What Does a Great Public Sector Assessment Process Look Like?

November 4, 2019 Michael Heil


Organizational success is driven by identifying and recruiting the best talent available. In highly complex fields, the difference in productivity between top performers and average ones can be massive. But when it comes to using assessments to evaluate talent, the public sector has historically lagged behind the private sector.

If public sector employers want to compete with the private sector for talent, they will need to create an assessment process centered on a more compelling, candidate-focused experience. Technology can play a huge role in that transition.  Some agencies, especially in areas dependent on cutting-edge talent like NASA and the FBI, are already taking a page from the private sector by incorporating adaptive testing into their recruitment process.

In areas with the highest competition for top talent or with a need for high-volume hiring, such as Customs and Border Protection, the tight job market means they may not be getting enough candidates to fill their jobs. Embracing cutting-edge technology solutions that make it easier for candidates to apply — and easier to assess them — can be the key to creating a great assessment process that attracts the high volume of quality candidates these public agencies need.

No doubt, it’s a challenging time to be a public sector talent leader. Here are three features of a great public sector assessment process.

A World-Class Candidate Experience

Government agencies haven’t always put much effort into making the candidate experience a pleasant one. If anything, they’ve rewarded persistence and patience with even more paperwork. Because of their need for fairness and consistency in assessing all candidates, they often create onerous application processes reliant on face-to-face interviews and in-person proctored assessments that can be off-putting for modern candidates who are also pursued by the private sector.

Candidates have become accustomed to engaging online experiences. That means the assessment process must be short, visually appealing, interactive and aligned with real-world work situations.

Technology can transform the assessment process. Predictive analytics, computer adaptive assessments and emerging tech solutions allow employers to evaluate candidates more quickly and efficiently. Rather than relying on face-to-face interviews and proctored assessments to make hiring decisions, emerging tech can be used to create a more targeted, precise approach to hiring.

Candidates have become accustomed to engaging online experiences. That means the assessment process must be short, visually appealing, interactive and aligned with real-world work situations.

Practices and Technology

Sophisticated AI-powered talent assessment solutions are driving the changes needed to transform talent selection and enable more diverse recruiting. 

Combating bias in hiring is a moral and legal imperative. Used appropriately, emerging technology such as (artificial Intelligence) AI can help employers mitigate bias in the hiring process.

Sophisticated AI-powered talent assessment solutions are driving the changes needed to transform talent selection and enable more diverse recruiting. By using machine intelligence to compare candidates’ profiles and behavior competencies with job specifications and organizational demands, federal employers can consider a much bigger pool of talent and make more objective decisions.

Luckily, the public sector is well-equipped to capitalize on the use of AI in hiring. The richness of data both on the workforce and on candidates creates a perfect opportunity for public sector employers to benefit from AI’s capabilities.

The main advantage of using AI to mitigate human bias in hiring decisions is that AI algorithms can be trained to identify personality- or competency-based constructs with very little inappropriate bias. Those constructs can then be implemented in a consistent fashion across all candidates.

Embrace Mobile-First Delivery

The assessment process in the public sector has traditionally required in-person applications and assessments. But by combining marketing principles with talent acquisition strategies, agencies can improve the candidate experience and increase diversity.

Our phones have become central to our lifestyles, which means mobile delivery has become a must-have for talent assessments, particularly in high-volume recruitment. Aon has taken a mobile-first approach, making its assessments shorter and some leveraging the format of social messaging apps. While the completion rates of desktop platforms are typically 60-70%, Aon’s are around 95%, with the biggest increase in participation being among under-represented groups.

However, recruiters must ensure that their assessments have been purpose-built for mobile and rigorously tested across different devices. A mobile-first test should consistently predict job performance — regardless of whether candidates complete them on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone — because the same test experience occurs on every device. By optimizing for mobile’s strict design limitations, the public sector can create an application that works as designed on the widest range of devices.

To continue to serve their missions successfully and recruit top talent, the public sector will need to adapt. And that starts with creating a fair, accessible hiring process that delivers a world-class candidate experience.

Download our whitepaper Building the Government Workforce of the Future to learn more about how public sector organizations can best position themselves to compete for top talent and create a workforce that will thrive in the digital age.


About the Author

Michael Heil

Dr. Michael Heil is an Associate Partner with Aon and serves as Project Director for the development, validation, and delivery of both entry level and promotion exams for several federal and local law enforcement entities. In his 20+ years of industrial-organizational psychology experience his primary research activities include selection and validation research, job analysis, test development, competency modeling, program evaluation, and human performance research. He has presented research at national and international conferences on these and other topics, such as organizational commitment, test development and assessment. He is co-editor of a book on Air Traffic Controller Selection.

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