Picture a recruiter’s nightmare.
Your team is trying to fill three different vacancies, and you’re snowed under with resumes. You’re trying to pick out a shortlist from a pile of “detail-oriented” and “motivated” candidates, but all it’s doing is giving you a stress headache.
Meanwhile, an ex-colleague on LinkedIn is glowing like they’ve just stepped off a plane from Aruba. They’re trying to fill five vacancies, but they’re not worried – they’re using psychometric testing to screen candidates. No piles of CVs for them!
“Some people cut corners,” you grumble to yourself. You know you’re better than that. You’re not lazy.
But still, you feel some doubt. Could your ex-colleague be onto something? Are recruiters who use assessments lazy, or is data-driven recruitment the way forward?
In this blog post, we’ll weigh both sides of the debate – but first, let’s clarify what “data-driven recruitment” means.
Table of contents
- What are screening tests and assessments?
- The debate
- Assessments are for modern, tech-savvy recruiters: the advantages
- Assessments are for lazy recruiters looking to cut corners: the concerns
- Head-to-head comparison table
- The final verdict: Assessments are part of a balanced, fair, and modern approach
- Keep learning about assessments and screening tests
- ✅ Get started with pre-employment screening tests
What are screening tests and assessments?
Pre-employment testing is a key part of data-driven recruitment. It refers to online pre-employment exams, which recruiters usually use in place of the traditional first round of screening resumes and cover letters.
There are many types of pre-employment assessments out there, testing everything from Python coding ability to emotional intelligence.
However, all good pre-employment tests have some things in common:
- They collect the same data from all candidates
- They provide objective measures with which to compare candidates
- They address the core competencies of the role you’re hiring for
We’ll talk more about the specifics of pre-employment testing throughout this post. Now it’s time to get to the debate.
The debate about pre-interview testing is a hot one in HR circles. It usually centers on whether data-driven recruitment just means ditching traditional methods and all the benefits they bring to your hiring strategy.
For instance, some professionals think that assessments focus too much on hard data and not enough on the human qualities that make candidates a good fit – and that this makes them bad for workplace diversity.
The opinion directly below is from a professional who is against assessments:
Others believe the opposite. They say that pre-employment testing helps you eliminate biases and see candidates clearly for not just who they are but also their potential.
Compare the opinion above with the one below, which advocates for pre-employment testing:
In this post, we’ll explore the arguments for both of these positions and give our verdicts on their merit.
We believe in transparency, so before we start, let us be clear about our position. TestGorilla is a skills-testing platform. We believe in the power of skills-based testing to deliver the right hire.
But although we might have skin in the game, we care about giving you all the information you need to make an informed decision.
If you’re in a rush, why not skip straight to the head-to-head comparison table or the final verdict?
Assessments are for modern, tech-savvy recruiters: the advantages
Let’s start with the things that attract recruiters to pre-employment testing in the first place.
Here are six benefits of data-driven recruiting using tests and our verdicts on whether they’re proven or questionable.
1. You hire faster and at a lower cost
The age of the CV as the first port of call for hiring is coming to an end.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, businesses hired by self-selecting applicants who delivered hard-copy resumes to the appropriate hiring manager to review manually. It took a while, but there were only a few applications, so it was manageable.
Fast-forward to the present day. Candidates have far more ways to reach you and vice versa. This means you have access to a wider talent pool, but it also means more work. Did you know that the average corporate position receives 250 applications?
Evaluating hundreds of resumes takes a lot of time, and in hiring, time is money.
Research has shown that a single vacancy costs a company an average of around $123 per day, adding up to a staggering $4,425 over the average of 36 days it takes to fill it.
This contributes to the high average cost per hire, which the same research found is more than $14,000 for executive hires. This includes things like:
- Fees for posting vacancies on job boards
- Advertising costs
- Recruitment agency fees
- Internal fees, including your and your team’s salaries
By contrast, sending every applicant an in-depth standardized assessment enables you to easily compare and filter out unqualified candidates based on their actual skills and values, not just what they claim in their resumes.
It’s a win-win situation. You get what you need faster and at less cost to your employer.
