Finding and retaining top talent is always going to be a priority for organizations that want to stay competitive. There are a variety of assessment tools available for recruiters and HR departments to make the process easier, more streamlined and more efficient. Still, as with any tool, each will have its positive aspects and potential drawbacks. For that reason, it is imperative for companies to have a strategy regarding assessments before selecting tools and methods to be sure that the goals of the hiring process are being met. 

Whether it is for selection of external talent, development of internal talent or for use in succession planning, organizations need to take an integrated approach to assessment and must be able to answer the question: Why and how are we going to leverage assessments to attract, develop, and retain talent that drives strategic business outcomes?

Why Talent Assessment Methods Matter

The business expense allocated to the cost of employees tends to be the largest overhead expense in every company while also providing one of the best competitive advantages. Optimizing strategies for hiring and retaining top talent is crucial as the process should lead to an overall improvement of employee performance by finding the best matches for individuals and positions while reducing the total cost to acquire and keep top talent on board. 

The assessment process must align with and help shape the current culture of the company. Whether the organization is experiencing a culture transformation or has already achieved a productive and successful culture, recruiting the best candidates who are the right match for the company is critical to building lasting relationships with top talent, so they stay with the organization. This is a core element of becoming an employer of choice which delivers an engaging employment experience for your current and future employees.

Start with an Assessment Strategy

Before deciding on a specific assessment tool to assess potential candidates, every organization should have a definitive plan to ensure that goals are reached, and this strategy must be agreed upon by key stakeholders and leaders in the company. For each opening, the specifics of the job — tasks, duties, core competencies, behaviors, skills and traits — must be spelled out so it’s clear to hiring staff and candidates what is required for the position. Next, the circumstances around the hire need to be determined. What is the available budget for the assessment process? How quickly does the position need to be filled? How many applicants are expected? Will internal assessment tools be used, or will tools be purchased from an outside vendor? How will the assessment be integrated with other talent management practices and tools? Will the assessment be used for both selection and development?  How will you get managers to understand the link of the assessment process to talent acquisition and talent development efficacy?

Then, it’s time to determine how candidates will be assessed, starting with core competencies and skills. This area will vary based on the position being filled and how critical particular skills are, but in most cases, focusing on the most critical competencies that must be present upon starting should be the main goal. Not all skills and abilities are easy to measure, and others can be learned by the right candidate on the job. It can be helpful to build a success profile that details the critical skills and attributes that are most important to success in the position, along with an understanding of how the position may change over the next several years to ensure that the long-term goals of the company are being addressed. 

Determining which tools to employ during the process should also be part of the strategy. Tools should be reliable enough to show the true competencies or deficiencies of a candidate while taking into consideration differences that are due to other circumstances such as errors, anxiety, administration methods, and conditions in testing areas such as noise or temperature. Tools should also have high validity or have a strong relationship between the performance of the assessment and how that will translate to on-the-job performance.

It is also critical to understand how candidates will react to the assessment process. We’ve already covered how top talent and candidates in demand tend to drop out of lengthy processes, but even those with reasonable time frames can also be a deterrent when used ineffectively. Organizations should be aware that the assessment process is also a time for candidates to gather information on the company, and they want to feel like the process is fair, and that they’ve had sufficient opportunities to show their competencies. For these reasons, it’s usually best to put technology to work early in the process to work through large volumes of applicants quickly and efficiently to screen out those that are missing required skills, experience and education and to bring those likely to be top-performers to the head of the line. That way, time and labor-intensive processes can be used when there are fewer candidates to evaluate. 

Assessments for Development

Although assessments are mainly associated with the selection process, they are becoming increasingly useful for employee development to ensure that skills gaps are identified and then closed. Such assessments can be particularly helpful for organizations that make significant investments in training and development to both fine-tune training programs and to make sure the right people are getting the training they need rather than deploying training department or company-wide.

Periodically assessing employees is one way to measure their ongoing collection of skills and abilities and to provide feedback as they develop their careers. It’s clear how these assessments benefit the organization, but they can also help individuals reach their personal goals as they strive for positions with increasing difficulty and responsibility. By comparing the current skills and abilities of an individual with what is required for the next step up the ladder, it can be easier to take specific steps to acquire the necessary knowledge for the next promotion. 

Ensuring an Effective Assessment Process

To get the best results from any assessment process, especially those that are technology-heavy, it is important for applicants to have a realistic understanding of the process, the reasons behind different selection tools, and why different skills and competencies are important to the position. Candidates should feel like they’ve been given ample opportunities for asking questions and giving feedback. Ultimately, every individual should be treated with consideration and sensitivity during the process and all hiring decisions should be communicated promptly to be respectful of the applicants and to protect the organization’s reputation as an employer.