Build a Skills-Based Hiring Strategy with Pre-Employment Assessments

Strategies to gauge a candidate’s hard & soft skills

March 24, 2022

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Hiring is one of the most important factors in a business’s success. Resumes and applications give recruiters a surface-level view into whether a candidate will be a good fit for their organization. Pre-employment assessments assist recruiters and hiring managers by evaluating a candidate’s knowledge, skill sets, personality, values, and potential. With richer insights into candidates, employers can determine which candidates will be the best fit for a role and thus make better hiring decisions.

The pros of pre-employment assessments

Pre-employment assessments increase your chances of hiring the best candidate for any given role. The businesses that use pre-employment tests are 36% more likely to be satisfied with their hires. And 17% of these businesses are more likely to have candidates who rate themselves as highly engaged.

Assessments also save recruiters time. Only candidates who have proven they have the proper skills to succeed will be able to move onto the next round in the hiring process. With less time evaluating candidates themselves, recruiters can focus on candidate engagement and supporting hiring managers as candidates move on to interviews.

With assessments, you’ll reduce bias in the hiring process. There are many types of bias that sneak their way into the hiring process. Since tests and assessments ask the same questions for each candidate, they create a level playing field. Based on the results, recruiters can rank candidates based on their skill level, rather than on a “feeling” or some other unmeasurable

Companies that use assessments experience 39% lower turnover rates. New hires have an easier time settling into their new roles because they already have the skills necessary to succeed at the job. Employee turnover is expensive. Replacing individual employees can cost between one-half to two times the employee’s salary.

Skills assessments are one crucial part of the candidate’s journey. Get more ways to create an experience that puts candidates first.

Before you implement testing

There are several steps you must take before implementing any skills tests. First, work with hiring managers to determine which types of assessments should be used for the position they are trying to fill. Then, work the assessments into your hiring process timeline.

Different assessments are beneficial to different stages of the hiring process. Assessments that test hard or technical skills are helpful earlier in a candidate’s evaluation as they will determine whether they should move forward with interviews and later assessments. After evaluating a candidate’s hard skills, you can use other assessments to gather insight into a candidate’s personality and whether they would be a cultural fit.

Next, create success profiles based on high-achieving current employees. Identify what skills and personality traits do these employees possess that help them excel at their job. Once you have an early draft ready, ask current employees to complete the assessments and explain their results will be used to improve the test rather than judge them. If high achievers aren’t testing well, that’s an indication that your assessment isn’t clear or that you aren’t measuring the right skillset.

Types of hiring assessment tests

There are a variety of useful tests and assessments available to recruiters. Some will test hard skills like programming knowledge or software proficiency. Others will assess soft skills like communication and situational judgment. When assessing candidates, you should allow candidates just enough time to answer questions before they need to move on to the next test. This gives candidates a sense of urgency and will help you gauge a candidates’ confidence and expertise in the subject being tested.

Which tests and assessments you choose will vary depending on the role you’re hiring for. Graphic designers may be tested on their proficiency with Adobe Photoshop while an account executive may be tasked with a mock sales call. When judging tests, make sure to consider not only the results but a candidate’s ability and willingness to learn.

Job knowledge tests focus on a candidate’s technical and theoretical expertise in their specific field. These assessments are often necessary for roles that require specialized knowledge or expertise. For instance, a CFO might be tested on accounting principles, regulations, and financial analytical skills.

Personality and culture fit assessments help you to understand a candidate’s potential success within your organization as an employee and how satisfied they will be with you as an employer. Discovering a candidate’s preferred working style, which conditions they work best in, and how they interact with team members will help determine if they’ll be a worthwhile addition to your business.

Cognitive ability tests measure a candidate’s ability to deal with challenging mental processes. Many organizations use General Aptitude Tests that measure verbal, numerical, and logical reasoning. A candidate’s results on a cognitive test are strongly correlated with job performance. Creators must be aware of cultural differences and neurodiversity while composing these tests to avoid discrimination. The goal is to create a test that is fair for all candidates.

Work sample tests give candidates an opportunity to perform a task similar to what they will experience in the actual job. They also help you determine a candidate’s trainability, which is their adaptability and how well they follow instructions. Avoid assigning a work sample that will take a candidate a long time as they aren’t yet being paid for their time. For example, a PR Executive candidate may be asked to draft a press release or a software engineering candidate may be tasked with a simple coding project.

Situational judgment tests determine whether the candidate can apply their knowledge to achieve desired outcomes. A candidate will be presented with an example of a work problem or critical situation and asked how they would handle it. This test type is especially useful when evaluating candidates for managerial positions as it relays a candidate’s interpersonal skills, conflict management, cultural awareness, delegation skills, and negotiation skills.

What to avoid with skills assessments

Hiring managers may feel assessment results are valued more than their expertise. To combat this, explain that assessments are there to help make the right hiring decisions but in no way are they the only method that should be used. Relay the statistics surrounding assessments’ success and that they will improve their satisfaction with new hires. Statistics will also be crucial in getting buy-in from leadership that might question the urgency of such assessments and feel hesitant to invest in these tools.

Picking the wrong test is the most important pitfall to avoid. A test has little value if it isn’t evaluating the right job-specific skills. For instance, a typing test should hold little weight for a role where typing quickly isn’t necessary.

Don’t sacrifice candidate experience. A lengthy testing process will turn candidates off. To reduce candidate drop-off during the testing period, experts recommend keeping the total testing time under 45 minutes. Assessments are a useful tool in pre-screening candidates which means they’re often the first touchpoint between you and your potential new hire. Don’t lose them early on in your pipeline because of a negative testing experience. Be sure to communicate with candidates why they’re being tested and what competencies each test is assessing.

To wrap things up on skills assessments…

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pre-hire assessments. The right combination of tests and assessments will vary from company to company and role to role. Mixing test types allows you to compose a comprehensive candidate profile and gather the data necessary to make the best hiring decisions.

Skill-assessment tests are more relevant than ever as more and more recruiters shift from degree-based hiring to skills-based hiring. During the pandemic, many individuals who lost their job or had their hours reduced focused on upskilling and reskilling as they looked for work. While a candidate might not have experience in a certain field, the right assessments can reveal that they still have the skill set to succeed in that field.


Check out our other blog posts for more talent acquisition tips and insights into recruiting trends.

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