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pre-employment assessment

What Makes a Great Pre-employment Assessment?

It’s such a direct question that I felt compelled to attempt answering it with a direct response. A great pre-employment assessment is a job-related, and statistically valid predictor of future success (definitions of which are another topic). But while that might be a direct answer, the truth is really much more complex.

First I’ll frame the question around the current market climate…

The use of pre-employment psychological and behavioral assessments is a red-hot topic right now, and the market is estimated to be at about one billion dollars. Last year’s M&A activity is further evidence of this booming. Global data solutions giant IBM acquired RPO, ATS and assessments company Kenexa. Leading member-based advisory company Corporate Executive Board acquired global talent assessment company SHL. And management consultancy Korn-Ferry’s acquisition of the successful leadership assessment and development solutions firm PDI Ninth House tops off the year. It’s safe to say, “Something big is definitely going on.”

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Still, having all of this knowledge does not answer the original question. It just puts perspective into possible reasons why it might be asked in the first place, such as those trying to buy or sell these assessments, those trying to use these ubiquitous products, or perhaps those in a position to take assessments. Being from the camp where all of this activity directly stems, i.e., as an I/O psychologist working for an assessment solutions provider – it’s a very exciting time to say the least!

And that’s exactly the reason we need to be asking such a question in the first place. With so much activity, and the sheer ease of technological integration, it makes sense to harness whatever tools we have to make hiring easier and more efficient for recruiters, while also more engaging for applicants. Additionally, the joys of Big Data have reached HR’s doorstep as well, and organizations that see the value added from harnessing workforce analytics will likely be the fiercest competitors in their industry’s labor market.

So what about that question again?

Well there are also so many different areas to assess job applicants that it really needs to be handled in an informed and strategic manner. Pre-employment assessment covers everything from cognitive ability and/or personality dimensions, to organizational culture fit. Those who are implementing pre-employment assessments need to be informed in the sense that they understand the legal ramifications of noncompliance with the likes of the EEOC. And assessments should be deployed strategically, such that they actually provide insights that are tied to real business outcomes. It might be enough for an organization to simply lower turnover, or reduce absenteeism and withdrawal behaviors from successfully screening out applicants who aren’t motivated enough to take an assessment in the first place. Others may be satisfied with tying assessment scores to subjective manager performance ratings, while others might be more inclined to see a predictive relationship to objective performance criteria (e.g., sales per customer contact).

So the answer to the question really is “it depends.”

No one pre-employment assessment is the end-all be-all solution for guaranteeing the perfect hire.

What makes a great pre-employment assessment is the thoughtfulness and planning that goes into how any (well some) assessments are selected and implemented. Decision-makers need to carefully think about what psychological and behavioral constructs they intend to assess, the vendors of the assessment they choose, the consultants they may hire to implement it, and the criteria they will use to evaluate its utility.


Florida Gulf CoastMichael Cilla, M.S. is an Assessment Implementation Manager at talent acquisition company, Global HR Research. He also teaches Intro to I/O Psychology and Psychological Tests & Measurement at Florida Gulf Coast University. Image Credit Ely Tran.

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Michael Cilla

Michael Cilla, M.S. is an Assessment Implementation Manager at talent acquisition company, Global HR Research. He also teaches Intro to I/O Psychology and Psychological Tests & Measurement at Florida Gulf Coast University.