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How to Use Skill Assessments in Your Recruiting Process - HRDQ

How to Use Skill Assessments in Your Recruiting Process

Many companies use skill assessments as part of their ongoing employee growth plans. By assessing the skills of your employees, you can identify weaknesses and growth opportunities, which you can then leverage into training and further education. In this way, you can continually increase the value your employees bring to the table, foster added loyalty within your workforce, and encourage advancement within your organization.

That said, skill assessments don't need to be limited to your existing employees. Another way to use such tests is as part of the recruiting process.

There are many kinds of assessments you can use, including:

  • Assessing supervisory, leadership, and communication skills.
  • Determining team effectiveness and teamwork potential.
  • Identifying personality style.
  • Analyzing conflict resolution strategies.
  • Discovering emotional intelligence types.
  • Many more.

Picking some of these assessments to use as part of your recruiting process can be a great choice. It can help you filter your candidates and find the top talent that will mesh with your existing team and bring new skills to the table. The only question is, how can you implement these recruiting strategies effectively?

What Are the Benefits of Using Skill Assessments in Recruiting?

First, let's talk about some of the benefits of skill assessments in the abstract.

First of all, taking advantage of skill assessments gives you the chance to filter your talent pool without having to read resumes, rely on automated and keyword-based filtering from an ATS, or analyze cover letters. Potential applicants can take the assessment and (based on their grade) know whether they might be a good fit for the role.

This filtering allows you to save time and money by only interviewing the candidates with the greatest likelihood of succeeding in the role and thus the best chance of passing the interview process. 

Benefits of Skill Assessments for Recruiting

A skill assessment is just one part of an overall recruiting approach. One assessment will not pick the perfect candidate; they mainly help you more efficiently filter out the least viable candidates:

  • A benefit of skill assessments is that they can replace other less effective methods of filtering candidates. Personality tests, resume reviews, and reference checks can all potentially be minimized or skipped in favor of tangible, relevant assessments.
  • Skill assessments can also provide categorization. Some can be a pass or a fail, but many create several tiers of performance, where only one or two are fails and several passes. A candidate might pass but still be passed over for a role because other candidates performed even better.
  • Assessments are also impartial. An individual's charisma and extroversion might win over an interviewer but cannot trick an assessment. All candidates are judged equally with a fair, identical test, so the playing field is as level as possible.
  • Another excellent benefit of a skill assessment is benchmarking your employees and determining where to spend your budget on training. You can identify skill gaps and opportunities to increase employee value through regular assessments.
  • Finally, you can use skill assessments for team building. If you're hiring multiple candidates, ensuring that their personalities mesh so they can work together on the same team can be a great idea. However, it's not always possible or easy to judge, and it's one of the riskiest ways to use an assessment when it comes to bias. However, they can be an excellent resource for your business when used carefully.

Now that we understand some of the benefits of skill assessments, how can you use them when evaluating a candidate pool?

How Do Skill Assessments Work?

Skill assessments can operate on three primary levels.

1. The first level is technical skills, otherwise known as "hard" skills. These are tangible, trainable skills that are required to do the job. For example, if you're hiring a developer who needs to know Ruby, a skill assessment might offer a variety of Ruby-focused questions. If a potential hire can't pass the test, they don't have the necessary skills to perform the job and should not be hired.

These kinds of skills are essential to assess, but you also need to make sure that they're necessary. If, for example, your developer doesn't need to know Ruby, testing for Ruby will filter out otherwise good candidates. Additionally, you can train hard skills, so if you have the option of preparing a candidate, testing for more applicable skills or skills that you can't teach might be better.

Skill Assessment Categories

2. The second level is soft skills. These skills can range from team collaboration to sales to communication capacity. Soft skills can sometimes be trained or influenced through mindfulness but aren't always easily trained or adjusted. 

Testing for soft skills is often best done at the later stages of the recruitment process when you're more confident that the candidate is a good fit for your team. You use these assessments to test if the candidate can work with your team, guide a team, fulfill a leadership role, or take a front-line position without friction.

3. The third level is cognitive skills. These assessments look into leadership style, personality traits, emotional intelligence, and empathy. These skills cannot be trained, analyzed, and potentially influenced through awareness. Often, assessing these can be very important for leaders and collaborative team members. That said, these assessments usually work best for established hires and leaders, not candidates.

Within these three levels are different kinds of assessments. These can include role-specific assessments, skill-specific assessments, individual or team assessments, culture fit assessments, and even risk assessments. 

Are There Drawbacks to Skill Assessments for Recruiting?

Skill assessments are not perfect tools, and a handful of pitfalls need to be avoided to use them properly.

Drawbacks to Assessments

First of all, assessments need to be relevant to be effective. 

