Whether you refer to them as “personality tests,” “hiring assessments” or some other term, quantitative tools are an increasingly ubiquitous part of the hiring process. In theory, these tests allow an employer to evaluate how well a candidate will fit into the offered role, as well as the organization as a whole.
Indeed, The Wall Street Journal reports that eight of the 10 top American employers use such tests. Although only one of those, IBM, is a “pure” tech company, the rest—including Walmart and GE—have large IT workforces.
Hiring assessments are particularly important to non-tech businesses, suggested Frank Costanzo, senior vice president of business development and sales for Caliper, a talent management firm in Princeton, N.J.
Despite that importance, he added, employers generally won’t conduct assessments for every tech candidate who comes through their doors. Instead, they tend to utilize those tests more frequently for candidates pursuing roles such as project manager, business analyst or team manager: jobs where people are more likely to work with colleagues outside the department. Not many organizations conduct assessments for programmers or developers, in part because demand for those professionals is excruciatingly high.
Professionals in the field suggest assessments get a bad rap—or are at least misunderstood. So we asked Costanzo and Whitney Martin, measurement strategist at ProActive Consulting in Louisville, Ky., to help us tackle some of the questions and misconceptions tech pros often have about assessments.
“What’s the Point?”
“Employers of all sizes are struggling to find candidates who can be the superstar employee they need them to be,” Martin said. “They need a way to predict how the employee is going to perform and how they’ll fit into the company.”
In addition, she noted, with businesses asking more of their workers, the pain of making a bad hire is more acute. As a result, companies are “struggling to find information beyond the résumé, the interview and the like.” Assessments help them get a truer measure of what kind of employee you’ll be on the first day.
“Assessments Just Boil Everything Down to a Score”
Not really. Assessments come in several flavors. Some measure cultural fit, and others gauge emotional intelligence or integrity, reliability and values. While the results can help managers understand whether you’ll fit in with the team, they can also identify more insightful questions for your interview and evaluate which positions might be right for you down the road.
“How Can I Prepare For These Tests?”
Costanzo and Martin agree that you really can’t, and it wouldn’t make sense to, anyway. Assessments, according to Costanzo, are “meant to develop a profile that predicts behavior.” Attempting to manipulate them is like “trying to be someone you’re not.”
That can have consequences beyond the job you’re applying for. “You may limit your future opportunities because some companies use the same assessment to determine future positions,” Costanzo said.
Besides that, “you do yourself a disservice” if you try to game a test, Martin added. “If you’re trying to manipulate a cultural test, you’ll end up miserable if you get the job. You want the employer to get a true reflection of you.”
“Besides the Job, What’s In It for Me?”
In a word, self-awareness, Costanzo said. “The more you know about yourself—that self-awareness—is critical for the future… It can help you move into management, or run your own business.” He notes that more employers are sharing assessment results with new hires as part of their employee-development and career-planning efforts.
“How Much Weight Do Assessments Carry in Hiring?”
Not surprisingly, the answer depends upon the employer. While some over-emphasize results and others under-emphasize them, Martin thinks assessments should never be more than a third of the hiring equation. The U.S, Department of Labor, she pointed out, says no part of the hiring process should carry more than that much influence.
That aside, assessments are merely one piece of a puzzle that includes experience, cultural fit, skills, personality, certifications and other factors. “Employers are looking for a holistic picture,” Martin said. Assessments help provide one.
“Think of these as an opportunity to show an additional side of yourself beyond what the employer is looking for,” she advised, “or to spare yourself some misery.”