Verdict: Proven benefit
2. You can assess candidate performance objectively
When you use pre-employment assessments, you’re evaluating candidates based on their skills and not just what they say in their CVs. Research has shown that many candidates are perfectly comfortable bending the truth in their resumes.
Furthermore, candidates are not always the best judges of what’s most relevant to a role. We all know it sometimes takes a few minutes of digging to find the most important information in a badly written CV.
Skills tests are not only better predictive tools (more on this below) but also more inclusive ones. Many studies have shown the role that unconscious bias plays in early hiring decisions. One 2021 survey found that recruiters were less likely to call candidates with “ethnic”-sounding names, particularly if they were women.
In addition to recruiters’ unconscious biases, many common resume “best practices” touted by recruitment professionals also discriminate against certain groups, as shown in the table below:
|Resume “red flags”||Groups this negatively affects|
|Large gaps between roles||People with illnesses or disabilities that have hindered their ability to work; Parents and carers with childcare responsibilities returning to the workforce, who are more likely to be women|
|Frequent changing of roles||People with responsibilities that have forced them to move|
|Poor spelling and/or grammar||People whose first language isn’t English; People with learning disabilities such as dyslexia|
By contrast, pre-employment assessments help you compare candidates anonymously based on competency. You can also make special accommodations so that all applicants have equal access. That means less bias and more opportunities for candidates to show their skills.
The long-term effects of objectively assessing candidates are huge: Hiring managers who use assessments rate their hires as “above average” or “excellent.”
Verdict: Proven benefit
3. The tests are developed by subject-matter experts
Even the most plugged-in recruiter has gaps in their knowledge of the role they’re hiring for. For example, you might not know the specific coding experience candidates require or whether having experience as the head of product at a SaaS company is relevant for the role of chief executive officer of a media startup.
If you use a traditional approach in such cases, you might let great talent slip away, but pre-employment testing can remedy this.
All of TestGorilla’s tests are created by subject-matter experts (SMEs) who have an in-depth understanding of the practical competencies required for specific roles. They also have the knowledge and experience needed to prepare relevant and up-to-date test questions that keep up with industry changes.
For example, Jessie, an SME with extensive experience as an environmental consultant and an MSc in Chemistry, authored our Working with Data test. She applied her scientific skills to create questions about data visualizations, scientific writing, and GIS analysis and mapping. Now that’s someone you can trust to ask the right questions.
Verdict: Proven benefit
4. Candidates are happier
Providing a great candidate experience is one of the best ways to improve overall employee satisfaction and retention. One way you can do this is by keeping the initial application process as short and simple as possible.
We have a good idea of what you’re thinking now: How does a pre-employment assessment achieve that? The candidate has barely interacted with your company, and you’re asking them to invest their precious time in an online assessment.
However, there is another way to think of this. Candidates might take hours tailoring their resumes and writing cover letters when applying to your organization.
In addition to using their preparation time more efficiently, candidates benefit from pre-employment assessments in the following ways:
- They’re not dragged through rounds of interviews before finding out they’re not a good fit
- They know they will definitely be considered (in other words, their CVs won’t end up being discarded without a response)
- They know that the assessment is objective
Verdict: Proven benefit
5. Decision-making becomes easier
The shift toward skills-based hiring (as opposed to hiring based on degrees or interview results alone) makes hiring decisions much easier.
It requires you to identify the key skills necessary to do the job at the outset and then assess those skills in a controlled environment. For example, you could give potential leaders situational judgment tests or have programmers complete a coding exercise.
This makes it easy to shortlist candidates for interviews because you can compare all the applicants’ performance on one dashboard.
Skills-based hiring can also support your decision-making during and after the interview stage. The test results give you an initial idea of candidates’ skills. You can then use structured interviews to probe candidates further, referring back to the test results when it’s time to make a final decision.
Assessments enable you to not only make the right hiring decision but also build your ideal candidate profiles for the future.
Verdict: Proven benefit
6. You find better-quality candidates and new hires
Finally – and most importantly – assessments are better than almost any other measure at predicting performance.
According to a Google study, they’re a more reliable predictor than a candidate’s work experience, references, and interview performance.
You automatically improve the efficiency of your hiring process and raise the bar for the final hire by giving all applicants the same level of access and attention. This also ensures that everyone who makes it to the interview stage has the minimum required skills and the right values for the role.
