Using Behavioral Assessments in Talent Acquisition

If you’re in management or HR, you know full well that education, certification, and accomplishments listed on a resume provide only half the picture of a potential hire’s value to a company. It’s their fit that will determine whether they turn out to be a good hire or a bad decision.

How Do You Determine If a Potential Hire Will Be a Fit?

You can go on your gut feeling about the prospective employee, and certainly that sixth sense should not be ignored. But there are more sophisticated and accurate ways to measure “how” a person is, as well as “what” he or she knows, has accomplished, and can do. Predictive behavioral assessments are arguably the best way to measure such things as a candidate’s culture fit, work style and potential to work well inside your business.

Behavioral assessment tools require test takers to exhibit particular behavioral skills in one or many exercises based on actual workplace situations. These tools explore various behavioral aspects, from generic personality characteristics and customer-oriented skills to learning willingness and leadership potential. The percentage of companies using behavior assessment has grown dramatically. In a study conducted recently by Kyle Lagunas, talent acquisition analyst at Brandon Hall Group, a human capital research and advisory firm in Delray Beach, Florida, it was revealed that an expected 52 percent of hiring companies used skill and knowledge assessments in the evaluation process, and a surprising 38 percent used predictive behavioral assessments as well.

Choosing and Using Assessment Tools

Many companies are employing behavioral assessment testing up front, requiring a candidate to complete a behavioral questionnaire at the same time as the traditional online application. That’s what Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center Inc., a large conference complex in Boston, has been doing of late. They custom-tailored their questionnaires using their own data on what behavioral traits fit best in each of their various employment segments, and the practice has borne terrific results. Since instituting the use of the questionnaires, employee turnover has declined from double to single digits.

What Assessment Tool Should You Use?

So, which assessment tool do you use, or start with? And how do you modify the tool to produce reliable data on candidates likely to fit well within your company culture? It’s a rapidly changing landscape out there, but two well-established vendors are Kenexa and PeopleAnswers, each of which recently were acquired, respectively, by IMB and Infor.

In general, it is best to use a behavioral assessment service as a stand-alone evaluative tool, rather than employing one that’s built into an acquisition technology. Why? Because customization is generally more flexible, allowing you to design or tweak questionnaires for different departments or positions without having to make alterations anywhere else.

The Tricky Minefield of Choosing the Traits You Want

What about the fear that an assessment tool is eliminating good candidates because certain of their traits are scoring low, but those particular traits don’t correlate well with their odds of success in the position? Some have argued that one popular test, the DISC assessment, is a poor tool for pre-employment screening because, says Phyllis G. Hartman, owner of PGHR Consulting Inc. in Pittsburgh, “it doesn’t measure a specific skill, aptitude or factor specific to any position.”

Or imagine the results when an HR Director or hiring committee has decided that what is needed for a new manager is a candidate with a ferocious sense of drive, when in fact a more effective hire would be a manager with excellent skills of inspiration and persuasion who leads people to want to make improvements.

How Do You Custom-Tailor Your Assessment Tool?

It’s an unavoidable fact that effective use of data requires that you have good data to start with. So, if your company has not been tracking successful employees and their performance markers in some way, then you don’t yet have data to guide you in tweaking your assessment tool. If this is the case, you can make current data-gathering your first step in preparing to integrate behavioral assessment into your hiring process.

Behavioral assessment vendors will work with you to generate valuable data by conducting a trial survey of employees identified as top performers and, possibly, those performing on the low end of the scale as well. Using the data gathered, patterns and important behavioral traits can be ferreted out and used to inform the final format of the questionnaires that your company will use. Pymetrics, for example, uses neuroscience games and black-box artificial intelligence to assess what a company’s top performers have in common, and then the company can use those findings to screen and identify candidates with similar personality traits and behavioral tendencies. SquarePeg and Traitify offer variations on these methods.

The Yin and Yang of Behavioral Assessments vs Personality Tests

Bear in mind that while personality and behavior overlap, they are not the same. Here’s one illustrative example: Let’s say you have an employee who gains energy from face-to-face social interactions and whose strong suit is not necessarily detail-oriented work. Such a person may, with the right motivation, excel in a position that involves a high degree of personal interaction and that also requires detail-focused work from time to time, because they are happy in their job, so they worked to find a way to deal with the tedium of the detail work. On the other hand, if this same employee were given the same variety of projects in a setting that placed them in a fairly isolated environment with little interaction with peers, their job satisfaction, and therefore performance, would likely plummet.

Takeaways in Deciding on and Using Behavioral Assessments in Hiring

  • Start with data gathered from your own high-performing employees.
  • Identify the behavioral traits that you need for the positions you want to fill. Different positions will require different traits.
  • Find a vendor whose behavioral assessment tool is a good fit for your company, and tweak that tool to fine-tune your testing for your own company culture.
  • Always incorporate the human factor—your own gut response—into the evaluative equation. It’s all about people, after all. You want to be smart and accurate in evaluating a person’s traits, but allow emotional intelligence its place in helping you make your final decision about whether that candidate is likely to work well as a member of your company.

Further information & resources:

“Make Better Hires with Behavioral Assessments,” by Bill Roberts, in HR Magazine, published by SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Assessing Personalities,” by Kate Rockwood, in All Things Work, published by SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Behavior Assessment Tools: The Secret Sauce To Better Talent Decisions,” published by Mercer | Mettl.

“Rated Reviews of Pre-Employment Testing Software,” published by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *