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Navigating the Candidate Assessment Marketplace

By July 14, 2021No Comments

Finding the RIGHT person for your business has never been more challenging.

Over-reliance on the resume as a proxy for what someone brings to the table is risky. Where someone went to school, what they chose to study, how far they got, and what jobs they have held until now tell you nothing about who they are as an individual, what they are capable of and what their true potential is, and what they will add to your team or organization.

We know from experience that when people are matched with roles on the basis of their fundamental compatibility with the essence of the job itself, magic happens. Work suddenly gets done faster, better and with less effort.

When a person ‘fits’ with their manager, the job, the people they work with, and the organization, it builds energy, trust and connection. They can relax into being themselves, not pretending to be someone else. They can invest in the relationships that lead to great work.

Understanding the marketplace

The term ‘assessments’ is used loosely today, to describe a wide array of instruments and products, that range from simple to complex:

Skills tests – designed to measure someone’s knowledge, accuracy or proficiency at a specific task. Generally speaking, these are things that can be learned… so an employer might decide they want to screen applicants for a clerical position, for their proficiency in Excel, or a programmer candidate for their coding skill, or a warehouse applicant for picking accuracy. Some employers will use these as a pass/fail; we recommend instead that if they are confident they have found a candidate who is a strong fit for the job and there’s a (manageable) gap in knowledge that could be addressed with a little training, that training is generally a really good investment.

Simulations – these are generally online tests where real-life situations and challenges are presented to candidates, as a way to see how they perform. An example would be a Customer Service candidate receiving realistic but simulated calls from customers and needing to manage the interactions to successful conclusions. As with skills tests, they may be used as pass-fail or as a training ‘gap analysis’.

Interests, values, and other questionnaires – these are designed to measure different aspects of a person’s attitudes and preferences. The data may be useful to the new manager in understanding how best to establish rapport and motivate the new employee.

Job Previews – these are often set up as ‘day in the life’ exercises where a shortlisted candidate is invited to spend a part or full day partnered with a ‘buddy’ in the role. This gives both the company and the individual a low-risk ‘test drive’ before an offer is signed.

Communication/Style preference tests – these come in many forms and many are easily recognized brands including Profiles Performance Indicator, DiSC, Myers-Briggs, True Colors, TTI, Predictive Index and others. These instruments are useful for understanding someone’s preferences – how they prefer to communicate with and interact with others. Results are often presented in a four-quadrant model and they are generally most useful to understand and improve team dynamics.  These tools are NOT designed to be predictive of occupational success and they are sometimes misused.

Cognitive tests – can be used to measure problem solving, logic, and reasoning skills, and the ability to ‘think on one’s feet’ and deal with ambiguity. These may be more relevant in relation to certain roles than others, and the results can be one reliable indication of ‘fit’.

Psychometric/behavioral assessments – are designed to measure someone’s ‘core’ behavioral traits; ‘who’ they are deep down, and how they naturally interact with the world including their standards, attitudes and behaviors that would be observable by others. These instruments are reliable predictors of job ‘fit’ and can be used very effectively in the applicant screening process.

360-degree review and other feedback instruments – are designed specifically for the purpose of collecting and presenting feedback from peers and others in a framework that deepens self-awareness and presents an opportunity for growth and leadership development.

Each is well suited to a specific application, and like any tool should only be used for the application for which it was designed. In the same way as you’d never use a hammer to turn a screw, you’d never want to use a skills test or 4-quadrant personality style questionnaire to predict someone’s likelihood of fit in a specific role – you’d be getting perfectly good information, but for an application it was never designed for, and for which it may not be valid.

Assessments in the context of the Lifecycle of an Employee

Different assessment tools help support different stages in the lifecycle of an employee from when they’ve been hired to when they retire.

The first stage is the initial assessment and selection of a potential employee – this is where behavioural assessments are used most effectively.

Behavioural assessments are also useful after an individual has been hired. Coaching reports and leadership guides help support the on boarding as well as the ongoing coaching and development.

Certain products can also be very effective when looking to do succession planning, or restructuring. You can easily ‘project’ an individual to any other position in your organization chart of jobs.

Fit Theory

Most behavioural assessments are built on the Big Five model, which is a mature model of Behavioral Psychology that has been relied upon as a predictor of occupational success.

Harvard Business Review stated the following – August 2014:

“Extensive research has been done on the ability of various hiring methods and measures to actually predict job performance. A seminal work in this area is Frank Schmidt’s meta-analysis of a century’s worth of workplace productivity data, first published in 1998 and recently updated. The table below shows the predictive validity of some commonly used selection practices, sorted from most effective to least effective, according to his latest analysis that was shared at the Personnel Testing Counsel Metropolitan Washington chapter meeting this past November”:

“So if your hiring process relies primarily on interviews, reference checks, and personality tests, you are choosing to use a process that is significantly less effective than it could be if more effective measures were incorporated.”

The importance of establishing Job Fit was once again underscored by the Harvard Business Review when they conducted a study on 360,000 individuals over a 20-year period. There were some startling discoveries that challenge the current recruitment practices of most organizations, proving that experience and educational qualifications are not statistically reliable predictors of future high performance in a role.

The Harvard Business Review went on to state:

“Experience is usually a principal criterion for making hiring decisions…… Yet we found little difference in performance between these experienced individuals and those with no experience. The person with no experience, given training and supervision, is as likely to succeed as the person with two or more years of experience.

There is an old saying that 20 years’ experience reflects one year’s bad experience repeated 20 times. Our findings confirm that this is often the case. Too many people cling tenaciously to their unsuitable jobs and do just well enough not to be fired. Thus they accumulate years of “experience”.

As a value to be cherished and encouraged in our society, education cannot be challenged. The use of formal degrees as the criterion for judging someone’s potential effectiveness in a …job, however, must be challenged….The results of our probing show that people with little education can do the job as effectively and as readily as those with college degrees.”

And continued further by stating:

“In view of these findings, an obvious question arises: If these long-used criteria are invalid, what criteria can industry use to better predict job performance? The answer is: criteria that make a better match between the person and the job.”

  • The Problem with Using Personality Tests for Hiring, Harvard Business Review, August 2014

Establishing Job Fit by identifying and quantifying the critical success attributes of a role (such as the mental demands, the environment, core behavioral traits and the occupational interests), allows organizations to increase the success rate of hiring and promoting future high performers by up to 300%.

About the Author:  This article was written by Jan G. van der Hoop, President, Fit First Technologies. Fit First uses a forward-thinking approach towards hiring and employment practices – their model is backed by decades of experience and extensive research showing that a person’s behavioral traits, attitudes and critical thinking have a much higher predictive value and correlation with on-the-job performance and success, than the contents of their resume.  Jan can be reached via e-mail at, or 905-467-6507.