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Why Skills-Based Testing Is Crucial in Successful Hiring

Skills-based tests are one of the most valuable resources in the hiring toolkit. Why is this pre-employment testing tool so important? It can narrow down an expansive talent pool to only the most qualified candidates, allowing them to demonstrate their abilities in a high-fidelity work simulation without requiring hiring professionals to read through a mountain of résumés.

Considering that more than half of the average talent pool is underqualified, it’s essential to separate the best candidates from the rest before putting the effort into making the final selection decision. Skills-focused pre-employment testing does that, allowing hiring professionals to focus on other important things, such as the initial talent search and conducting high-quality interviews.

Skills testing verifies and quantifies a candidate’s skill set. Typically, most of the hiring process is about determining whether a candidate has the experience, accomplishments, and skills they “claim” to have. Testing answers those questions efficiently and effectively.

Beyond this, skills testing can help with employee retention by identifying candidates who are good matches for open roles and who are more likely to thrive at their jobs over the long term. Employers spend, on average, $4,000 and 52 days finding new workers. As a result, significant costs are associated with hiring the wrong person for any given job. Testing can help employers get hiring “right” and reduce turnover in the process.

The benefits of pre-employment skills testing are real and quantifiable. However, misconceptions still abound about how it works and what it adds to the recruiting process. Some recruiters worry that testing could expose them to legal liabilities like the one incurred by Target Corp., which paid almost $3 million in 2015 to settle an employment discrimination lawsuit originating from testing that was deemed discriminatory. Others think that testing is only for major organizations and that the cost and complexity make it less beneficial for small and midsize organizations.

These are common misconceptions. High-quality testing gives recruiters an unparalleled perspective into a candidate’s skills and experience, all while helping to minimize bias in the hiring process. Finding the right candidate has never been more important — or more difficult — than right now. Testing offers a solution, but only to those who understand all that it can do and how it really works.

Working With a High-Quality Skills Test

Often, people misunderstand skills-based tests because they haven’t actually seen them in action. Whether as a job seeker or hiring professional, they’ve only been exposed to poorly designed tests that detract from the recruiting process.

Great skills tests, first and foremost, abide by federal employment laws. Tests must reflect the skills and standards relevant to the role and be validated as doing so; otherwise, they could be deemed discriminatory. The skills testing process starts by identifying the essential skills and knowledge for a position and then building test content around that.

Customization is almost as important as compliance. Generalized pre-employment skills tests may not run afoul of employment laws, but they might not accurately assess candidates, either, because they’re built around skills for generic positions rather than specific skills for actual roles at actual companies. Customized tests, however, measure the exact skills and knowledge necessary for an exact job, so there’s no doubt whether someone can perform it. Questions on custom tests can be true/false, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, essay, matching, and more. They can include video, audio, images, formatting, documents, scratch paper, and even a calculator — whatever it takes to get a fair, accurate assessment.

Any position that requires specialized knowledge of a product or service is unlikely to be covered by a canned, or off-the-shelf, skills test. Such positions present the perfect circumstances for custom testing. For example, every call center works in basically the same way, but each has unique policies, practices, and priorities. Canned tests can’t truly evaluate whether someone is a good fit for a specific call center because they can’t assess the unique skills required for that specific job.

Customized skills tests are just the opposite. They identify the candidates best aligned with a position and keep pre-employment evaluations updated to reflect technological and regulatory changes. Older skills tests may have aged into irrelevance or noncompliance. That’s why it’s critically important to regularly review and update the selection instruments, customizing a test that reflects present and future hiring requirements.

The ideal skills-based test doesn’t come in one-size-fits-all form; it’s customized for the company, role, time period, and test taker. It’s not static, either: Customization allows hiring professionals to ensure it stays fresh, relevant, and dynamic.

It’s plain to see when companies are using high-quality customized skills testing. The recruiting process becomes more efficient at vetting candidates and more effective at scouting talent, creating a highly skilled labor pool that can evolve with agility over time. From ideal testing comes an ideal workforce.

The New Importance of Hard Skills

The way companies hire and employ people is changing faster than it has at any time in history. Spending 40 hours each week inside an office is giving way to more hybrid and remote work models, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Estimates suggest that the number of remote workers could quadruple in the coming years and that 20% of the entire workforce could go entirely or mostly remote without affecting productivity.

As more work shifts away from the standard worksite, hiring challenges will complicate recruiting in two critical ways. First, hiring managers will have a more difficult time evaluating candidates when there are significantly fewer in-person interactions. Second, employees who work remotely will need to have many specialized skills, such as the ability to set up video conferences or use team collaboration software. The evolution of work will force recruiters to look for new skills in new ways.

In the past, the collaborative, the close-quarters environment of the workplace made soft skills (character, personality, etc.) especially important. Interpersonal skills are still important with remote work, but when more people work independently, without as much supervision or direction, it’s essential for them to have the right hard skills for the job.

Hard skills are those that can be concretely measured. They can either be binary (Are you able to operate a printing press: yes or no?) or measured in degrees (How fast can you type in words per minute?).

