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Why do recruiters hate pre-employment assessments?


Why do recruiters hate pre-employment assessments?
March 9, 2020, 10:19:26 AM EDT   By Mike Russiello

woman shouting into smartphoneWhen I first started in the employment testing business, it seemed natural to sell to recruiters. After all, recruiters are professionals who spend 100 percent of their time performing activities associated with hiring. If they didn't know what they were doing, then nobody did.

Strike One

What I discovered, however, was a general ambivalence - even resistance to using employment assessments among recruiters. Sure, for certain disciplines, like IT or administrative staff, skills tests were considered useful. However, there was little enthusiasm for using other types of assessments besides skills tests, such as cognitive assessments, personality assessments, and past behaviors inventories.

Our first conclusion was that individual recruiters are just not thinking of the big picture. They don't want to lose a candidate who seems to meet the requirements but tests poorly. Who can blame them. After all, the test could be wrong and turning off a poorly testing candidate could be a huge waste. Even worse, the assessment might turn off a candidate, or just take too long. In a business that often depends on getting a resume in front of a hiring manager faster than the competition, any delays are unacceptable.

Strike Two

So, after failing with individual recruiters, we approached their managers. Surely, as business leaders, recruitment and staffing company managers would be more far-seeing and proactive. They would recognize the quality-enhancing effect that assessments would have on the candidates they represent to clients.

However, we found that many staffing company managers were concerned about maintaining their gross margin on each recruitment 'transaction.' Assessments cost money on a per-candidate basis, and could eat into that gross margin. If they could get the customer to pay for it, that was one thing. But if they had to absorb the cost themselves, it was a hard sell.

So, that meant we had a strike for individual recruiters in staffing companies and another strike for their managers. After some soul-searching, we decided staffing companies just don't care enough about quality. Why would they? If they can get a hiring manager to take someone, they've done their job. Candidates leave for many reasons, many not their own fault.

Strike Three

So, naturally, we shifted our attention to recruiters at end user companies. Surely they would be more concerned with quality of hire than their staffing company brethren. After all, they had to live with the hiring managers they served.

Once again, the reception was lukewarm. Assessments just didn't seem to matter that much.

So, why do recruiters dislike pre-employment assessments?

Over my 20 years in the assessment business, I've asked that question many times. Here are the most common answers:

  • We have to be lightning fast and don't have time to test anyone.
  • Our candidates complain the test was not job related.
  • There's no feedback to give candidates.
  • We lose good candidates who refuse to take the test.
  • Most tests take too long which annoys candidates and wastes our time.
  • The available tests are not exactly right for each job.
  • We've lost too many good candidates due to poor assessment results.

Empirical data confirms these observations. For example, the website Global Recruiter recently quoted research that showed that 47 percent of test takers think tests are too long. 37 percent didn't understand why they were taking the test. 30 percent said the test didn't relate to the job they were applying for.

As an assessment professional, I wish I could argue with these points, but I can't. They are all valid points. They echo what we in the industry already know. They also point the way forward.

BUT - Is there a bigger reason?

I think there is: Recruiters trust their instincts more than they trust assessments.

You see, assessments work dispassionately through group statistics, while recruiters work logically and emotionally at the individual level.

Statistically, you would probably minimize employee theft if you avoided hiring ex-cons. But of course there are plenty of ex-cons who would never steal from their employer. There's probably more honest ex-cons than untrustworthy ones. Still, the statistics speak for themselves. But we expect to meet people who are exceptions to the rule.

When you are across the table from someone who is making a great impression on you but has a criminal record, you might be tempted to ignore the statistics. In the same way, an assessment may tell you a candidate is a poor fit with your organization, while your gut says something different.

Now, pretend you are a recruiter. Over the years you have developed a good sense about candidates, and you trust your gut. You are also competitive and hate losing a good candidate. The last thing you want to see is a set of assessment results that disagrees with your well-honed and proven gut instinct.

The Takeaways

Recruiters trust their instincts. Unless these instincts lead them to increase their use of assessments, it's not going to happen.

There's only one way for assessments to win a recruiter's trust, and that's by addressing their lesser complaints one by one in a convincing way. This means that, as a whole, employment tests:

  1. Must be clearly related to the specific job. That is, they must be face valid.
  2. Should be administered after some buy-in has been expressed by both the company and the candidate.
  3. Cannot be a time waster. Test duration should be proportional to the degree of commitment on both sides.
  4. Should provide meaningful feedback to candidates.
  5. Must provide clear and understandable evidence of their effectiveness.

A quick inventory of the most popular assessments shows that many of these principles are violated. For instance, few selection-oriented assessments are clearly related to a specific job. Even fewer provide feedback to candidates.

Will addressing these features cause recruiters the world over to flock towards assessments? Not right away, but it will enable a series of positive experiences that will erode the collective resistance over time. Eventually, recruiters will proactively embed assessments into their processes. And who will win? The companies doing the hiring, of course.

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