With so many candidates in the market, it’s more important than ever to create an engaging and human candidate experience. But you need to balance that with finding the best talent for your role.
Skill testing can give recruiters a competitive advantage in today’s job market. Candidates who are hired on merit, rather than background, tend to stay longer and perform better over the long term. Here’s how to use skills assessments to fill your open positions, no matter how many applicants you are dealing with.
A skills test is an assessment used to provide an unbiased, validated evaluation of a candidate’s ability to perform the duties listed in the job description.
Typically, a skills test asks a variety of questions in different formats to see how candidates perform on-the-job tasks. A good skills test includes questions that are capable of being answered by someone already doing the job and can accurately measure key performance metrics. Questions should also be specifically tailored to relate to the responsibilities of an open position. Many skills tests include immersive experiences, like coding challenges or job simulations, to mimic how a candidate performs when faced with a real-life scenario.
Other types of job-readiness evaluations deploy validated psychometric assessments to identify those in-demand soft skills: things like motivation, conscientiousness, resilience, and emotional intelligence. A personality assessment varies from a skills test in that it predicts how a person will behave in a specific scenario, rather than their ability to complete a task.
While skills test cover task-related abilities, like coding, copywriting, or sales, some pre-employment assessments integrate the less tangible capabilities – things like teamwork and leadership. These qualities are sought after by executives at more than 900 companies, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of executives.
Yet, 89% of those surveyed said they have a “very or somewhat difficult time finding people with the requisite attributes.” Where traditional hiring methods fall short, a skills test can easily clarify a candidate’s true talent.
“Many service companies, including retailers, call centers, and security firms, can reduce costs and make better hires by using short, web-based tests as the first screening step. Such tests efficiently weed out the least-suitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool to undergo the more costly personalized aspects of the process.”
Overall, skills tests can play a critical role in predicting on-the-job success. More so than resumes or job interviews, a skills test can assess the true potential of a new hire to go the distance with the company. Here’s how skill testing works, and why more companies than ever are starting to integrate skill testing into the recruitment and hiring process.
Skill testing works best when the questions being asked are specifically crafted to the role and needs of the team hiring the new candidate. In designing a skills test, combine different types of questions to get a 360-degree view of how a candidate will perform in different scenarios.
There are a variety of ways to set up a skills test – and we’ll get into the mechanics of how to actually run the assessment in the next section. But, designing a thoughtful aptitude test takes some initial foresight on behalf of the hiring manager and team.
Ultimately, the best use for a skills assessment is to help recruiters move away from the resume and allow candidates to prove they are the real deal. Crafting the right series of questions should be a collaborative process between the recruiting team and the team hiring the new employee. Here’s how these teams can set up and run a skills test.
In designing a skills test or pre-employment assessment, there are a few specific steps to take in order to thoughtfully structure your questions.
Based on our work with over 8,000 customers, we recommend following these best practices in setting up and running your skills test. These tips can help with candidate engagement and lead to high rates of completion.
We also suggest that video responses not be timed; there are too many technical issues that can result from a candidate trying to film a one-way video interview. If you do wish to set a time limit, make sure it’s at a minimum of five minutes.
Running a skills test through Vervoe, or any other platform, is relatively straightforward. Vervoe’s skills assessments let you select questions from a library of assessment tools, or design your own questions based on the specific needs of your company. The Expert Assessment Library offers questions and trials created by experts in their fields, meaning they have at least 3+ years of experience in their specific area of expertise. You can preview questions from any of the assessments and add them seamlessly through the Vervoe platform.
Now that you know how to set up an assessment, when should you deploy this tool during the hiring process?
Timing is everything when it comes to adding a skill assessment to your hiring process.
Research by Harvard Business Review revealed that skills tests should come early in the hiring process. According to their study, “Many service companies, including retailers, call centers, and security firms, can reduce costs and make better hires by using short, web-based tests as the first screening step. Such tests efficiently weed out the least-suitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool to undergo the more costly personalized aspects of the process.”
Skill tests should be used to screen candidates in, not out. The issue many recruiters face is that the volume of candidates makes it impossible to carefully consider each person’s ability. Smart algorithms and AI tools can turbo-charge candidate assessments by scoring results quickly and removing human bias from the equation.