Pre-employment testing for hard skills ensures that a new hire has whatever aptitude is necessary to thrive in a remote role. Most people claim to work well independently, but testing can help prove or disprove those beliefs. Evaluating hard skills also reveals where and to what extent someone’s true talents exist. By knowing what new hires excel in (and struggle with), it’s easier to slot them into the right role and delegate responsibilities appropriately, which are extra important when managing people from afar.

Hard skills may be quantifiable, but that doesn’t mean testing them is easy. The test must be challenging but not impossible, broad-ranging yet focused on key skills. The ideal tests come from a three-step process:

  • Test selection — List the skills and duties a new hire must have on day one, then explore the various types of tests that are appropriate to measure those skills. There are usually multiple ways to measure the same hard skills, so it’s important to weigh pros and cons.
  • Test validation — After drafting a skills test, have current employees in roles similar to the one you’re hiring for take and assess it. Their perspectives can validate whether the test reflects the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) necessary for the job and the skill level required to be successful. Validation is important, both for test quality and compliance.
  • Test administration — Explore and find the most optimal ways to administer the test. Test takers can access the tests remotely if employers make that option available. The tests should be intuitive and clear, and the results should be easy to access and interpret. Anything less undermines the testing effort.

Once recruiters can evaluate a candidate’s hard skills from anywhere using testing, they can tap into larger pools of talent located nationwide or even worldwide. If the right talent isn’t local, look elsewhere. Work isn’t bound by location anymore. Recruiting and hiring shouldn’t be, either.

Data Security in Skills Testing: Integral for Test Integrity

Moving from paper-based testing and in-person skills evaluations to digital alternatives is an important advancement, but it opens the recruiting process up to data security issues along the way.

For example, test takers may hesitate to take a skills test without some assurance that the data they turn over will not be shared, exploited, or kept in an unencrypted state. As cyber attacks continue to increase in frequency and severity, people will feel more anxious and selective about the data they share. Including a privacy policy at the start of a test can assuage these fears and signal that a company cares about data security and personal privacy. These issues may not be at the forefront now, but they will be soon, and hiring processes should adapt as early and quickly as possible.

Data security for testing will also be important for ensuring that test results are authentic and valid. Recruiters will need to verify that the person they hire was the same one who took the test and that the results have not been tampered with. Again, these scenarios might sound implausible, but the job market can be incredibly competitive, and people try to manipulate technology in the hiring process frequently. Testing won’t be trustworthy without robust data security in place.

Fortunately, hiring professionals don’t need to become cybersecurity experts to protect testing data. Requiring test takers to use a secure browser can reduce the risk of cheating, as can some form of remote proctoring. Data encryption makes information unreadable even if it gets stolen, and audit logging creates a paper trail of any unauthorized activities. Simple measures like these give the pre-employment screening process the security it needs in order to produce the intended results.

Eliminating Implicit Bias for Better Hiring

Implicit bias is one of the biggest hiring challenges but also the least visible. Distinct from explicit bias, which manifests itself as outright discrimination, implicit bias describes the unconscious prejudices that everyone accumulates over the course of their lives. Implicit biases have a profound effect on the decision-making process, yet they operate in secret, pushing us toward conclusions that are the product of snap judgments rather than empirical analysis.

Here’s a common example of implicit bias in action: A candidate and a recruiter went to the same college. Because of that shared connection, the recruiter develops a positive perception of a candidate and ignores or downplays the candidate’s less appealing characteristics.

The nature of someone’s bias is hard to define and even harder to overcome. Recruiters and hiring professionals aim to treat everyone equally. Nonetheless, implicit bias shapes our perception of candidates in inaccurate and unfair ways.

Though explicit bias has been (mostly) eliminated from the hiring process, now’s the time to address implicit bias. That starts by disproving some of the myths, starting with the idea that some people are immune to bias. Everyone has biases, and no one can recognize all or even most of them. It’s important to know, too, that implicit bias doesn’t always translate into the negative treatment of people and can do just the opposite. Finally, training doesn’t solve unconscious bias: Unconscious attitudes learned over a lifetime don’t die that easily.

Implicit bias can find its way into pre-employment processes if questions aren’t written properly. But skills testing can also be the antidote to bias. By removing people and subjective judgments from the equation, testing evaluates people objectively according to a common standard. Assessing skills, measuring merit, and picking the best candidates all becomes easier once testing (not bias) is vetting the candidates.

The Importance of Skills-Based Tests

It is true that skills-based tests can take time and money to develop, though it typically takes less of both than people expect. But the value far outweighs the cost.

Not only can high-quality testing reduce training costs, improve productivity, increase customer satisfaction, and boost morale, but it can also increase employee retention and company performance. For a workplace need as essential as hiring, you can’t leave anything up to chance.

At TestGenius, we offer a suite of validatable, compliant, and customizable skills-based tests. In addition, we can develop customized tests to meet your company’s specific needs. Contact us today to learn more about how our solutions could strengthen your hiring process and solve your hiring challenges.