Improving Quality of Hire Starts by Banning Pre-screening Assessments

Over the years (and last week in particular) I’ve suggested the use of any psychometric pre-screening assessment tests should be stopped since they are either invalid, discriminatory or counterproductive. Worse, all are designed to make the hiring process more efficient, not help attract stronger people or improve quality of hire. Those who sell or have invested their careers in the validation of the statistical merits of these tests (for pre-screening purposes) argue points that miss this point.

Rather than rehash the obvious let me summarize my anti-assessment banter with the following:

  • Finding top people for a career move is not the same as filling jobs with people who are willing to take jobs that are, at best, ill-defined lateral transfers.
  • If the best people won’t take the test in order to be considered for a job you instantly rule out the best people including the 85% of the talent market that is classified as passive.
  • The process is too leaky. Even the best active candidates recognize that applying directly for a job is the least effective way to get an interview. Instead they use a bunch of backdoor techniques to get an interview which bypass the initial screen. (Take this survey and review the results to validate this.)
  • You can’t build a two sigma hiring process using one sigma statistics, aka, “Any hiring chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” There are just too many false negatives – good people being excluded for the wrong reasons – to use them to eliminate people before they’re properly qualified.
  • Cloning people like you’ve always hired is a great way to build a non-diverse workforce. This is why these tests are discriminatory.

There is little dispute that using psychometric tests as part of a total assessment process is appropriate. Using them as a point of entry is what I oppose. The big argument for using them is the need to eliminate unqualified people who apply from consideration as quickly as possible. However, there are other ways to get the same result without eliminating good people in the process.

One way is to stop the problem at its source: Preventing unqualified people from applying to jobs they’re not qualified to handle. LinkedIn already advises candidates if they’re qualified or not, implying they shouldn’t apply, so the technology behind this advisory statement could easily morph into a locked door. Candidates think that by applying to as many jobs as possible they’ll increase their chances of getting an interview. This is a waste of everyone’s time. The most talented people don’t think this way. That’s why they use the backdoor approach to find jobs in the hidden job market.

Here’s how the hidden job market is created. Before hiring managers formally open a requisition and post it on a job board, they first try to find candidates internally or through their referral network. Over half of these jobs are filled before they’re ever posted. So it’s a huge market. Interestingly, candidates don’t need to be a perfect fit on skills and experiences to get these jobs. Instead they’re assessed on their comparable past performance, promotability and upside potential. It also turns out making assessments this way is more accurate than a combination of pre-screening assessments and behavioral interviewing.

A similar approach could be used to increase quality of hire for all positions – just open the backdoor to everyone. Here’s how this process works. Rather than forcing candidates to apply, state in your job posting that interested candidates need to prepare a one or two paragraph summary of some major accomplishment related to an actual job need to be considered. The job posting or email should emphasize the key performance objectives of the job, minimize the required skill set to the bare minimum and highlight the importance of the job as a career move. This will attract a broader group of top performers including passive candidates.

Since this approach is non-traditional and I wanted to include it in The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, I first asked David Goldstein, a senior labor attorney with Littler Mendelson, for his opinion on the validity of this two-step process. He fully supported it and his whitepaper describing why is included in the book’s appendix. (For those interested, here’s a link to the summary and a webcast I did with David on this topic.)

It’s clear that pre-assessment screening along with competency models and behavioral interviewing have reduced hiring mistakes. But it’s equally clear to anyone who looks at the data, these tools have not improved quality of hire. This underscores the problem most business leaders have with HR: Their focus is on the wrong goal. Reducing costs, being more efficient and making fewer hiring mistakes is not the measure of success when it comes to talent management. It should be improving the quality of every person hired.