Pre-Employment Assessments Have To Stop
This is a bit of a <rant> sorry...
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Q: I’m applying for a job and they want me to take some assessments before I talk to recruiters or hiring managers, should I take the assessment?
Pre-employment assessments are detrimental to hiring
I was recently a part of layoffs in the tech world. Hello to the other 300k+ plus of you. Luckily I recently landed a job at a great company (shoutout to Lendio) where I’m really happy with the team, my boss, and the job.
During my search, however, I was asked multiple times to take some kind of assessment for a job. Some of these companies were even asking for 5+ hours worth of personality, behavioral and cognitive assessments before I even spoke to a hiring manager.
Am I crazy to say that that’s crazy?
As a general rule of thumb, I don’t take assessments before talking to at least the hiring manager and usually, I won’t take them until after I’ve met members of the team and decided a role is a good fit.
So in today’s newsletter/rant, I’m going to lay out from the applicant's perspective when it’s ok to give me a test, and when it’s not.
This isn’t intended to be a flame post, but I do want to shed some light on the applicant side of the process, which is so often subpar.
When is it ok to ask someone to take a pre-employment assessment?
In my opinion, it’s ok for a hiring manager to provide an assessment to evaluate if someone has the skills to do a job after several rounds of interviews. For example, Google and other tech companies commonly have a technical interview where the candidate has to pass technical questions.
This type of assessment makes sense, especially for engineering-specific roles. You want to make sure that someone can actually do what they say they can do.
As an SEO and a CRO expert, I’ve been asked (and willingly taken) assessments of my ability to perform certain abilities. In my experience, these assessments usually take 30-60 minutes and can even be guided by a hiring manager to make sure the test taker is honest.
Pay for the time
Other scenarios exist where a company asks an applicant to perform a relatively intense assessment, write some code, or provide something that can actually be used. My wife had an assessment like this for her first job.
Her boss offered to pay her for her time and her code. She spent a whole weekend working on a project, which eventually got deployed into production. She did end up getting the job, which is nice, but not necessary.
An employer offering to comp someone’s time is not only polite, but it puts forth a good-faith gesture. The employer is saying we’re willing to put some skin in the game. That’s the kind of relationship you want to start with.
When is it not ok to ask someone to take a pre-employment assessment?
Does the employer require a higher education degree?
For several of the jobs that asked me to take an assessment, they required at least a bachelor's degree, if not further education.
Why did I go to college if you are going to make me take a basic math and English assessment?
Did the several years I spent at college mean nothing? If you’re requiring a higher education degree, don’t insult your applicants by testing their basic math.
Personality assessments are not the end all be all
This one gets me really fired up.
I love personality assessments as a way for me to better understand some of my personality traits and in some cases as a way to get to know my coworkers better.
But when a potential employer asks me to take a personality assessment as a barrier to entry or a “culture fit” for a job, I lose it.
Culture fit doesn’t mean made from the same mold. Without diversity in thoughts, idea, experiences you don’t really have a culture, you have a cult.
Some of the best coworkers (and friends) I’ve ever had are incredibly different people than I am, and on paper you might even suspect that we didn’t get along. But in practice, we learned how to work well with each other and acomplished incredible things.
In addition, in my opinion, if an employer won’t hire you unless you have a certain trait they think works best in their role, then they’re missing out. Hiring for extroverted or introverted traits is dumb and ineffective. Are we just assuming an extroverted engineer won’t be as good as an introverted one? Can a sales person be introverted?
I have 2 problems with hiring managers acting this way:
Why are you playing God? What if you’re wrong? What if you think you want something, and you’re wrong? You could be ignoring a good candidate, who maybe you even felt good about, but they didn’t score as you thought they would on an assessment, and so you passed and hired someone you thought would be good? Hiring is more than how someone looks in data and on paper.
Having a variety of traits is a good thing. Sometimes interesting and unique combinations of traits is unexpected but wonderful. These assessments rule out people with unique mastery of their own skills.
Maybe your assessments are biased
Some of the biggest CEOs and richest people on Earth dropped out of college or high school and famously hate taking tests. When you base your hiring on assessments, you are discriminating against people who don’t like taking tests. That doesn’t make anyone dumb, that makes them different.
Some of the smartest people I know are bad test-takers. They did really poorly in school, but found a ton of success in the business world or practicing a trade later in life.
If your hiring is focused on intellectual assessments, you’re missing out on an entire segment of people who could potentially thrive just because you think you know better via a test.
Why am I so passionate/angry about these kinds of assessments?
Everyone can’t ask me to take an assessment, that’s crazy
One of the major reasons I get so frustrated with these dumb assessments is that I can’t perpetuate the idea that every employer gets to give me hours worth of assessments.
Before I landed my job with Lendio, I applied to well over 300 jobs. Imagine if before I got to talk to anyone, they asked me to take an assessment. Literally, no one has time for that.
I could go on for hours, but instead, I just put together a bullet list of all the problems I have with these assessments.
Here’s the list:
You should be hiring people with potential and mentoring and training, not excluding them based on arbitrary metrics.
Starting off an employment relationship where the employer asks a candidate to take an assessment is not a healthy way to build trust because it’s insulting and a bad first impression.
Many pre-hire assessments are irrelevant to the job at hand.
If a candidate hears the word “assessment” they are more likely to withdraw, especially if they don’t know enough about the company or role.
Assessments make the hiring process even longer and more painful.
Assessments can be discriminatory.
Pre-employment assessments don’t guarantee you keep out bad hires.
Pre-employment assessments don’t guarantee hiring quality candidates, the first thing you’re testing for is interest and willingness to submit to a stupid requirement. How many quality candidates are you missing out on because they don’t want to take your test?
When I was in grad school I complained about these types of assessments to my professor. I gave him an example, I said “Does the school or your students expect you to teach your class without a book or curriculum?” Asking candidates (or students) to take assessments without tools that are readily available in the real world is actually nonsense. My professor laughed very hard at that and completely agreed.
When you take an assessment, do you get the results back? Who can see them?
Lots of companies sell pre-hire assessments, what makes them qualified to assess you?
I don’t believe tests are an accurate reflection of intelligence or competence, in fact scientifically self-reported data is less accurate.
Good tests are really hard to design, so who made yours? What are their credentials?
I can fake a personality test pretty easily
Do you have proof that the behavioral trait you want a candidate to have will actually lead to better performance? Or do you just… think so?
What happens when a good candidate fails the assessment?
Averages and stats are pretty discriminating (data + intuition = experimentation)
I guess maybe I just distrust assessments? So many people don’t know how to make a good test, why is the one you give me actually good?
I’m the kind of person that comes off much better in person than on paper. Not that I’m bad on paper, but in person, I can smile and laugh and make them laugh.
If all you use is cold hard assessment data, you’re missing the person behind the test
As someone who took a few of these assessments, and then started refusing to take them except under certain conditions, let me just say for everyone looking for a job right now, your test is probably dumb and you should trust your gut.
Here are some resources of people (who are much smarter than me) who happen to agree with me.