RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

Grading the Assessment

 More than ever, an efficient candidate assessment process is necessary for organizations to find their ideal candidates. Here’s how your RPO provider can help you quickly separate the wheat from the chaff.

By Steven J. Lindner, Ph.D.
Do candidate assessments matter more today than ever? Throughout our current recession, this has been one of the questions I’m most frequently asked. The fact is, candidate assessments always matter. They mattered during the technology boom of the 1990s, and they mattered through the lows and highs of our current decade’s employment rates.
It’s not shortages or abundances of labor that drive interest in assessments. It’s the desire to make correct hiring decisions. Shortages and abundances affect the level of selectivity. In professions where talent is limited, hiring managers can’t afford to be too selective. Where there is an abundance of talent, hiring managers have the luxury of being more selective. However, having more choices often makes the hiring decision more difficult. In either scenario, the risk of making a poor hiring decision is quite costly. So what are recruitment process outsourcers (RPOs) doing to help employers?
Depending on market focus, each RPO has its own degree of assessment expertise and capability. Assessment services range from basic phone screening interviews to highly customized, scientifically developed assessments.
The most basic type of assessment evaluates minimum job qualifications such as requisite education, licensing, certification, years of job experience, eligibility and availability to work, salary requirements, and clarification of the information reported on candidates’ resumes.
The most common method of assessing minimum job qualifications is a phone screen. Most RPOs offer phone-based candidate screening. Across the globe, a phone conversation between a job seeker and a recruiter is regarded as a core aspect and expected part of the hiring process.
Some providers also offer web-based questionnaires as an additional mechanism of screening out or screening in job seekers. Web-based screens are most commonly administered at the time of applying for a position. Generally, candidates’ responses to questions determine whether they will be invited to undergo a phone screen. Web-based
questionnaires are often yes-no, multiple-choice, or short-answer questions. Examples include: “Have you completed a four-year degree from an accredited college or university?” “Please select any certifications or licenses you currently hold?” “How many years of work experience do you have?” “What was your college major?”
In addition to or as an alternative to web-based screens, some RPO providers offer interactive voice response (IVR) systems. IVR screens require job seekers to respond to a series of yes-no or multiple-choice questions using their telephone. IVR systems capture candidates’ responses either by interpreting the callers’ verbal responses or from entries made using the telephone’s keypad. IVR screens usually occur after a job seeker has applied to a particular position. IVR screens can be delivered in a number of ways. IVR systems may automatically initiate calls to candidates after they have applied to a position or responded to a job advertisement. Alternatively candidates may be invited to call a dedicated number or asked to complete an IVR screen during a phone screen with a live recruiter.
Evaluating responses to phone, web, and/or IVR screens vary in scientific rigor. The least scientific is a subjective review of responses with no set decision-making policy as to who is invited to continue in the hiring process. The most standardized is computer-generated scoring using scientifically derived, validated algorithms.
Creating or selecting assessments to evaluate discrete skills, competencies, and personal qualities requires an advanced level of expertise in psychometrics. Few RPO providers have this expertise in-house or the ability to develop custom tools to assess discrete skills, competencies, and personal qualities. In many respects, RPO providers that lack psychometric expertise are better off leaving the development and validation of candidate assessment systems to others.
When working with the few who do have that capability, employers have access to fully customized assessments specific to their need and performance criteria. RPOs offering this service have in-house psychometricians or industrial/organizational psychologists to do this type of work. These providers have libraries of assessments on a variety of competencies and professions that help reduce the development time to a matter of days or weeks.
With regards to assessing discrete skills such as computer knowledge, foreign language, or accounting, a variety of off-the-shelf tests are available. These commercially available tests come in several formats; some are web-based and some require tests to be completed in a monitored situation such as a testing center. Others are paper-and-pencil based. With the exception of a few, most RPO providers do not offer assistance in helping employers choose an appropriate, legally defensible test. However, most RPOs are willing to administer or coordinate the administration of tests on your behalf. In certain cases, the RPO provider may need to be certified by the test publisher before being permitted to do so.
With regards to job-related competencies and personal qualities, the majority of RPOs assess job-related competencies by carrying out a structured interview or an online assessment. Examples of job-related competencies include concepts such as selling, customer focus, leading others, and management acumen. Examples of personal qualities include concepts such as conscientiousness, emotional control, agreeableness, and extraversion.
Assessing job-related competencies and personal qualities are steps typically taken in the hiring process that help reduce the candidate pool to a few select individuals. They are then invited for in-house interviews or advanced to the next stage in the selection process such as an assessment center evaluation.
Most of these structured interviews and on-line assessments have been designed, developed, and implemented by the employer, often with the help of appropriate third-party consultants.
Structured interviews are typically conducted as a phone interview between a live interviewer and a job candidate. These interviews consist of behavioral and/or situational questions. Ideally structured interviews have an established scoring key and require interviewers to be trained in how to deliver and score the interview.
An emerging web-based solution whose adoption rate and viability are still being evaluated allows interview questions to be pre-recorded via a web portal. Candidates then use their telephone to listen to each question and record their answer. The hiring manager or the RPO provider can then review candidates’ answers and decide whom to invite for an in-person interview and/or extend a job offer to.
The economics associated with making correct hiring decisions has led to a wide variety of tools and methods for narrowing down a candidate pool or conducting comprehensive assessments on short-listed candidates. Having a variety of tools and methods is “a double-edge sword.” Variety may be the spice of life but at the same time, it makes it harder to choose the “best” method or tool.
Steven J. Lindner, Ph.D. is CEO of The WorkPlace Group, Inc., an RPO provider. He can be reached at steven.lindner@workplacegroup.com.
Tell-Tale Signs of a Successful Screening and Assessment Process
1. Hiring managers interview no more than three candidates to select the individual who has the desired qualifications and will accept your offer of employment.
2. Hiring managers are highly satisfied with the timeliness, quality, and diversity of candidates presented.
3. The screening and assessment process recommends candidates who demonstrate job success post hire.
4. Job seekers agree that the screening and assessment process provides a reasonable and fair opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.
5. Job seekers demonstrate an appreciation of the care they received throughout the process by recommending your organization to others.
Tips for Assessment Success

  • Technology-based solutions can look sexy and appear cost-effective, but make sure the tools that are delivered by that technology are valid and legally defensible for your particular jobs. 
  • Assessments are far more than a list of questions. The way the questions are written to elicit the relevant information and having a standardized way for evaluating candidates’ responses are critical elements to identifying the most qualified or making predictions of subsequent job performance. 
  • Consistency and standardization of assessment procedures do not guarantee accurate judgments of candidates’ qualifications. Although you need consistency to have validity, you can be consistently wrong in your evaluations of candidates’ qualifications. 
  • Work closely with your RPO provider to ensure that clear, critical job-related qualifications are assessed. If your RPO provider does not have the psychometric expertise, engage a third-party consultant who does.
  • Consider using multiple assessment tools and methods to evaluate candidates. The more you can learn about a candidate’s qualifications the better enabled you are to make the best hire.
  • Use the “utility” of an assessment tool or process as your buying guide. Is the tool or process worth the cost given its degree of accuracy and legal defensibility?


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