Despite all the talk of automation and robotics, no one knows exactly what the future’s workforce will look like. What people can say, however (indeed, what many say is common knowledge) is that the business world is changing dramatically: companies are leveraging more technology, relying more on independent contractors, and racing to keep up with customer demands that change as quickly as the trends on Twitter.
All this makes recruiting tech talent even more difficult than it was already. Not only are employers struggling to identify and recruit the best candidates, they’re focused on candidates who can start performing as soon as they begin a new role, who will fit with team and company culture, and will understand how to communicate appropriately with both customers and colleagues.
To better their chances of making correct hires the first time, more companies are turning to talent assessment tools. Assessments, said Will Kelly, a veteran tech recruiter who’s now national delivery director for the IT staffing firm Diversant, “can draw out those traits that not everyone with 4.0 average and a computer science background is going to have, and that certainly aren’t going to be readily identifiable in a phone screen or a face-to-face interview.”
Besides making life easier for recruiters and hiring managers, assessments have tangible benefits, Kelly noted: By improving candidate selection, they help employers save recruiting dollars, increase retention, and build up company performance.
What’s Being Assessed?
When it comes to hiring, employers typically rely on two types of assessment, said Tiffany Shortridge, North American Talent Assessment Leader for Saville Assessment, a unit of Willis Towers Watson.
The first type, behavioral-based assessments, measure components of an individual’s personality, such as their potential talents and motivation. These are, Shortridge said, “behavioral components that an individual carries with them.”
The other type, aptitude assessments, examines different areas of an individual’s cognitive ability, such as their verbal talents or knack for solving problems. The idea is to give the recruiters and hiring managers an indication of whether a candidate will perform well in a given role.
But don’t confuse these assessments with skills tests. For one thing, skills tests are more granular. They measure subjects that people can learn, such as knowledge of C++. “Skills are something that you learn, and/or something you can be trained on, on the job,” Shortridge said.
The Assessments’ Role in Hiring
In a nutshell, assessments help employers better match individual candidates to individual roles. For example, Kelly said, a consulting company may need sales engineers whose skills go beyond technology: “Someone who can speak like a salesperson and handle situations in a salesperson’s way, while still being technical and having that engineer job title.” Assessing pertinent traits before putting candidates in a role increases the odds they’ll succeed, he added.
“If I’m a consultant and I’ve got a C-level client who says, ‘I want this done,’ the engineer may say, ‘Well, you know what, you can’t do it that way,’” Kelly said. “But the sales engineer is going to say, ‘Hey, I totally get your objective here but what you’re asking for might not accomplish your goal. But if we do this, this and this, you’re going to get even more than what you wanted in the first place, and we can make that happen.”
To get that kind of value from assessments, it’s important to only assess the traits needed for success in a particular job, Shortridge said. “If it’s not needed for the job, then we shouldn’t be measuring it in the assessment process, no matter whether it’s a skills test, a behavioral test or an aptitude test.”
“It’s so critical to make sure that… the assessment we’re putting in place is predictive of performance for that particular role,” Shortridge said. “If you’re utilizing an assessment and Candidate A is in the assessment’s 80th percentile and Candidate B is in the 30th percentile, that tells me I need to interview Candidate A in the next stage in the selection process, because that candidate is likely to be a better performer on the job.”
A number of technology organizations use assessments to evaluate general areas of a candidate’s aptitudes and behaviors. For example, coders—who may be more introverted than other professionals—might be assessed for their ability to work on a team or on projects that cross organizational lines.
In particular, Shortridge is seeing more interest in assessing candidates for data privacy and data security roles. For those jobs, employers are more interested in a person’s behavioral traits, not just their technical proficiency. Often these organizations are looking at leadership potential, since the need for data-privacy and data-security talent is growing rapidly. Tech pros in these positions often have to work with a number of other areas within their organization, so leadership skills, team orientation and a high level of conscientiousness are necessary to succeed.