Vervoe’s algorithm scores candidates using a multi-layered approach. Candidates are ranked based on how well they performed, rather than filtered out if they didn’t achieve a certain benchmark. The top candidates easily rise to the top; but no one misses out on being considered for the next round. When used early in the hiring process, skill tests can select a more diverse pool of applicants to continue onto the next phase.
There are many ways to set up a skills test, depending on the position for which you are hiring. Pre-employment skills tests can cover a range of positions: administrative assistant, finance and accounting, and call center reps are just a few roles that companies hire for using skills assessments.
Excel skill tests, coding skill tests, typing skill tests, and other computer skill tests are the most common forms of pre-employment assessments. Some companies focus on questions that are task-related, e.g. “Create a Powerpoint Slide that has a video embedded in the presentation.” Questions can get hyper-specific to test a niche skill, like a coding language, or be posed more broadly to test the general requirements for success at a certain level.
Some companies choose to focus on verifying the skills that will help a candidate succeed beyond the immediate position. This approach skews closer to a pre-employment assessment, with questions designed to reveal if a candidate can climb the corporate ladder, adapt in a challenging work environment, or respond under pressure.
For example, one call center rep test included questions such as, “You have an elderly customer on the phone who is having trouble understanding your instructions. A colleague is also trying to transfer a call from a customer you served before, and you have a scheduled follow-up call happening in 5 minutes. How would you handle and prioritize in this situation?”
Multiple choice, open-ended questions, and pre-recorded video responses are all great ways to see if a candidate has what it takes to do the job well. But, do candidates enjoy answering these types of questions?
By most accounts, candidates appreciate the opportunity to showcase what makes them great at their job. Orica, the world’s largest provider of commercial explosives, integrated skill-testing into their interview process to the delight of their job candidates. In revamping the interview process for graduate students looking to join the Orica team, recruiters consolidated their online evaluation components into one platform, Vervoe. The skill assessment combined questions focusing on skills, logic, and values.
An average of 86% of candidates completed the online process, and the reviews were mostly positive. Here’s what the candidates had to say about the skills test:
“The tests required total engagement and thought, and were a clear demonstration of what makes Orica different from any other company.”
“I think the questions were very diverse and it allowed me to showcase myself, my skills and abilities in different ways.”
“It gave me an opportunity to showcase who I am as well as challenge my skills”
This is just one example of how a skill test can change the entire interview process for a potential new hire. In a job market where people spend an average of 11 hours a week looking for a new job, it’s easy to get burned out, fast. Every job description starts to look the same; every interview begins to feel stale.
When given the opportunity to showcase their talent through real-world tasks, job candidates will jump at the chance to be engaged with the job description, rise above their resume, and challenge themselves. Companies that use Vervoe’s assessments experience a 97% candidate completion rate, which is among the highest engagement rates in the industry. Candidates love the opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Even if they aren’t hired, skills testing offers a break from the repetition of the stale interview experience.
The benefits of a skills test aren’t limited to the candidate experience.
Recruiters looking to hire diverse, high-performing teams with better efficiency and consistency can use pre-employment tests to their advantage. Skills tests are a better predictor of performance than resume screenings or traditional interviews alone. Resume screenings are bad for three reasons. First, studies suggest that it’s common for candidates to lie on their CV. The person you think you’re hiring may not actually possess the qualifications you think they do.
“We just wouldn’t be able to interview 2000 people in two weeks. But what we could do is utilize Vervoe to more accurately and in quite an unbiased way, assess everybody’s application during that period.
Rather than just assess the first 200 [applicants] and maybe hire 150 of them, Vervoe allowed us to actually assess all 3000 applicants in a two week period and still be able to select the best 150.”
Second, resumes only provide a high-level view of a candidate’s credentials and work experience. These items don’t offer qualitative insight into actual on-the-job performance. Coupled with recruiting biases that are built into the process, the third threat is that recruiters are privileging candidates based on background and demographics, rather than talent. Perhaps this is why new hires crash out as often as they do. According to one study, 46% of new hires “fail” within the first 18 months of being hired.
Skill tests can help take some of the bias out of the interview process, give recruiters a new evaluation metric to consider, and lead to happier, long-term hires. There’s ample evidence to suggest they really do work better than many of the other traditional hiring methods recruiters have relied on in the past.
In our experience, skill testing works better than traditional hiring methods – with some caveats.
