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Pros and Cons of Tests and Take-Home Assignments in Recruiting

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​The hiring process can be long, costly and fraught with opportunities to make the wrong choice. To combat this possibility, some companies turn to various types of objective assessments of potential candidates, including tests and take-home assignments.

Testing can be a slippery slope, though. Some potential employees balk at these assessments. HR leaders need to ensure that the tests they're using are valid and reliable, meaning they are accurate assessments of specific traits and competencies. But it may be difficult to determine if the applicants are taking the tests on their own or seeking help from others.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

Testing Can Minimize the Risk of Making the Wrong Choice

Tests and take-home assignments can lend some reliability to what can often be a very subjective hiring process.

"Interviewing is the least statistically correlated method of predicting success on the job, and yet it is often used exclusively by many companies to make hiring decisions," said Susan Hosage, who added she has been "on the giving and receiving end of pre-employment tests for decades." Hosage is a senior consultant and executive coach with OneSource HR Solutions. "Abilities-based tests and profiling offer significant benefits when added to pre-employment screening and interviewing."

Martin Coover, a partner at Jobplex, a recruiting firm based in Chicago, said he has definitely seen an increase in the use of assessments during the hiring process. In the past, he said, these types of assessments were primarily done at the executive level. Today they're likely to be conducted at all levels and across different types of organizations.

"[Testing] is predominately driven by more robust technology and talent acquisition teams wanting to get as much good information as they can before making a hiring decision," Coover said. "I think every company has really done the math on the cost of a bad hire and the cost of losing somebody or having to fire someone and how that can set you back, so there is absolutely a quest to understand a lot more before bringing somebody on."

By using tests to assess job candidates, recruiters can now "remove some of the human bias and get more objective information" when making hiring decisions, Hosage said. "Recruiting has always been a combination of art and science, but now the science is getting better."

Being able to collect data through testing to better inform the hiring decision is a good thing, according to many HR teams and hiring managers. But job candidates may have some objections.

Dealing with Pushback from Candidates

Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks in using tests and take-home assignments is the risk of getting pushback from candidates. Not all potential hires are enamored of the prospect of taking tests or completing assessments as part of the hiring process. And, in an employee-driven job market, they wield a certain amount of power.

For HR leaders, recruiters and hiring managers, "it's really about the balance between the tight labor market, the amount of opportunities the candidate has and how burdensome the process is for each of those opportunities," Coover said. There are 6.8 million open jobs and 5.8 million people looking for work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers have to move fast and offer a great candidate experience to stand out from the crowd.

Candidates are busy. The best ones likely have a current full-time job and plenty of other demands on their time. They may be understandably hesitant to take on more work, especially when they're considering multiple potential job opportunities.

In some cases, candidates may also be concerned about employers taking advantage of their knowledge, expertise and intellectual capital. Candidates asked to create detailed marketing plans, for instance, may have concerns if the company will use that input even if they're not chosen for the position.

Coover noted that the disadvantages in using pre-employment tests are not just about candidate pushback, though. "When a candidate is going through the hiring process, the company that can be a little bit more expeditious … will be able to get an offer out quicker. A lot of time, assessments and the time it takes to give those assessments can be a real bottleneck in the process."

The goal for employers, Coover said, is to find the right balance: Get the essential information needed to make a good hiring decision, but do not take up too much of the candidate's time.

Ensuring the Validity of Tests

Do tests really add validity to the hiring process? It depends. Some companies have had their assessments validated, but others haven't. If candidates are allowed to take their assessments home, it's hard to tell if candidates are completing the assessments themselves or seeking help from others.

While tests and assessments can provide important insight, it's important to understand, Coover said, that these results reveal only part of a candidate's qualifications. "It's just one data point," he cautioned, and should be considered in context with all the other information gathered during the hiring process.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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