Verdict: Proven benefit
Assessments are for lazy recruiters looking to cut corners: the concerns
With so much data supporting the adoption of skills tests in the hiring process, sticking to CVs and application forms might seem so 20th century. But why do many recruiters still spurn pre-employment testing as part of a data-driven recruitment approach?
Here are four concerns we hear recruiters raise about pre-interview assessments:
1. Recruiters only use assessments to save time and effort
There’s no denying there’s something just a little bit arrogant about the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” After all, if you’re an ambitious professional, you’re probably not afraid of a little elbow grease, right?
But, as we’ve seen above, using a more efficient screening tool saves you time, effort, and considerable amounts of money. As an in-house HR rep, you can reinvest these resources into activities like:
- Improving your onboarding process
- Designing well-being programs
- Creating hiring plans and processes for future growth
But saving time is only part of the equation and not the main reason you should use assessments. Skills assessments are strongest when paired with a thorough background check and interview strategy.
They’re there to help you get more value from your time by freeing up space for the activities you were hired to do. However, if cutting corners is your goal, this isn’t the strategy for you.
It’s still important to take the time to select the right skills tests for your open role when building an assessment. You’ll also still need to carefully structure the interview phase of the hiring process and ask interview questions that will give you an accurate sense of candidates’ relevant skills.
Verdict: Valid concern
2. Assessments don’t predict how well a candidate will perform in a job
If you’re not familiar with skills testing, it probably sounds like a glorified version of those personality quizzes you took online as a teenager, such as “Which pizza topping are you?” or “Which member of the Friends cast would be your bestie?”
But in reality, assessments aren’t just personality quizzes or logic puzzles that don’t relate to the job. In fact, our tests cover core competency areas, including:
- Language skills
- Technical requirements, e.g., programming tests
- Situational judgment (how candidates would act in a given scenario)
Unlike in those internet quizzes, it’s hard for candidates to change their answers based on what they think employers want to hear. As the graph above shows, tests are the strongest predictor of job performance when used well.
However, there are valid concerns about hiring managers relying excessively on testing. One is falling prey to the 90% job fit dilemma. For example, a candidate could ace their assessment but fail in the job because the hiring manager didn’t check if they were a personality fit.
Alternatively, you might reject a candidate because they had somewhat poor results on one of their tests even though they aced their interviews.
These are valid drawbacks. That’s why at TestGorilla, we never advocate using testing as your sole recruiting tool.
Instead, we recommend a holistic approach that includes conducting structured interviews to give your hiring process that much-needed human touch.
This enables you to fully assess all candidates fairly. For example, Harvard Business Review recommends assessing so-called “imperfect” candidates by:
- Measuring their capacity for learning
- Looking for the hallmarks of potential, such as curiosity, engagement, and motivation
- Offering multiple assessments
Verdict: Valid concern
3. Assessments are a waste of time and deter good candidates
Many recruiters worry that having candidates complete pre-employment assessments seems like a big ask, particularly if it’s their first point of contact with the company. After all, you’re asking them to commit their time to work on these tests before they’ve even met with you.
The best way to combat this is through two strategies:
- Clear communication
- Using the appropriate tests for each role
Automating the hiring process can be a time-saver. Still, it may come at a cost, giving candidates the impression that your business is hands-off and disrespectful of their application efforts.
Make sure you clearly communicate the purpose of the tests, using strong personalization methods and a human touch whenever possible.
At TestGorilla, we like to show videos from the hiring manager or a relevant team member at the start of each test, thanking the candidate for the time they’ll spend completing it.
Finally, make it clear to the candidates that you’re using the tests to overcome natural biases, and ensure they get the visibility they deserve throughout the hiring process.
Verdict: Valid concern
4. Tests and assessments lead to you hiring “cookie-cutter teams”
Skills tests can only take you so far. You also need to hire someone who will help serve and grow your company culture, which is much trickier and more subjective than hiring someone based on skills like programming or language expertise.
This can be an area where data-driven recruiters trip up with pre-interview assessments. This usually happens because they hire for “culture fit” instead of “culture add.”
Briefly, “culture fit” refers to when a candidate matches the superficial personality types present in your existing team. They might be fun around the office, but they won’t push your team to think in new ways. Testing can support this kind of hiring if you use it to identify candidates who are similar to your existing team.
