So you decide to use pre-employment assessments to help you hire the best talent. You are a big fan of people analytics—using data to inform HR decisions. But developing analytics tools requires expertise. Do you have that expertise in house? Do you have an Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychologist on staff who knows how to develop assessments? If not you have decisions to make about the best way of acquiring pre-employment assessments.
Assessments are tests that ask job applicants to answer a series of questions designed to assess their KSAOs, that is, Knowledge (local building codes), Skill (using Excel), Ability (memory), and Other characteristics (personality) relevant for job success. Each assessment contains multiple items designed to assess a specific KSAO. A great deal of effort goes into designing and developing an assessment, involving advanced statistical methods. The steps involved include the following (my I-O psychology textbook has details):
- Define the specific KSAO of interest. The more specific and concrete the definition the easier it will be to develop a useful assessment. This seems like a no brainer, but I have seen many assessments designed to measure something that is so vague, it is hard to know what the items actually assess.
- Write items that are intended to reflect the KSAO of interest. You begin with far more items than you need because some of those items are going to be eliminated later because they do a poor job.
- Administer the items to a sample of employees, 100 or more, similar to future applicants.
- Conduct statistical analysis of the responses to the items to pick out the best ones. These will become your new assessment
- Administer the new assessment to a sample of employees along with a measure of job performance. Ideally those employees do the job for which you wish to use the assessment. A test of food safety knowledge intended to be used to hire servers should be tested on a sample of servers.
- Conduct statistical analysis to show that the assessment can predict job performance.
Acquiring Pre-Employment Assessments
There are four ways of acquiring assessments, depending upon your particular situation.
- Develop Entirely In-House: If you employ an IO Psychologist or other assessment expert, you can develop your own assessments with your own people. The advantage is that the assessments can be tailored to your specific situation, but it means investing your own resources into this effort.
- Hire a Consultant. There are many individual consultants and consulting companies that you can hire to develop assessments for you. This has the same advantages as In-House development, but can be far more expensive because hourly consulting fees are far higher than the hourly costs of hiring your own expertise. For small to medium sized firms, however, it is more cost effective to hire a consultant than a full-time employee.
- Purchase Off-the-Shelf Assessments. Assessment companies sell already developed assessments that can be administered in paper form or online. You would administer them yourself, and for online administration, you need to arrange for assessment hosting. This might be on your company server or purchased from an assessment hosting company.
- Contract with an Online Assessment Company. Online assessment companies provide both the assessments and the hosting. For each position you choose the assessments you wish to use. The assessment company provides a link that your applicants can use to access the assessments. The assessment company provides a report of the applicants and their scores. This is the easiest way to acquire and administer assessments.
How to Choose Assessments
Your specific situation determines which way is best for acquiring assessments. Factors to consider.
- How many people are you going to hire per year: 5, 25, 250, or 2500? If you hire a handful, it is generally not worth the effort to develop custom assessments. The more you hire, the more developing your own is cost effective because the cost per applicant goes down.
- Do you have in-house expertise. If you do, then whether or not to ask in-house talent to spend time on any given assessment is a matter of priorities, and whether investing their time is worth it.
- Are off-the-shelf assessments available? Not everything you might want to assess has an assessment out there for sale. Sometimes you need to develop your own, for example, if you are hiring for an unusual position that has some unique KSAOs.
Assessments can be useful tools for hiring people, particularly at the early stages of the recruitment process. Online assessments allow for the testing of large numbers of applicants for relatively low cost, particularly when you own your own assessments. Once you identify the critical KSAOs necessary for success, the next step is acquiring the pre-employment assessments that will enable you to identify those individuals who have the greatest potential and are worth further consideration.
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