Without a doubt, aptitude tests can be used to replace resume screening. This style of sorting through candidates increases the chance that the best candidates will be unfairly eliminated. Good people get screened out, rather than screened in. So-called “pedigree proxies” – resumes and cover letters – are not indicative of job performance, yet they are often the quickest way a recruiter or algorithm can think of to cut down on their stack of candidate resumes.
Skills tests improve time to hire while allowing the hiring manager to see how someone will do the job, before they get the offer. This reduces turnover costs, which add up quickly: the cost of making the wrong hire can be up to 2.5x salary, easily over $100,000. Working with Vervoe’s skills assessments, on the other hand, can help a recruiter identify the best people at under $100 per hire.
The best skills tests, however, need the right formula to help the candidates succeed. Some recruiters focus narrowly on the skills that will help a new hire succeed in the immediate position for which they are hiring. Yet, many CEOs emphasize the importance of soft skills – things like leadership and teamwork.
New hires may end up being disappointed and leaving because they lacked the soft skills needed to adapt to their new team, not necessarily the skills to perform the job. Recruiters must integrate questions into their skill assessment that focus on critical soft skills that predict long-term success. These validated psychometric assessments are key to assessing “culture fit” without defaulting to recruiter bias.
With any kind of assessment, there’s a common concern that’s quite commonly raised: is this assessment valid?
There are many types of validity, and it’s rare that a test will satisfy every type. Looking specifically at tests for finding job fit, there are a few different types of validity that are particularly relevant, not just to ensure that the hire is a good one, but to ensure compliance with EEOC regulations.
In all cases where assessments are used, and in every step of the recruitment process, it’s essential that employers track and remain aware of differences in performance that are biased toward particular demographic factors. At Vervoe, we constantly monitor assessments to make sure candidates take tests that are fair, and based solely on skills that reflect how they would perform on the job.
In conclusion, we’ll leave you with few thoughts on skill tests compared to interviews.
First, interviews, in general, need a total overhaul. Recruiters have been asking the same, outdated interview questions for decades. Many candidates get overwhelmed by the performance anxiety inherent in the interview and may make (forgivable) mistakes. Nevertheless, many recruiters like the security of meeting someone before making an offer.
Many recruiters seek the same insight from a group interview or case study that they would get from an individual skill test. Unfortunately, using these methods can’t give you the same valuable information as a straightforward aptitude assessment. Case studies can be too conceptual; rather than seeing how a candidate will approach the work listed in the job description, case studies ask abstract questions. The goal of asking “how many tennis balls can fit on a Boeing 757” is not to see if the candidate can guess the right answer, but to see how they approach the question and reason through their response.
But this knowledge doesn’t always serve a recruiter with the best predictor of on-the-job success.
Group interviews provide more insight – into a candidate’s teamwork, leadership, and communication, for example. Yet, in a group scenario, extroverts tend to dominate. It can be difficult to see how each candidate performs as an individual while trying to consider the group at once.
In summary, skill testing is all about understanding whether a candidate can do something or knows something. It’s about verifying their ability to go the distance with your company. Pre-employment assessments differ slightly in that they focus on predicting how a candidate will behave in certain scenarios, not what they can do. By combining questions from skills testing and pre-employment assessments, recruiters can get a more accurate picture of the candidate’s ability.
For more reading, check out some of these great resources.
Right now, you’re probably focussing on how to get more of the best talent into your funnel as the global talent shortage squeezes hiring teams.
That’s why we’ve made some small (but significant) improvements to our experience, to make it even easier to access and use our platform, both for candidates and hiring teams.
Standalone Video Interview
Last year we created a world-first frictionless hiring experience, enabling incredible speed and immediate efficiency gains for our customers. An automated workflow that interviews every candidate using Ai over chat, and auto progresses the shortlist to a non-Ai Video Interview.
Our customers want to empower Hiring Managers to make the final hiring decision while eliminating wasted time that manual screening processes create, and giving every single candidate an empowering experience with their brand.
The results have blown us away. When combined with Chat Interview, Video Interview has achieved the following outcomes for our customers, across 30k candidates:
“This interview was really great since I had 5 chances to record my responses, and that I had time to prepare my answer. The interview was not rushed and I was able to say everything I had to say”
“I like that this system gives people the opportunity to express how they really feel, and streamlines the interviewing process.”