However, this pitfall isn’t unique to data-driven hiring. In fact, it’s usually the default approach of most traditional recruitment methods.
For instance, if you were hiring for culture fit in your own team, you might use the infamous “beer test,” asking yourself, “Would I like to go for a beer with this person?”
That’s the way to create a cookie-cutter team because it emphasizes likeability and conformity to type.
On the other hand, hiring for “culture add” identifies cultural matches for your organization through shared values. Testing supports this by eliminating human bias at the shortlisting stage.
You’ll likely end up with all sorts of personality types on your team, all supporting each other toward their common goals, as we do at TestGorilla.
You can learn more about our customizable Culture Add test and how it helps recruiters avoid hiring “cookie-cutter teams” by clicking on this link.
Verdict: Confirmed drawback (if you hire for culture fit instead of culture add)
Head-to-head comparison table
|Arguments for data-driven assessments|
|Advantage||Points for||Points against|
|1. Faster hiring at a lower cost||A single vacancy costs an average of around $123 per day – the longer you spend manually comparing CVs and cover letters, the more it costs you; Online tests help you compare and filter candidates quickly and easily||If you don’t test for the right skills and values, you may have to repeat the whole process again in a few months at a greater cost|
|2. Objective assessment of candidate performance||Tests tell you whether a candidate really has the skills they claim they have; |
Tests anonymize candidate data to reduce bias in shortlisting decisions
|3. Tests developed by experts||SMEs write the questions; |
Fills the gap in recruiter knowledge
|4. Candidates are happier||They don’t have to spend time perfecting a CV and cover letter; |
They know their application will be considered objectively, not skimmed through or lost in the shuffle
|Some candidates may object to spending time on a test before interacting with you, so you need to make sure your hiring process has a human touch|
|5. Easier decision-making||Assessments help you hire candidates based on the skills they actually have; |
It’s easy to compare candidates using testing analytics;
You can use test results as a reference point during and after interviews
|If you overestimate the importance of the test, you might hire a poor culture add|
|6. Better-quality candidates and new hires||Tests are proven to be better at predicting job performance than CVs, interviews, and references; |
Improved efficiency and accessibility lead to better hires
|Arguments against data-driven assessments|
|Concern||Points for||Points against|
|1. Assessments are only used because they save time and effort||They do save time, and it might be tempting to over-rely on them||However, their real purpose is to free up time to work on higher-value activities – they’re not so much a shortcut as a helping hand|
|2. They don’t predict how well a candidate will perform in a job||Research by Google shows they’re better at predicting job performance than resumes, references, and even interviews|
|3. Assessments are a waste of time and deter good candidates||Some candidates might be deterred by having to take a test before meeting with you||Assessments save candidates time on perfecting CVs and cover letters; |
When assessments are paired with a personalized contact strategy, candidates won’t feel disrespected
|4. Tests and assessments lead you to hire “cookie-cutter teams”||Most organizations still hire for culture fit, and tests can maximize the harm of this approach||Tests enable you to target skills that don’t already exist on your team; |
Culture-add tests can help you create a diversity of thought in your team;
Removing recruiter bias (e.g., the infamous “beer test,”) promotes diversity
The final verdict: Assessments are part of a balanced, fair, and modern approach
Overall, data-driven recruitment tools are what you make of them.
They are undoubtedly faster and more efficient than skimming through a huge pile of cover letters. Assessments are also likely to provide more information on candidates’ job-relevant competencies than an initial appraisal by a hiring manager.
They have a clear track record of eliminating bias in recruitment, and you can incorporate them as part of a strong, agile recruitment strategy.
However, the power and insight that data-driven recruitment tools give you come with a caveat.
You will still see mixed results unless you reinvest the time you save on CV-skimming into higher-value areas of the recruitment process and use skills assessments alongside other tools, including structured interviews and thorough reference checks.
Keep learning about assessments and screening tests
So, your ex-colleague might have a point after all.
In fact, now that you know how powerful testing tools can be, you can already see how effective they might be when used by someone with your experience and understanding of what makes a great hire.
As a next step, you should read more about pre-employment psychological testing or run through some general recruitment best practices.