Using Assessment Tools for Better Hiring

April 1, 2016
How staff assessment tools can help you avoid costly hiring mistakes

Hiring new staff can be one of the most challenging aspects of business ownership, particularly finding a job candidate that will be the right fit for your organization. One way to not only find the right match, but also differentiate between job candidates is to use a staffing assessment tool, a pencil and paper test that can measure anything from personality to integrity to intelligence.

According to Lori Kleiman, a human resources professional who has worked as a consultant with small businesses for more than 30 years, those tools can avoid costly hiring mistakes and truly get at a candidate’s way of thinking or values.

Before administering a test, Kleiman notes that assessment tools should only be used as a portion of the decision.

“Where I see that being not good is when you have a candidate that you are really comfortable and confident can do the job. You’re really excited about them, they have a great background,” she says. “Just because they took some assessment and they didn’t come out the way you had hoped, you automatically deem them not hirable. Assessments should be used as a tool to gather information, not a go/no-go decision. And to understand where this person’s weaknesses might be when they come in to meet with you.”

Even if you have a hard time finding candidates, Kleiman says you can’t afford to miss on that one candidate. She breaks down the process for using staffing assessments to find the right fit for your shop.

1) Decide what you’re looking for in a position. Above all, Kleiman says that you need to consider the traits you’re looking for in the job candidate and what’s right for your business.

“I just used one with a very small company, it’s being run by the investor’s wife. She’s in over her head and what I really needed to find in the accounting person was someone who was going to be especially compassionate, very patient at explaining what things were,” she says. “I needed to find the people who were going to treat her with the level of respect she deserved.”

Kleiman says that for shop owners, they may want someone who will score highly on an honesty and integrity test to really understand how they may interact with customers.

2) Find a test that will help you find the characteristics you’ve identified. Kleiman says there are no shortage of staffing assessment tests and tools available, which means you can get specific and narrow in on a test that will truly give you the insight you desire.

“What I would encourage is that they take a step back and think about what will really matter for a successful candidate and what’s not going to matter and then go out and look for a test that will do that sort of thing,” she says.

For the majority of shop positions, Kleiman recommends honesty and integrity tests, skills tests and a test focused on motivation. If you’re hiring a bookkeeper, you can give online tests for whether or not they know QuickBooks.

“Another one I’ve used that’s very good in a more office type environment is about how people take action. It’s about whether they do a ton of research, whether or not they shoot from the hip,” she says. “These guys are fixing vehicles, are they really diagnosing the root cause of what’s happening with the vehicles?”

3) Give the tests to your top employees. Doing so will help you identify the types of answers you should look for in job candidates that indicate they may be successful at your company. Explain to the current employees that no one is going to get fired or in trouble for their responses and it’s merely to help the hiring process. Kleiman says you need to figure out what’s a good score in your organization—and that doesn’t necessarily mean 100 percent.

“A client of mine used a test for a very boring, menial factory job. He looked for people, who on a scale of 1–100, scored somewhere between 6 and 13,” she says. “We gave it to 20 of our employees and that’s what it came back telling us. That’s all we’ve hired, people who were way at the bottom of this test. It was very effective. Any time we hired someone with a 30 or a 40, they quit. They were bored. It’s really important to hire what’s right for your operation. Don’t say, I want everybody who is a 90 plus.”

4) Administer the test later in the hiring process. In general, you want to whittle down the number of candidates to a more manageable number before having them take an assessment. Kleiman says that honesty and integrity testing is generally very affordable ($10–$40 per test), so she recommends giving those out after a phone interview. For a more comprehensive test, which could be roughly $100 per test, wait until the final candidates. Kleiman also notes that she recommends higher-level testing like that for an office manager, bookkeeper or service writer over a technician.

5) Go over the answers, but with a grain of salt. Kleiman says that, surprisingly, you should look for answers in the range of 60–70 percent.

“Here’s an example of an honesty and integrity question: They would say, ‘Have you ever stolen something from your employer?’ And believe it or not, the right answer is yes. They want you to say, ‘Yes, I’ve taken a pen,’” she says. “Really, you look for people to be in those mid ranges.”

The reason, Kleiman says, is that extremes can become potential problems in the workplace. “Do you want somebody who is so honest to a fault where they may go and tell your customer something?” she asks, or, if an honesty and integrity test comes back where the job candidate is intolerant toward drug use, that could be concern if another coworker is a recovering alcoholic.

However, Kleiman says that what assessment tools ultimately are good at is getting at a job candidate’s true underlying values.

“When they come in and interview, they know the right thing to say and they’ve rehearsed it. What these tests do is ask the same question three or four different ways and that’s how they tell if someone is being honest on the test,” she says. “It really will help you get at the true way a person is thinking.”

The tests also help reveal information that you may be uncomfortable asking in a one-on-one situation, such as questions about honesty or drug use.

6) Use the information in the follow-up interview. Many tests come with recommended interview questions once the completed tests come back.

“That’s really nice for a business owner as well because they often don’t know where to start with an interview,” Kleiman says. Then, when the report comes back, Kleiman says it identifies areas in which you might want to probe further about the candidate.

Aside from asking those questions, Kleiman says that you can also inquire about any unusual responses or trends that became apparent through the testing.

“It gets to some of these underlying issues that cause workplace drama that you might want to know about in advance,” she says. “As a matter of fact, the one that says she’s intolerant of drugs is the one that’s at the top of my client’s pile right now. When we went back and asked her what that’s all about, she had had an alcoholic parent and she has no use for that in her life. We will move forward knowing that if that comes up in the workplace, she’s going to have to temper it. But that’s not a reason why I wouldn’t hire her.”

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