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Ask the Expert: Where Should You Start When Looking for a Sales Assessment?

December 1, 2016


I’m having a difficult time finding good salespeople who meet their goals. I want to use an employee assessment but I don’t know where to start. Can you give some advice?


Great question! First, let me commend you on being open to using assessments to help you with your problem. I think you’re on the right track. Good assessments have been proven to be much more accurate than human judgment in identifying the best hires. It can be a daunting task to learn about assessments. So, let’s start by talking about how to evaluate assessments and what makes a good assessment.

What makes a good assessment?

Related: 5 Competencies to Focus on When Hiring Salespeople

1) Assessments should be reliable.

This means that an assessment should consistently measure the thing(s) it says its measuring. In theory, with a perfectly reliable assessment, if someone took the assessment twice s/he would receive the same score both times. No assessment is perfectly reliable but there are statistical ways of expressing reliability.

Ask to see this information in a technical manual. In general, a longer assessment is likely to be more reliable than a shorter assessment. Very short assessments (5 minutes or less) that claim to measure a bunch of competencies are not likely to be very reliable.

2) Assessments should be related to important business outcomes (validity).

Good pre-employment assessments are designed to measure important individual differences that can lead to positive organizational behavior (e.g., job performance, reduced accidents, and turnover). Think about what you are looking to achieve and make sure that the assessment you are considering has shown to predict those things.

In your case, look for an assessment that can accurately predict sales performance. The accuracy of an assessment is referred to as its validity. Assessments are not equally valid for every position and assessments should only be used for a position if they measure things relevant to that job.

3) Look for multiple measurement methods.

There are many different ways of asking questions and measuring underlying traits or competencies. Some methods are faster and easier than others, but relying solely on those item types can limit the value of the assessment.

Assessments that use multiple measurement methods (e.g., personality, situational judgment, problem-solving, simulations) are likely to have better reliability (#1) and have a greater chance of increasing validity (#2).

4) Assessments should measure what you need.

Not all assessments are the same. No one assessment can do everything. Be wary of an assessment that has one set of content and claims to be able to predict performance across a bunch of different positions.

Do a job analysis (or find an assessment company that will do one for you) and find out what you need to measure to predict performance in your sales job. Then, make sure the assessment you choose measures those things. There is no one size fits all assessment solution.

5) Length shouldn’t be a single deciding factor.

We continually run into companies who want a short and sweet assessment that measures everything that they need. As mentioned earlier, to have a reliable and valid assessment, having more assessment items is usually better. However, companies are concerned that candidates won’t complete long assessments and they will drop out of the process.

Our experience and data actually do not support this. We see strong completion rates across all of our assessments. We also track applicant reactions and they are strong and steady across most assessments. (link to business outcomes?) That said, pick an assessment that gives you the information that you need to make an informed decision regardless of length.

My advice – find a reputable assessment company that specializes in building reliable and valid assessments. Ask for technical manuals and past validation evidence for predicting sales. Make sure you know your sales job well and pick an assessment that measures the things you need to make an informed decision for your role. Good luck with your search!

5 Steps to Getting Started with Manufacturing Employee Assessment

Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. Amie Lawrence, Ph.D. is the Director of Global Innovation at PSI and an expert in the design, development, and validation of psychological assessment tools. She runs an innovation lab that is responsible for establishing PSI’s assessment technology roadmap and strategy. An integral member of PSI since 2000, Amie has led the development of numerous global assessments, including personality, situational judgment, cognitive, and interactive work simulations.