Measure Twice, Cut Once – Thoughts on Candidate Assessment

We have just posted a chapter from Steve Hunt’s book, Hiring Success, in the tools section of this site.   The book is a great read for any manager interested in improving his/her skills in selecting candidates who can do the job at hand.  Candidate assessment – and specifically the use of science based tools to help with assessment – remains somewhat controversial.  One of the key questions facing recruiters and hiring managers is ” what is the right blend of art and science in candidate assessment?” 

The proliferation of internet enabled hiring technologies – from job boards to applicant tracking systems to science based predictive tools – provides organizations with a growing arsenal of tools they can use to attract, screen and hire employees.  While many of these tools have massively increased hiring efficiency, we still need to ensure that the hiring process will be effective in delivering candidates who can fit the position at hand.  My experience with a large array of buyers of these technologies suggests that companies that balance a sound recruiting process with an appropriate level of hiring manager flexibility will always trump those who expect that technology alone will provide them with an edge.    

I’m not talking about anything too fancy.  Start with the basics.  When a hiring manager invests time in a conversation with a recruiter about the unique requirements of a position, that recruiter will deliver better fit candidates to that hiring manager.  When the recruiter and the hiring manager take the time to develop an interviewing strategy – preparing screening questions, choosing the right interview team members, deploying sound assessment tools and exercises – they will likely get a better result from the process.  When they take the time to not only check candidate provided references, but also to pursue unsolicited references through the many Web 2.0 alternatives (LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, etc.), they will have more complete information on which to base a decision.

I’d love to hear from you about what’s working – and what’s not – in your organization when it comes to candidate assessment.  And do take the time to checkout Steve’s book…. 

7 thoughts on “Measure Twice, Cut Once – Thoughts on Candidate Assessment

  1. First, as you might expect I really like this blog entry!

    One of the points I make in my book that is relevant to this discussion is that assessments do not need to be perfect to add a lot of value to the hiring process. Depending on the how they are used, even assessments with relatively low levels of predictive validity can provide substantial financial value when applied to large numbers of hiring decisions.

    Before I discuss this, its important to remember that no method used for selecting candidates is anywhere close to perfect to begin with. When you are making a selection decision what you are fundamentally doing is trying to predict what a candidate is going to do several months or years in the future. Anyone who has ever tried to gamble or forecast the weather knows that attempts to predict the future often fall short of expectations. This is true whether they are based on intuition, complex data models, or the mystic arts of the ancient Zorastrians.

    That said, a lot of research has shown that well designed assessments can predict employee performance levels months or years into the future. Furthermore, their level of prediction is almost always well above the accuracy levels associated with less sophisticated methods like “a manager’s gut feeling”.

    In addition, companies often have more candidates for jobs than they have time to interview. In these cases, an online assessment that provides even a slight edge in terms of helping companies prioritize who to interview first can create subsantial financial value. Remember, not all candidates are going to get interviewed. So even if an assessment has very little validity, if it can provide a tiny improvement in terms of helping companies giving priority to interviewing candidates with the greatest likelihood of success then it will improve the company’s hiring success. And all of this happens before companies ever even talk to the candidates.

    From a candidate perspective this might seem unfair. If the assessment isn’t totally accurate, why should it influence whether I am going to get interviewed? But what candidates typically don’t think about is:
    a) there is a good chance they won’t get interviewed with or without the assessment – remember we are talking about hiring situations where the number of candidates exceeds the time companies have to interview them
    b) if they truly are well suited for the job, the assessment will increase the chances of them getting an interview – granted it might be a slight increase but its better than relying solely on chance or a hiring manager’s “intuition” that is likely to be based in part on something as job irrelevant as their name or address.
    c) if they aren’t well suited for the job, then there isn’t much value in getting hired, Its rarerly good for one’s career or life to get hired into a job you hate or cannot effectively perform.

    Obviously I could (and have) put down a lot more thoughts on this topic. But this is one thing that often gets overlooked in assessment discussions: assessments do not need to be extremely accurate to be valuable for selection, they just need to be more more accurate than the alternative methods available to hire people.


  2. Joyce, My company, Talent Insight Group (, focuses on assessments. In our world today, it amazes me how many companies don’t utilize the science of assessment testing. Understanding what lies beneith the surface of an individual is a critical element of the hiring equation. Information about the thinking style, behavioral traits, and occupational interets of the candidate can make the difference between a ho-hum performer and a superstar.

    I don’t know about you but I want my company filled with superstars!

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