77. What are employers looking for in assessment tests during the recruitment process?Apr 12, 2021
Assessment test during the recruitment process is every professional's nightmare.
Chances are, if you are a corporate professional, young or old, you have done assessment tests either during a recruitment process or as part of your organizational development with an organization. Alas, you may even have done it as part of your outplacement program. There are psychometric, personality, cognitive, and many other ways to assess employers and job candidates. But sitting for an assessment is not considered a pleasant experience for most professionals. What are these tests really for? Do they have a significant impact on the recruitment and selection process? And can you prepare for them in advance?
For this episode of The Job Hunting Podcast, I interviewed James Brook, a pioneer and established global leader in strengths assessment and development. James is the CEO and founder of TalentPredix. We could not have asked for a better-qualified expert to discuss this topic!
What are assessment tests, and what are they for?
There's always a considerable risk for a company when hiring a new person. In the same way, there are risks for the candidate as well in joining a new company. Assessment tests are used to gain additional insight, information, and data about the candidate applying for a role. Decision-makers (i.e., the recruitment and selection panel, hiring managers, or recruiter) need this information to make better decisions, reducing the risks of employing someone new and unknown.
According to James, tests can provide a more objective lens: "if they are using the right metrics or psychological assessments, essentially what it's doing is helping make better decisions, reducing risks, and ultimately you know your candidates better when they join."
Are there built-in biases in assessment tests?
Although the goal is to provide a more objective lens in the recruitment and selection process, there are concerns about some of the assessments used.
"There are varying practices out there. Some companies do their due diligence on the assessment they are using. Any suitable test publisher will research and continue to research the test's validity, including checking if it has any adverse impacts. A good test publisher will publish data if there isn't any negative impact, or if there is, they will be transparent about that, "says James.
However, unfortunately, many flawed tests are used in recruitment, including tests used for the wrong purposes and tests designed with inherent biases. Furthermore, HR professionals are not doing sufficient due diligence in applying tests. For example, suppose a test has been developed in the US for the American market. In that case, it's crucial to ensure you do cross-cultural equivalence testing before using it in a different country, ensuring that it's valid within that population group. And this is often not done by the test publishers.
Can you practice for assessment tests?
"I would always advise candidates to practice ability tests," says James. "Many companies will use three ability tests: verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, and critical thinking. You can and should practice for all of those."
However, James does not encourage people to practice or try to guess how to answer personality or motivation questionnaires. "There's no point in doing that, and there's a lot more harm than good that can arise from that, so you should approach those in a very natural, authentic way."
Personality tests are trying to understand who you are at your best:
- What are your strengths?
- What are some of your improvement areas? And
- What is your personality?
For personality tests, there are no right and wrong answers. Some personality profiles have built-in faking scales; another good reason not to come across a particular way or respond as you think the employer wants you to respond. You should react as you are.
What should you do if you are not happy with the result of your test?
There are certain instances when you will take an assessment test, for example, a strengths test, and you might be surprised or unhappy with the results. Partly this is because we tend to focus on their weaknesses instead of their strengths.
James says, "if you disagree with the profile, find an opportunity to share your views about the profile and the areas of disagreement with the recruiter or the hiring manager. But at the same time, keep an open mind because the test might uncover a blind spot for you, and it might uncover something you don't know about yourself."
And here is another excellent piece of advice from James: "if you are feeling off on the day of your assessment, let the HR person know and ask for the opportunity to retake the test. Some candidates have taken the test feeling rather off, but the results are very different once they have retaken it. Ask to retake the test; don't be afraid to do that."
Get feedback about your test outcome.
"You should always ask for feedback. Persevere and be quite audacious in your approach if you're not getting feedback; everyone is owed feedback," says James. If you have invested time and effort in filling out these tests, and it's vital for your learning and understanding, ensure that you get that feedback. You can learn about your strengths, find out your improvement areas, and so on.
Why is it so important for corporate professionals to focus on strengths?
James states that the definition of strengths is the underlying qualities that energize us and enable us to do our best work. So when planning your career, it's essential to play up your strengths to enjoy what you do for a living. A career focused on your strengths is more sustainable over time and helps you get through the rough patches along the way.
