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Everything You Need to Know About Assessments And Were Afraid to Ask - Part 1 of 3

Published: January 20, 2022 In: HR Tech & AI

Over the next three weeks, I will break down everything you need to know about assessments. Broken into three parts, these articles are designed to help you become an expert on the topic of assessments. The information is geared toward talent acquisition professionals, human resource executives, and anyone who really wants to learn a bit about the science of assessments. I’ll then conclude how we, here at Talview, are developing assessments to address your needs for valid and fair assessments.

In part 1, we will cover the following topics:

  • Why Companies Use Assessments

  • Types of Assessments

  • Assessment Formats

In part 2, we will cover:

  • Artificial Intelligence as a Tool for Assessments
  • Evaluating Assessments’ Psychometric properties

And part 3 will cover:

  • Utility Analyses – Quantifying Value Through Increased Worker Productivity
  • The Talview Approach to Assessments
  • Talview Candidate Insights on Behavior

Let’s start at the beginning - why do companies use assessments?

Well, for several reasons really. The first is to go beyond resumes. In other words, assessments can be used to verify the knowledge and skills a candidate indicates they possess on their resume. In addition to this, assessments can be used to quantify soft skills such as communications skills, personality, etc. They can also be used to determine the level of cultural fit between a candidate and an organization. The bottom line, taking all these reasons together, is that companies use assessments to predict future work behavior. This can be both for both hiring and for internal mobility such as lateral or promotional role changes within the organization.

The bottom line, taking all these reasons together, is that companies use assessments to predict future work behavior.

Types of Assessments

The next step in this journey is to understand the various types of assessments that are used for talent acquisition. First, and very widely used, are assessments of knowledge, or what someone has learned or understands. Examples of knowledge would include things like: Calculus, JavaScript, Networking & Implementation, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Financial Services, and Pharmaceutical Science.

Slightly different from knowledge assessments are assessments of skills, which are generally acquired through experience and training. Examples might include basic skills like spoken & written English, or people skills like influencing, persuasion and negotiation. Functional skills such as programming can also be assessed through job simulations – and we will talk about that a little later.

Another common type of assessment is one that looks at ability, which is generally thought of as an individual’s natural capacity. Two examples here would be cognitive ability, or ability to learn and solve problems, and polychronicity which is the ability to multitask.

At this point, it’s important to talk a bit more about cognitive ability as it is generally accepted in the scientific community as the strongest predictor of job success. Knowing these details will surely set you apart from most of your colleagues and establish you as an expert. General cognitive ability is often referred to as ‘g’ and includes the following components:

  • Logical Ability: Deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Critical Reasoning: Critical analysis of information
  • Information Gathering & Synthesis: Interpret text, tables, and charts
  • Quantitative Ability: Applied numeric ability
  • Spatial Reasoning: Ability to think and visualize spatial relationships

Taken together, all the components of ‘g’ give us a very strong indication of an individual’s ability to learn and to solve problems, which in turn, are the strongest predictor of job success for all jobs of medium and higher cognitive complexity.

Behavioral assessments, or the way in which a person acts in response to a particular situation are also widely used in a pre-hire context. Assessments of this type are commonly used for selecting candidates into customer service, retail sales, team management, and leadership roles.

A very common type of assessment looks at personality, or the unique combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual's distinctive character. Here’s some interesting information that will go a long way to demonstrating your expertise in this field.

Psychologists generally agree that personality can best be described by five overarching factors. These factors are bipolar – that is, they have opposite endpoints. An individual’s personality generally falls somewhere along a continuum on each of these five factors, so there are infinite possible combinations – hence, everyone has a different personality. This is known as the Five Factor Model of Personality, or the Big 5. Following are the five factors, and a description of their endpoints, which can be easily recalled by remembering the work OCEAN.

  • Openness to experience - inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious
  • Conscientiousness - efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless
  • Extraversion - outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved
  • Agreeableness - friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached
  • Neuroticism - sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident

Assessment Formats

How do we accurately measure these knowledge, skill, ability, personality, and behavioral constructs?

Now that we know about the types of assessments, let’s talk about the assessment format, or how the assessments are presented. In other words, how do we accurately measure these knowledge, skill, ability, personality, and behavioral constructs?

We are all familiar with choosing a response on a continuum from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. This response scale was developed by a French psychologist named Rensis Likert – hence, these are known as Likert response scales. They are widely used for assessing personality traits, motivation, and attitudes. Following are some example questions where a Likert response scale might be used along with the construct being assessed in each case.

  • I wait for others to lead the way. (Assertiveness)
  • I try to be true to my own values. (Conscientiousness)
  • I like to get lost in thought. (Creativity)
  • I sometimes feel that my life lacks direction. (Self-esteem)
  • Sometimes the end justifies the means. (Integrity)
  • I find it difficult to approach others. (Extroversion)

Another common assessment format is multiple choice questions or MCQs. This format is most often used to assess ability or job knowledge where there is one correct answer and numerous incorrect distractors to choose from. Here is an example of a MCQ from an English language-based test of general cognitive ability.

MINER   MINOR – Do these words

    1. have similar meaning?
    2. have contradictory meanings?
    3. mean neither same nor opposite?

Situational judgment tests (SJTs) present applicants with a description of a work problem or critical situation related to the job they are applying for and ask them to identify how they would handle it. SJTs generally assess effectiveness in social functioning dimensions such as conflict management, interpersonal skills, problem solving, negotiation skills, facilitating teamwork, and cultural awareness. They are particularly effective measures of managerial and leadership competencies. Following is an example of an SJT that assesses how you respond to a team/coworker issue.

A very innovative and forward-thinking woman on your team is often disregarded when she makes suggestions to improve the group project. She confides in you that she is hurt and is going to quit the team. What are you most likely to do?

    1. I tell her that I understand and will be sorry to see her go. (Sympathy)
    2. I ask her to give me copies of all her notes and any work she has done on the project. (Orderliness)
    3. I try to lighten the situation and let her know that we are all friends, and we can work together. (Friendliness)
    4. I'm a bit angry with her for not asserting herself more with the group. (Anger)
    5. I really feel badly for her and am sad about this. (Emotionality)


Of course, job simulations, another assessment format, are a favorite with employment candidates. While only appropriate for certain roles – they are highly accurate and engaging. One example of a job simulation assessment is a coding challenge where a software engineer candidate might log into the assessment, be presented with a problem and test cases, and write and compile her code to solve the problem. Another example would be a call-center simulation where a candidate works on a simulated call-center platform – handling queries and calls from customers.

At this point, a brief discussion of adaptive testing, AKA computer-adaptive testing (CAT), is warranted. CAT is a method for administering tests that dynamically adapts to the examinee's performance level, varying the difficulty of presented items according to the examinees previous answers. For this reason, it has also been called tailored testing. CAT is widely used in academic testing settings (ACT and SAT exams) but is also popular in the pre-employment testing arena. CAT assessments have the benefit of shorter administration times and highly accurate results.

Looking at AI in Assessments

While we evaluated how assessments are used by employers, the type of assessments, and how assessments are presented, there are exciting developments on how to leverage artificial intelligence with assessments.

When done ethically, AI provides many benefits to reduce unconscious bias from interviewers and hiring managers and the amount of “gaming” by candidates. We will cover this topic in part 2 of our blog series next week.

Learn more about how Talview Assessments can benefit your company.

Tags: HR Tech & AI, Hiring With Talview, Assessments

Written by: Dr. Fred Rafilson

Dr. Fred Rafilson is the Chief/IO Psychologist for Talview.

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