  • If an assessment tests a personality trait that isn't important to the role, it's not helpful.
  • If an assessment checks for skills that aren't used in day-to-day work, it's not worthwhile.
  • If an assessment tests leadership skills, the role isn't in management.

Relevance in assessments is paramount.

Another potential flaw with skill assessments, when used in the recruiting and hiring process, is the risk of bias. In particular, specific questions and cognitive assessments can have an inherent bias. Your assessments must be assessed for racial and ethnic prejudices and any potential violations of hiring regulations like equal employment opportunity. A core purpose of assessments is that everyone gets a fair and equal chance to complete them.

Assessments also have the drawback of suppressing some otherwise good candidates. Particularly in middle and upper-level roles, experienced candidates likely want to rely on their experience and reputation. When they've worked a relevant job for years, being asked to take an assessment and prove themselves may feel like an insult. Many excellent candidates may pass over the job because of the assessment requirement.

How Best to Use Skill Assessments in Recruiting

When recruiting for an open role, you may want to use skill assessments to reap the benefits we've listed above.

How to Best Use Skill Assessments

How can you go about it?

Step 1: Analyze the role and determine what assessments are most relevant.

Because assessments can suppress candidates, you want to minimize the number of assessments you ask each candidate to take. Generally, only one to three assessments will work, depending on what kind of assessment and how long it takes to complete. The more extended, challenging, or more intensive the assessments, the less you can have as part of your hiring process in addition to the test.

Analyze the Role

Typically, you will want to cover each of the three levels above. Pick a skills assessment that suits the role on the technical level, such as the programming language example. On the cognitive level, an emotional intelligence assessment is often the most useful if it's well-formed and interpreted. The third potential assessment is a flex slot, depending on the role.

Step 2: Decide on how to deliver the assessment.

There are many different ways to handle assessments. You can have them proctored, with appointments online or in person. You can give them yourself using one of our packages. You can use a platform for self-assessment with a deadline and little else. It all depends on your workflow and your budget.

Deliver The Assessment

Typically, automated assessments with a time limit or a deadline are used as part of the initial application process and are either general personality assessments or hard skill tests. Personality assessments tend to be used for entry-level positions, while hard skill assessments are used for more specialized roles.

Meanwhile, proctored or in-person assessments are most often used as part of the interview process. Once a candidate has proven that they can make it past the initial filters, you can use more robust and nuanced assessments to picture the candidate better.

Step 3: Determine when to ask for the assessment during the hiring process.

There are generally three different opportunities during the hiring process in which you can ask for the completion of a skill assessment.

Timing for Skill Assessments

Other assessments work best at various points during the process.

  • Immediately, as part of the application process. This stage is best for broad filtering assessments like skill tests that check for the bare minimum hard skills necessary for the role.
  • After passing the first rounds and as part of the interviews, send a skill assessment. This method is generally favored for more detailed or proctored assessments that check for how a candidate might fit in the company culture and is more often used for higher-level employees than entry-level hires.
  • Send the assessment after hiring as a contingency and general profile. Once you've decided to hire a given candidate, you can give them more detailed assessments as part of the orientation process. This method allows you to assess everything from their skill level (and thus required training) to their emotional intelligence, cognitive ability, and communication/leadership styles. All of this can be useful for placement and guidance.

Depending on the assessments you choose to use, you may be able to leverage all three stages, though the first two tend to be one or the other for many roles.

Step 4: Monitor and analyze the results of your assessments.

One of the keys to successfully using skill assessments, whether for hiring or for existing employees, is verification of the results. It's not uncommon to find faulty assessments or tests in some way, either in their design, grading, or formulation.

Monitor and Analyze Results

Thus, it's essential to review your assessments using analytics and accurate data to ensure they're functioning as expected and desired. After all, if an assessment is poorly calibrated or mistimed, it can be more detrimental than helpful.

It's also imperative to track your employees' long-term success or failure, correlated with the assessments used to hire them. If an assessment checks for their fit with company culture or their emotional intelligence, you decide based on the results, and they end up failing in their role, which means there may be a flaw in the assessment. Without tracking this data long-term, you have no way to know.

Are Skill Assessments Right for Your Company?

Virtually every company, large or small, can benefit from some skill assessment. Hard skill tests are among the most common, followed by personality assessments. We've found that communication and leadership assessments are also instrumental. Again, it depends on your goals, role level, and recruiting process.

Are Skill Assessments Right For Your Company

Generally, though, it's usually a good idea to implement at least one skill assessment into your recruiting process. We, of course, recommend any of the assessments we provide for a wide variety of possible tests for everything from emotional intelligence to communication to problem-solving.

Remember the two keys to successful assessments: relevance and verification. Assessments must be relevant to the role, level, and position to be valid. You also need to verify the validity with data tracking during and after hiring, including the long-term employee performance. Only then can you determine if the assessment is valuable to your company or if you must make adjustments.

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.