Candidate screening tests could be turning talent away

July 17, 2019
Candidate screening tests could be turning talent away

Candidate screening tests are used by employers to weed out the bad, and cut straight to the good. But while I’m not necessarily against candidate screening tests, I don’t think they always serve this purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, personality tests are fun – it’s always interesting to see an automated analysis of yourself. And I think that competence-based tests can be exceptionally useful, especially when they relate directly to skills required for the job.

But I am not convinced that screening tests are right for every business, nor every job. And so I’ve been looking into this in a bit more detail.

Types of candidate screening tests

There are lots of different candidate screening tests available to employers. For example:

  • Personality tests. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? A yellow or a blue? Personality tests for recruiters are usually designed to put candidates into categories, that will help employers understand how well they will integrate once they start their new job.  
  • General competence tests. Some employers insist on putting candidates through IQ-style tests. But while, in theory, this should help you find the most intelligent applicants, in reality, IQ tests don’t tell you a huge lot about a person’s ability to do a job.
  • Specific competence tests. Coding tests for a programmer, editing tests for a copywriter, you get the picture. These are designed to find out how well a candidate knows the subject area surrounding the job they are applying for. This can help prevent you wasting time interviewing people who do not understand the subject, or the skills required.

Generally, these tests are found at the application stage. Your Applicant Tracking System may direct applicants to complete the test, upon submitting their CV or filling out the application form. However, many screening services charge on a per-test basis, and some employers will only invite vetted candidates to complete the screening tests.

Screening tests can help you determine good culture-fit

There are many reasons why screening tests can, theoretically, help you improve the quality of your workforce. For example:

“Personality tests can be helpful screening measures” says business coach Stacy Caprio, “because they allow you to see how someone will approach work and relationships in a work environment, in ways they may not tell you in the interview. They’re especially helpful to determine if the applicant will be a good culture-fit.”

But while there are indeed perceived benefits to screening candidates like this, some experts believe that it can also have the opposite effect.

They breed bias before anybody even meets

Emma Hunt is the Head of Talent at Looka, an AI-powered Logo making company. Having worked in several companies where pre-interview tests were used, Emma says that they are not effective.

“They affected our hiring process in several ways” she says. “They can cause perpetuated bias before an interviewee is even in front of a hiring manager. They stunt diversity of thought. And some candidates will try to answer – intentionally or not – what they think the company wants to see, instead of reflecting their true selves, which gives a false impression.”

Emma adds that candidate screening tests can also cause higher drop-out, especially in companies that don’t have a recognisable brand. And recruitment expert Matt Dodgson, tends to agree.

Screening tests are a needless hurdle in a candidate-driven market

Matt Dodgson is a director at Market Recruitment, and has been in recruitment for 20 years. He says that the usefulness of screening tests often depends on whether or not you operate in a candidate-driven market.

“A candidate driven market is one where there are more jobs than there are available candidates” he explains. “I can’t comment on whether we’re in one in the UK overall… but the high employment and low unemployment figures would suggest we’re not far off.”

Dodgson tells me that in a candidate-driven market, the candidate will be in higher demand, and will always have multiple jobs to look at. So instead of screening the candidate, a screening test will often, inadvertently, end up screening the employer!

“You’ll find that candidates are far less likely to complete a screening test, when for most other jobs they’re not being asked to do one” he explains. “Ultimately, this means you can lose out on hiring well qualified candidates.”

Three questions to ask before you introduce candidate screening tests

Dodgson recommends three questions that you should ask yourself, before introducing candidate screening tests.

  1. Are there lots of other companies trying to hire the same person?
  2. Are those companies in my geographical area?
  3. Am I offering something better, e.g. higher salary or a well-known positive attitude to employment?

He says that if the answers are Yes, Yes, No… then avoid getting candidates doing anything upfront, and instead focus on trying to make the interview process as simple, and enjoyable as possible.

Should you ever purposefully make your recruitment process more complicated?

If you follow my blog regularly, you might remember my recent interview with “Lanks”, who actually advised deliberately making your recruitment process more complex and cumbersome for the applicant. Of course, this was only in respect to a very specific circumstance…

You can read my interview with Lanks here: Is Jobcentre recruitment a complete waste of time?

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