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Ask the Expert: What Kind of Assessment Is Best for My Company?

December 15, 2016


I want to use assessments to help with our hiring process, but there are so many different kinds to choose from. What kind of assessment should I use? Why and When?


Thank you for your question. I’m sure you aren’t the only one struggling with this problem. It can be very confusing deciding how and when to use assessments in your hiring process. To begin, assessments include any tool in a hiring process where questions are asked and decisions are made about a candidate based on that information.

That means applications and interviews are actually assessments! Let’s review some different types of assessments and talk about when they would be helpful:

1) Automated application

An automated application gathers traditional application information and then automatically makes decisions about candidates based on their answers. For example, if the position requires that someone possess a particular certification, the application can have a question about that certification and pass those who have it and fail those who don’t. Individuals who don’t have the certification do not go to the next stage of the hiring process.

Automated applications are often the first step of a hiring process and are particularly helpful for organizations that have large numbers of applicants for a particular position. The main purpose of an automatic application is to screen for specific job requirements (e.g., legal right to work in the US, age, and certifications) and screen out candidates who don’t meet the minimum requirements for the job.

2) Short screening assessments

For organizations with high volume, they might also consider a short screening assessment immediately following the application. These assessments are typically 15 minutes or shorter, and usually ask about candidates’ experiences as well as their attitudes and beliefs. This information is used to evaluate a few underlying traits or competencies related to the target position and the lowest scoring candidates are screened out.

A large majority of candidates pass this assessment screen (usually 80-90%). For organizations with many candidates to process, these types of assessments can be very helpful in identifying candidates who don’t possess the characteristics needed for success in the target position.

3) In-depth competency-based assessments

After candidates have been screened for minimum requirements, oftentimes organizations have a difficult time identifying who to interview. Interviews are time-consuming and when candidates are a poor fit, it can feel like a large waste of time! At this stage, an in-depth assessment can be helpful.

In-depth assessments are often longer assessments (30 minutes or longer) that delve into the underlying success competencies in greater detail and provide organizations with a better idea of how well the candidates fit the success profile for a target position. These assessments usually contain assessment methodologies that measure personality characteristics as well as problem-solving skills and/or a candidate’s ability to handle real work-related situations.

These assessments are often the most predictive tools available to organizations and can provide great information when comparing/contrasting candidates. These tools can be more expensive than other assessment solutions and therefore, they are often used farther down in the hiring process with fewer candidates.

4) Technical Tests

Some positions require technical knowledge that needs to be acquired prior to employment. For those positions, using a technical test to ensure that the individual possesses adequate knowledge can be very helpful. These tests are typically knowledge-based and test one’s expertise in a particular technical area (e.g., mechanical or electrical skills). It’s important to make sure that you are not testing for knowledge that is not needed for the target position.

Additionally, if there is knowledge acquired on the job, make sure you aren’t testing for that knowledge in advance. Like in-depth assessments, these tools are often used after several other screening steps because technical tests can be longer than other assessments. We would recommend that technical tests be used in conjunction with competency-based assessments because strong technical knowledge is one piece of the puzzle, but not all of it.

5) Simulations

Simulations are assessment tools that put candidates into a relevant work situation and evaluate their performance. Well-designed simulations are highly predictive of future success but they can be expensive and time-consuming. As such, organizations that invest in simulations often do so when they cannot measure success factors adequately another way.

For example, many car assembly plants use simulations to hire their production workers. This is because the job has a large physical component that requires workers to bend and stoop and use tools. A lot of turnover in these jobs is related to the physical requirements as well as the monotonous nature of the jobs.

A production simulation can evaluate candidates’ physical abilities and give them a taste of the job duties to see if they like it. If a hiring process includes a simulation, it is likely near the end of the hiring process with the fewest number of candidates because more resources are often needed to administer this stage of the process.

6) Interviews

One of the most common assessment tools used by organizations is the interview. Most hiring processes end with an interview but oftentimes there is more than one interview in the hiring process. To maximize the value of an interview, they should be structured and all candidates should be asked the same questions.

Because interviews take time and resources, it’s best to put them in the hiring process after some screening stages to make sure that your interviewers are spending their time on the best candidates. Bad interviews make good stories but are also poor time spent!

With all this said, take a look at your target position, candidate volume, resources, and budget. It might also help to identify the type of “pain” your organization is feeling. Are your issues related to turnover? Performance? Certain assessments will address some problems better than others. I wish you luck as you design the best process for your target position!

5 Steps to Getting Started with Manufacturing Employee Assessment

Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Manager of Product Development at PSI. She is an expert in the design, development and validation of psychological assessment tools. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous competency-based assessments, including online in-baskets, job simulations and motivational fit instruments.