Given the market demand for asynchronous video solutions, we’re delighted to announce that Video Interview is now available as a standalone solution.
We remain committed to hiring that minimizes human bias and always recommend using our Ai Chat Interview as the first step in your main recruitment process. It’s fair, engaging, and the most efficient way to assess your candidate pool.
However, this development suits the following scenarios:
In both of these scenarios, candidates can still have an engaging experience with your brand by completing a Video Interview for your hiring team to review, in their own time.
For customers wanting to interview non-English speakers, or provide reasonable accommodations for candidates unable to provide written responses, you can now offer Video Interview as a standalone assessment stage.
To be clear: we always advocate for our Ai Chat Interview to be used as the main assessment stage in your standard hiring process. It’s faster, fairer, and a more engaging candidate experience at the top of the funnel.
However, for scenarios where it doesn’t work to use an English language written interview, now you can offer Video Interview on its own.
Ethnicity & Gender Source visible in DiscoverInsights
To be able to measure diversity through the funnel, and help you to pinpoint bias across your business, we report on the ethnicity and gender of candidates.
The source of this data comes from two places:
Now you’ll be able to see the percentage breakdown between these two sources, to better understand the overall accuracy with which these data points are reported.
Ask questions using video in Video Interview
To create an even more engaging Video Interview experience, customers can now pre-record the questions asked in video format, so your candidates have more of a ‘conversation’ and get to know your team.
Our Customer Success team manages this process, so if you want to use this feature, just get in touch.
Edge 3 MFA token timeout increased
We take security at Sapia seriously. The use of MFA is key to keeping our customer’s data safe, however, some customers were having some issues with the 5 min token timeout.
To address this, we’ve increased the time limit to enter your MFA code from 5 to 10 minutes, to make it easier to log in to our platform, and to give some slower email delivery systems time to get your code to you.
Planned delay in sending My Insights reports ⏰
Our Ai is fast.. Some could say, too fast!
To set a more human cadence of communication, we’ve introduced a planned delay of around an hour in sending My Insights reports to candidates after they’ve submitted their Chat Interview responses.
All in the spirit of creating a human, intuitive experience with our Smart Interviewer.
Sadly, neither notion holds particularly true. Discrimination is still very much alive. And new employees continue to leave their companies at an alarming rate. A hiring firm seeks to eliminate both issues — through AI-based tech.
From the outside looking in, Sapia’s promises nearly sound too good to be true. Founded in Melbourne Australia in 2013, they describe themselves as a combined effort of data scientists, engineers, HR professionals, programmers — and rock climbers. They have based their business around the idea of empowerment of all parties — all for the greater good of fair decisions. “We believe that using data, and ideally actual performance data, is the best way to deliver fairness and better decision-making”, they say.
“Smart Interviewer is the only conversational interview platform with 99% candidate satisfaction feedback.”
Their ideas come together in their newest invention: a chatbot called Smart. Rather than you spending countless of hours on initial candidate interviews, Smart Interviewer will do the top-of-funnel interviews for you. According to Smart Interviewer’s parents, it is the only conversational interview platform with 99% candidate satisfaction feedback. Moreover, the company reports a 95% completion rate.
It’s no surprise that humans are prone to unconscious bias, and that’s what the company wants to tackle with Smart Interviewer. “When a recruiter first screens a resume, they do so for +/- 6 seconds. So what is it that they are seeking?”, they ask. Their answer to the unconscious bias is simple: data. “Only clean data, like the answers to specific job-related questions, can give us a true bias-free outcome.”
While Sapia has been shortlisted for several tech and AI-based awards, there have been some critical notes too. MIT Technology Review writer Karen Hao labelled the hiring firm’s initiatives as ‘misleading’, ‘troubling’ and ‘causing greater scrutiny for their tools’ labour issues beyond discrimination’.
“Job hopping, or the threat of job hopping is one of the main things that workers are able to increase their income.”
Hao quotes Solon Barocas, an assistant professor at Cornell University and principal researcher at Microsoft Research. Barocas, an expert at algorithmic fairness and accountability, does raise a valid point in Hao’s article. The fact that Smart Interviewer asks job hopping-related questions, isn’t a good thing for candidates. “Job hopping or the threat of job-hopping is one of the main things that workers are able to increase their income.”
