile device usage of our assessments and screening tools since 2012. Since then, we’ve found that mobile device usage has tripled in that time. As a result, we make it a point to plan for mobile device usage when implementing and developing new tools.

In our assessments, we ask candidates to respond to questions about their assessment experience and combine this with other research. While candidates may use a mobile device, they still overwhelmingly prefer a desktop or laptop computer for completing assessments. Assessments that were designed for mobile usage will likely be easier to complete on a mobile device and those that were not optimized for mobile usage will likely be more difficult and take longer to complete. Interactive questions where processing speed is being measured and game-like simulations are presented may be quite difficult to complete on a mobile device or we are likely to see lower scores from those types of assessments. Candidates are likely to face more distractions and be interrupted more on mobile devices than when sitting at a computer.

While it is important for organizations to take mobile device usage into consideration and plan for it when looking to the future of assessment usage, they need to consider the candidate experience and the assessment measurement equivalence across devices. Select International will continue to keep this at a forefront of our research to make sure candidates have the mobile access to complete assessments balanced with accurate and reliable measurement.

Related: Mobile Assessments: What We Know and Where We’re Going

As you can see, it’s always important to challenge common assumptions. You never know, they may just turn out to be the exact opposite of what you thought.

assessment scores

Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.