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Putting Job Candidates to the Test

April 1, 2003
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Related Topics: Featured Article, Recruitment, Staffing Management
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In a slow economy, no one can afford to make bad hiring decisions. Every failed hire causes companies to throw precious dollars down the drain retraining recruits for the same position. That’s why pre-employment assessment tests are more valuable than ever. While many areas of human resources are feeling the pain of belt-tightening, these staffing tools are growing in popularity because they have such a significant impact on the cost of hiring and turnover.

    An accurate assessment dramatically reduces the time that hiring managers spend interviewing because it automatically eliminates a percentage of the applicant pool. For a human resources team trying to do more with less, that saves valuable time and ensures that bad candidates don’t slip through the hiring process, says Mel Kleiman, managing partner of the Hire Tough Group, a division of Humetrics, an employee retention services company in Houston, and author of Hire Tough, Manage Easy. It also helps you to identify the best candidates by adding another level of evaluation to the process, he adds, and that is critical for success in today’s economy. "It’s no longer enough to hire good people. You have to hire the right people--and now is the time to do it."

    When the economy is good, the candidate pool is smaller and you can’t be as selective as you might like to be, he says. But in a poor economy, there are extremely talented people looking for work. "A bad economy is an opportunity to change the future of your company because you have access to the best possible people for the job."

    In order to hire them, however, you have to know how to identify them, especially when you are being inundated with applications. "You can’t use the same hiring standards today that you used two years ago," Kleiman says. You have to re-evaluate everything in your recruiting process, from how you interview candidates to how you define job performance and expectations. For example, downsizing can have a huge impact on job responsibilities. Employees have fewer people to support them and are expected to do more with less training. If you are using the same job descriptions and the same evaluation standards in a downsized environment, you’re not going to identify the right people for the job.

    Assessment tests enable you to judge candidates on more than just work experience because they also evaluate cognitive ability, says Karen Timmins, assistant vice president of human resources and development for American First Credit Union in La Habra, California. Timmins uses a test from Wonderlic, Inc., a recruiting and retention services company in Libertyville, Illinois, to assess candidates going into her hiring process. At a time when good people from all industries are looking for work, this helps to identify those who best fit your culture and needs, she says. "I’m not limited to choosing people with bank experience. If I identify someone who’s bright and emotionally intelligent, I know they have greater potential for success and job satisfaction, regardless of their background."

    And the impact of that goes beyond individual potential; it has a bearing on the entire staff, Timmins adds. "If you hire a person who conflicts with your core values, it’s amazing how much they stand out. Their disruptive behavior affects everyone."

    To get the best results from assessment tests, many vendors use industrial psychologists to build custom profiles of ideal applicants by defining the high and low performers in that job. Then, using those profiles, they create a set of assessment questions that identify the most suitable candidates for the position.

    Identifying specific performance criteria is critical to the success of the hiring process, says Pat Rowe, vice president of assessment services at Spherion Corporation, in Fort Lauderdale. He recently worked with a telecommunications company that wanted to increase revenues in its customer-service call centers. After the requirements for the position were evaluated, it became clear that, even though the title was "customer service representative," the most successful people were those with good sales skills. Within a year of targeting candidates with sales skills, turnover decreased by 50 percent and revenue per seat increased by 15 percent, he says.

    Getting the right people for the job is how you become a great company, says Charlie Wonderlic, president of Wonderlic, Inc. "The single greatest return on investment comes from the people you hire, yet most companies spend more time evaluating a $10,000 copy machine than they spend evaluating potential employees," he says. "The cost of not hiring the right people is the cost of mediocrity and failure. How much is that worth to you?"

Workforce, April 2003, p. 64-68 -- Subscribe Now!

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