While AI-based systems are designed to eliminate bias, there have been multiple cases where bias can actually creep into algorithms. Amazon stopped using a hiring algorithm after finding out it favoured applicants based on words such as ‘executed’ and ‘captured’, which were far more common in men’s resumes. It proves that even though when gender, race or sexual orientation are no longer part of the process, there are still ways for AI systems to discriminate.
The answer may lie in mandated transparency, according to Barocas. “If firms were more forthcoming about their practices and submitted their tools for such validation, it could help hold them accountable”, he says.
At the end of the day, and we’ve got ourselves to thank for this: AI bias may be an easier fix than human bias.
Meanwhile, it’s easy to forget why Sapia came up with Smart Interviewer in the first place. The same way it is easy to be overly critical of organisations who are trying their best to really bridge a gap when it comes to discrimination in the forms of a lack of diversity and inclusion with regards to hiring. At the end of the day, and we’ve got ourselves to thank for this: AI bias may be an easier fix than human bias.
By Jasper Spanjaart, ToTalent, 29/07/2020
To get the Research Paper:
In case you missed it: The other week, Sage CEO, Stephen Kelly, sat down with Sapia’s Steven John, number 45 on the Sage Top 100 list for 2017, and asked him his thoughts on AI and just how important he feels it is to get it right.
Stephen Kelly: “I’m really pleased to be engaging today with Steven John… an absolute expert in recruitment and people development.”
“So, Steven, tell us a bit about what you’ve done. You’ve got a massive following, 18,000 followers on Twitter. You’re a renowned expert. Tell us a bit about that.”
Steven John: “Well, my background is technology and recruitment. As a lot of recruiters do, I kind of fell out of university with no real idea of a career path and landed in tech recruitment. I spent 13 years as a recruiter and then more recently had the opportunity to take my professional skills that I learned in recruitment and bring them into a business that’s using AI to help businesses make smarter hires.
“I’m a customer success manager for an AI business called Sapia.
“In terms of what we do, we use predictive models to help businesses make smarter hires so they can identify who might be a better or more likely to be a better salesperson or deliver a better customer service experience to their customers.
“Whatever the metrics or the KPIs that their business is using to understand how its people are operating, our solution can help you understand, from the candidate market, who should we be spending our time with, who should the human beings within our talent team be spending time talking to.
“Because of the model, the algorithm has helped us sift through quite a large number of candidates. I’m sure you guys get hundreds of thousands of candidates here. So how do we identify those shiny pins in the haystack? So that’s what our models do.”
SK: “Well, I think that’s brilliant, Steven. And obviously, kind of the relevance and gems of this Facebook Live session is to bring it down to all the entrepreneurs out there who are thinking about growing their business, living their dreams, pursuing their passions, and we all know the fuel of that is talented people.
“You mentioned artificial intelligence – AI, machine learning, predictive analytics aimed to make smarter hiring decisions that will really boost your business forward. What is your current experience of where we are on that journey?”
SJ: “I think a lot of businesses are ready. I think more businesses are ready than they probably realise. If I think about the numerous engagements that I’ve had with numbers of businesses, prospects and current clients, the things that strike me as quite interesting are the amount of data that businesses have.
“Surprisingly, some of the businesses who I would have thought would be incredibly data-heavy, will have a lot of data on their people, haven’t been quite so. But the good news for those businesses and even the smaller businesses is that there are solutions available in the market that can help many companies get started on that journey.
“Sometimes I am surprised by how other businesses or some businesses invest their time, money and effort in technology solutions, in buildings, in lots of infrastructure and pieces of kit. But what they don’t necessarily do is invest as much money in their people.
“The encouraging thing is there are now lots of solutions available to businesses of all shapes and descriptions that will really help them start to make smarter decisions for their hiring processes.
“The people are the lifeline of the company. The cost of people is probably one of the most.”
SK: “It’s worth noting most of our customers who are in the services business, about 70% to 80% of their cost base is the people they hire and manage. And we believe in people science.
“So certainly, when they’re here, we want to be pretty scientific, but the recruitment of them could be as scientific as that so we get the right person with the right skills, the right attitude, and the right competence to be successful.”
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Have you seen the 2020 Candidate Experience Playbook?
If there was ever a time for our profession to show humanity for the thousands that are looking for work, that time is now. If there was ever a time for our profession to show humanity for the thousands that are looking for work, that time is now.