Are You Making This Employee Selection Mistake?

Selection of new employees has morphed more than any other business practice over the past few decades. While many elements exist to this process, the most important shift revolves around the use of assessment (tests) to help determine the best candidate.  However, most organizations confuse the “best” with “the best fit.”

During my tenure at McDonald’s, every person of color in the corporate HR function detested the use of “tests” in the selection process due to perceived and/or real bias. This observation was prevalent in most large organizations. Today, every “assessment” company touts its validation process, not only from a candidate perspective, but also from a bias free element. Concerns with longer term HR leaders remain, while I sense a major shift toward acceptance of the company’s claims with younger HR professionals, including people of color.  So, let us take a trip down memory lane to provide some texture to this debate.

How many great external candidates are you losing from an ineffective approach to hiring?

Assessments are NOT inclusive when used for selection.

Most of us have participated in the Myers-Briggs process, probably multiple times. I have consistently been identified as an INTJ but did shift to ENTJ on one occasion. Created as a key counseling tool for couples seeking an improved relationship, the assessment made its way into corporate America with the purpose of improving team dynamics while valuing the uniqueness of each team member. From my perspective, it was an effective use of company resources and was way ahead of its time in valuing team diversity. My support of this approach was buoyed by the rigorous training needed to become a certified MB coach. The company guarded this requirement for decades, and certification was highly coveted. 

For a long time, there was resistance to using the tool in the selection process. However, under the intense scrutiny of the assessment industry as part of selection, M-B shifted its opinion and became part of the hoard following this latest leadership fad.  According to CPI which is the test’s publisher, a majority of Fortune 100 companies use the MBTI “as part” of their hiring process. “As part” is the key phrase. Myers-Briggs spawned countless other companies in this space espousing a better mouse trap. Today, most CEO’s support the injection of a “test” into the selection process due primarily to their own experience and/or an influential HR professional somewhere along their career path. These same CEO’s are often fiercely loyal to their preferred brand, despite limited exposure and/or knowledge of the process. 

So, am I an anti-assessment advocate? The answer is a bit complicated. I have participated in and administered many different assessments throughout my career. I am clearly not a fan of personality-based assessments at any level of the organization, as part of the selection process, specifically. Unfortunately, this type of “test” is by far the most prevalent approach used. By now, you may have noticed my use of assessment vs test.  When the word “test” gets used, it is a clear indicator to me that there is not an understanding of the tool and its intended use.

Why so negative? Personality based assessments are the antithesis of inclusion when used as a selection element. Corporate “cultural fit” often drives the use of personality based “tests.” As Jolene Risch, a Dallas-based owner of a successful staffing company, highlights in a recent post that companies using assessments as part of the selection protocol need to be extremely careful, as unintended consequences of bias may surface with their use.

To this point, please allow me to share some extremely concerning realities of the use of assessments, especially personality-based ones. Any assessment company worth their salt has some level of certification before allowing implementation of the tool. Here is the problem. Like so many Learning and Development (L & D) processes today, training has been rushed and watered down due to time and costs. If this is not bad enough, time becomes the biggest enemy of the tool. As “knowledge” gets handed down to those designated as company expert(s), effective transfer of knowledge is often compromised leading to increasing misuse of the tool.

But, here is the biggest dilemma. When “tests” are utilized as part of the selection process, the candidate’s results are compared to a “profile” for the position desired.  Seems harmless, right? To establish an effective profile, this step needs to include a team of experts to help create the profile. Once completed, the assessment should be administered to a sample group of top performers in the appropriate job function being evaluated. How often do you think this approach is used, and how frequently?

Hopefully, you are starting to understand my concerns. The answer to the question raised above is pretty obvious. Unfortunately, organizations often continue down this path with little regard to assessing the execution level of this step (and others along the way). More importantly, I almost always find that one or maybe two employees participate in establishing the profile. And, rarely is it verified against a test group of the best employees with this targeted assessment. Pretty scary by not unusual.

What about “tests” that assess technical skills? Doesn’t this step help me weed out candidates that do not meet the basic skill requirements? Again, my answer is mixed.  Clearly, there are jobs that should benefit from this type of screening. However, the “test’ is only as good as its preparation. Many external hiring resources i.e. Zip Recruiter and Indeed provide this type of service. Do the pre-screen tests truly fit your need?  Do you need to customize? Often, the answer is yes. With this point in mind, allow me to share a personal example.

From time to time I will apply for positions at my current level and beyond. Why?  I like to stay abreast of current trends and approaches utilized by major companies. Often, these concepts work their way to smaller organizations. Again, the news is not good. In one situation, I was directed to a link to take a technical “test” (yes, they used this word). The test revolved around unit profitability skills. Now, my experience and knowledge in this area are very strong. Each question used was timed and leveraged the organization’s lingo (yes, there are many variations). In this case, you needed to know their lingo to be able to quickly move through each question. It was almost impossible with most questions. How many great external candidates are they losing due to this ineffective approach?

Most interesting, this test was used for internal candidates, as well, that were asked to go online and complete the application process including the assessment. It made me wonder if they really wanted to attract external candidates. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, their own process produced unintended consequences. This company is on the Fortune 100 list with thousands of units internationally. There are numerous examples like this one that I experienced and far more that people have shared with me over the years. 

The desire to leverage technology is a noble one. ATS systems have improved immensely from the user’s point of view, but there is still no substantial evidence that better and more efficient decisions are being made. Further, companies have spent millions (billions?) of dollars on these systems, and most larger companies have significant Talent Acquisition (TA) teams employed. While CHRO’s and TA leads can produce impressive reports and statistics with a robust ATS, there is little tangible proof that the new approach, technology, and extensive dollars being spent on all of this stuff is providing a better hire while striving for improved engagement. When I add the assessment dynamic to this analysis, the ROI picture is bleak, not to mention the employer’s reputation, as a good place to work. By the way, the numerous “Best Places to Work” awards are a PR stunt with little value.

To sum up, in theory, the right assessment used properly, should be a real asset.  Unfortunately, I have little faith that his happens, short or long term. There are way too many moving parts to get it right, consistently. If, at this point I have not convinced you to avoid assessments, other than some technical ones for entry level hires, please allow me to leave you with this parting thought. Assessments are designed to be ONE of several elements of the selection process. Many companies use them as an early “Kick Out?”  Today’s use as a “kick out” is not only illegal, but it is also very questionable on the true impact on producing better hires or finding them more cost effectively. 

I encourage my CEO colleagues to take a hard look at their own companies and really dig into this topic. I am always available to help you frame the review process and questions that will get you to the truth. Wishing you great success in 2021.