The process of hiring a new employee is harsh and resource-intensive. Many competing interests are vying for the attention of every good candidate. At the same time, your organization must identify high-quality candidates from a sea of less qualified applicants.
Thus, your company must establish a process whereby you can filter applicants, identify the most promising candidates, and assess them accurately. Only then can you be assured that you’re hiring the best available candidates for any given role.
Your employee selection process needs to have several qualities.
- It needs to be comprehensive. Blind spots in evaluation can lead to sub-par employees, off-target choices, undue expenses, and poor outcomes.
- It needs to be nuanced. Making a critical business decision based on partial or generalized information leads to poor choices.
- It needs to be tailored to the positions you’re looking to fill. The selection process for entry-level data entry clerks is very different from a senior-level developer or HR manager.
There are many tools and resources available for use in the candidate selection process. You might, for example, hire a contract recruiter to handle your recruitment. You might use a heavily automated applicant tracking system to do resume filtering. You might invest in varying channels for marketing your job posting. And, of course, your employees can be a resource through referrals and recommendations.
Because the employee selection process is so critical to business success, we’ve compiled a list of 13 of the most valuable techniques, with an analysis of their pros and cons—choosing which of these to implement and when is vital.
1: Cognitive Ability Assessment
Cognitive assessments test the candidate’s mental acuity and ability to learn. They can include anything from logic tests to pattern recognition and more. They are common after studies have shown that cognitive ability is one of the top influencing factors in job performance.
“Knowing a candidate’s cognitive ability is important for jobs at every level in all kinds of industries. It can predict how well a candidate will pick up on the training materials, how they will understand instructions, how efficiently they’ll be able to solve problems throughout the workday, and how easily communication will come to them.” – Harver.
The pros of this method include the correlation between assessment and performance and the ease of automatically administering and judging a well-designed test.
On the other hand, cognitive assessments can have a suppressive effect on candidates who don’t feel the test is worth the role. They can also be biased and introduce adverse impacts in your hiring process.
2: Job/Role Knowledge Assessment
Like cognitive assessments, a job knowledge assessment is a test designed to evaluate the candidate’s knowledge of the role. These tests need to be tailored to the position. For example, when hiring a developer, you might ask questions about the programming language, system architecture, or software your company uses.
These are excellent tests to evaluate the skills and knowledge of a given candidate. However, they must be tailored to the role, which means large companies may need dozens (if not hundreds) of different tests for different positions at different levels within the organization.
3: Personality Assessments
Personality assessments are tests administered to evaluate a candidate’s character and traits. These tend to be most common for entry-level roles, where skills are trainable, and experience is not required, but personality and character are more critical.
Personality assessments are often too generic and don’t correctly assess traits relevant to the role. Also, similar to cognitive assessments, they can introduce adverse impacts in your hiring process. However, when used properly, they can successfully filter for high-quality candidates.
4: Learning Agility Assessments
Learning agility is the ability of an individual to learn, unlearn, and relearn tasks and skills in an ever-changing digital world. It is becoming more and more critical as the development of software, technology, and tools accelerates. These tests assess how capable a candidate is of adapting to changing situations and learning the skills necessary to succeed without hand-holding.
While these assessments can be very potent, they are most relevant in fast-paced industries and roles and less so in low-level positions or slow-moving organizations. They can also be highly challenging to develop and administer in a way that gets tangible results.
5: Past Performance Analysis
Some say that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Thus, analyzing a candidate through the lens of their previous experience in related or identical roles helps you determine how well they will perform in your organization’s similar role.
Experience alone is not enough. Performance must be considered. Additionally, this kind of analysis works best on mid and high-level roles. Entry-level roles typically don’t require previous experience, so filtering for it can eliminate good candidates.
6: Sample Assignments
In many roles, the best way to determine how well a candidate can perform in your position is by asking them to perform. A developer might be given a task to create an app or fix a bug, or a writer might be asked to write a sample piece. Perhaps a sales agent is tasked with selling to an interviewer. These allow you to see first-hand how the employee performs in the tasks you’ll be asking them to perform.
Many companies use uncompensated sample work as a way to get free labor. Sample work can, however, suppress certain applicants, particularly if they distrust your company. Also, when administered too early or take too long, candidates may choose to look elsewhere rather than jump the hurdle.
7: Structured Interviews
In many organizations, the interview process is informal, a free-form assessment from a skilled interviewer, manager, or HR representative meant to get an impression of the candidate in person. Unfortunately, these are unscientific and rarely effective.
Meanwhile, a structured interview uses the same set of questions, the same structure, the same format for each candidate who reaches the interview stage. This process is graded objectively using a scorecard for a more scientific and rigorous evaluation of each candidate.