For example, if you see a job with an attractive salary attached, but then you find that it doesn't play to your strengths, likely, this opportunity won't last: either you are going to be miserable, or your employer, or both! Is it worth it?
"The strengths approach helps us shift to a much more positive plane, which helps us start thinking differently about ourselves, start being more confident, think differently about opportunities in our career, and think more expansively. So it opens up opportunities for us, which is very powerful," says James.
"And the strengths approach does not mean - and I want to repeat this - does not mean that you ignore your weaknesses—quite the contrary. We also understand our biggest sources of weakness by understanding our strengths, which are overdone. Because often, what's perceived as our weakness is not a weakness. It's where we tend to overdo our strengths or misuse them in the wrong way." James explains this well in our conversation. I agree, and I can translate this very simply: "weakness is a strength misplaced!"
Translating this into a job-hunting situation
A good way of understanding how decisions are made during a recruitment process is this: the employer will have an impressive shortlist of candidates at the end of a recruitment and selection process. They have ticked all the boxes, so how do you choose? The choice may be led by the employer already in their team.
- Which one of those candidates will get along with the existing team? The company has already invested in building a particular structure with certain people. And often, as the decision-maker myself, I have chosen someone I thought would play well with the people I had already hired. And I felt terrible for the other two candidates, who were equally impressive.
- Which candidates have complementary skills to the rest of the team? I often felt more connected with a candidate I did not choose because they were much like me, but we didn't need another person like me on the team. I needed somebody with a different set of skills and strengths, and experience. Building a group that performs well internally for the organization was a matter of building it.
Job candidates need to know how decisions are made. When you're not chosen for a role after going through what can sometimes be weeks or months of the recruitment and selection process, it's essential to know that it's not about test results and likeability factors. Moving on is easier if you don't take it personally, so you can bounce back quickly and perform well again next time.
About our guest, James Brook:
James is a founder and CEO of TalentPredix™. He has over 25 years of experience working with leaders, teams, and organizations to optimize their talents, strengths, performance, and potential.
Before moving into consulting, James held corporate leadership roles in People and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Graze, LVMH, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury's, Swiss Re, Tesco, WSP, and Yahoo!
James has a Master's in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, and an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching. He is a regular writer and speaker on talent assessment and development, leadership, and the future of work.
Best regards, James
How to connect with James: James' LinkedIn
Podcast Episode Timestamps:
- 06:52 - James' career journey
- 10:23 - James' strengths that helped his successful career moves
- 12:07 - Job market situation in the UK
- 15:12 - Key strengths that employers will look for in candidates in years ahead
- 18:40 - Outdated job position descriptions
- 23:24 - What is the recruiter trying to know by using tests?
- 25:48 - Are there built-in biases in these assessment tests?
- 28:38 - Should you practice for assessment tests?
- 30:59 - Initial inability to accept the test results
- 34:03 - Getting feedback about your test outcome
- 37:33 - Why is it important for corporate professionals to focus on strengths?
- 48:29 - Translating this into a job-hunting situation
- 51:40 - Final advice from James
From me: Preparing for assessments and tests during recruitment can be another source of stress and anxiety. The goal is to think of it as another piece of the puzzle for the employer to get to know you, validate and reinforce the belief they have in you that you have what it takes to do the job. And if you are not a good fit for the role in question, the assessment will provide feedback and learnings you can use for your next job application and career development.
From James: "Keep the faith, recognize your value, believe in yourself. Also, persevere in smart ways, particularly using multiple channels and resources. Job hunting is hard, especially these times, and you shouldn't rely on one approach. Rely on a variety of approaches, including networking and asking for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone in this. And if you need my help, contact me, and I will help you in your career journey."
Links mentioned in this episode:
- Email to discuss private coaching
- Register your interest and learn more: Job Hunting Made Simple
- A lesson in personal agility - with New World of Work expert Marianne Roux
- How to pivot your career during a crisis: Advice from "the new world of work" expert Marianne Roux
- Click here to open the transcript of this episode on our new blog.