8: Physical Fitness Assessments
A physical fitness assessment tests how well a candidate can perform physical tasks, such as lifting weight or endurance running. They are virtually required for some roles but are largely irrelevant for most current positions within a company. As such, they are not recommended unless the fitness requirements are genuinely required to perform the job’s duties.
The primary drawback to a physical assessment is that the test can be deemed discriminatory if the fitness requirements are not truly necessary.
9: Peer Interviews
Peer interviews are a style of an interview conducted, not by a department head or HR manager, but by the team the prospective employee would be working with.
Peer interviews can give deeper insights into how well a candidate fits with company culture, how well they know their role rather than studying for an interview and assessment, and how well they mesh with the others in the office.
“Potential pitfalls are that it’s necessary to train the interviewers to be sure they ask the right questions. It can also be distracting, sometimes getting in the way of daily responsibilities.” – Harver.
Of critical importance is ensuring that your interviewers do not ask the wrong questions. There are many protected categories of information, both on a federal level and at various state and local levels. Asking inappropriate questions and using the answers to make a hiring decision can open your company up to legal action.
10: Reference Checks
Some view the requirements for candidates to list personal and professional references as part of their application as outdated. In a vast majority of cases, the references are never contacted. However, it may be worthwhile to use references as part of your candidate screening process.
The trick to talking to references is asking open-ended questions that encourage the contact to speak at length. You can use the answers to better judge the skills, character, and potential pitfalls of the candidate.
The primary downside is that references are often less professional and less put-together than candidates attending interviews. They may also be biased, as with friends and family references, and may not accurately represent the candidate. And, of course, interviewing references is time-consuming, meaning it should be limited to only your most likely candidates.
11: Temp-To-Hire Contracts
One way to assess whether or not a potential employee can do the job is to hire them to do the job. While this may sound counter-intuitive, temporary contracts allow you to put the candidate in the deep end immediately, with the understanding that their contract will be renewed or converted into a full hire if they perform adequately. Since the risk is somewhat lower than a full hire and subsequent termination of a poor choice employee, temporary contracts allow more flexibility to assess a candidate over a more extended period.
The primary downside is that you will still need to process some level of assessment before hiring for a temporary contract. Additionally, the contract period necessitates a lengthy evaluation period before deciding. Some smaller and more agile companies will not want to invest in these things.
12: Sample/Portfolio Evaluation
Many roles, such as designers, artists, developers, writers, and other object-oriented and creative careers, find employees developing portfolios of their past work. These portfolios include samples designed or tailored to be relevant to the company, niche, or role the applicant is interviewing for. Thus, it can be representative of the quality of work done by the candidate. Reviewing their portfolio, analyzing the quality of their work with the help of someone technically proficient in the same work, and making a judgment based on past work is a great way to assess a candidate.
However, this type of assessment only works for roles where the employee is likely to produce samples, though some positions can be flexible with case studies and reports on past work. Some roles, however, have no way to distill past work into a portfolio or sample.
13: Automated Filtering
Modern software offers companies the option to use machine learning to scan through resumes, applications, and other relevant documentation to evaluate and filter a candidate pool automatically.
This option is in its relative infancy as a technology. As such, it has many drawbacks. It can be tricked if the applicant knows what keywords to use in their documentation. It can be biased – whether inherently by the training data or implicitly by past hiring practices. It also offers little rationale or nuance in its decisions, as explaining the inner workings of an algorithm is complex.
For those reasons, automated filtering is best left for “unskilled” labor positions, entry-level positions, and bulk positions where nuance isn’t as important.
Properly Evaluating Candidates
The complete process of evaluating candidates varies depending on the situation, role, company, niche, organization, budget, technology, and more. Every company must develop its process using the tools available to them, internally and externally, within their budget.
“Properly identifying and implementing formal assessment methods to select employees is one of the more complex areas for HR professionals to learn about and understand. This is because understanding selection testing requires knowledge of statistics, measurement issues and legal issues relevant to testing.” – SHRM Effective Practice Guidelines.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to employee evaluation. Every screening process, from resume filtering to interviews, must be tailored to the role you’re trying to fill. The process that works for entry-level employees won’t work for directors or executives. However, at every level of an organization, the company must hire the best available candidates. Identifying those candidates is critical.
There is no perfect strategy, so the typical hiring process involves multiple layers of assessment, screening, and interviews. When the cost of a poor hiring decision is high, off-target assessment is hugely detrimental.
The key, then, is not just to implement a multi-layered hiring approach. It is to implement that approach, with appropriate monitoring of key performance indicators along the way, to determine which elements of a process work on a short-term and a long-term basis. Only then can a company rest assured that it has a process in place to choose the best candidates from a pool.