The Role of Positive Assessment at Work

April 11, 2016 Katharina Lochner

The Value of Positive Assessment

Employment testing has a mixed reputation with the general public. This is due, partly, because when designing tools the applicants’ view is very often neglected (Boss, 2005). The reason for this is often a significant gap between what a company wants (getting as much information about the applicant as possible in a most economical way) and what the applicant wants (presenting themselves as holistically and as positively as possible). However, we believe that there can be a way of assessing candidates that fulfils both organisations’ and candidates’ needs: Positive Assessment. Positive Assessment is an analogy to Martin Seligman’s PERMA framework (Seligman, 2012) from the area of Positive Psychology. PERMA describes five factors that are important for a happy, satisfied, and fulfilling life.

PERMA is an acronym for Positive Emotions, Engagement, (Positive) Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. Positive Emotions are important because not experiencing negative emotions is not enough for being happy. Rather we need to experience positive emotions such as joy, contentment, or hope. With Engagement Dr Seligman refers to a feeling of flow or total immersion in a task, which we are to experience frequently, e.g. at work or when exercising or playing a musical instrument. Relationships or interactions with other people are essential for human well-being, and it is particularly important to have deep and meaningful connections with others. Meaning refers to finding meaning in the things we do in our lives, for example at work or within our families. Finally, Accomplishments refer to the fact that humans need to set themselves goals, and that they feel satisfied when having reached them.

In analogy, Positive Assessment will…

  • induce positive emotions (P)
  • be engaging (E)
  • establish positive relationships between organisations and candidates (R)
  • yield meaningful results for both companies and candidates (M)
  • enable both candidates and organisations to accomplish their goals (A).

How can this be achieved? We will take a look at each of the five pillars now and explain how we can turn assessment into Positive Assessment. However, let’s first look at the situation candidates are in when going through an assessment process.

Having to take a test during an application process is not a pleasant experience for several reasons. First of all, candidates usually see the test as a gate keeper between themselves and the job they are after. Moreover, they often do not know what exactly is measured and why, and they have the feeling of not being in control of their data. On the other hand, humans are not reluctant to taking tests in general, on the contrary. When there is an opportunity to learn more about themselves. For example, they take a quiz on Facebook that tells them which Harry Potter character they are (or the like). They play computer games, so they enjoy the challenge. What can we learn from this for the area of assessment?

We can make the experience of taking a test as pleasant as possible – generating positive emotions. We can design challenging and engaging tests that allow candidates to immerse in them – creating engagement. We can be transparent and direct in communicating with candidates and even give them control over their data – creating positive relationships. We can generate meaningful results for everyone who has taken tests – generating meaning. And, finally, we can help candidates and organisations accomplish better outcomes by using the results as a basis for career and organisational development – which leads to accomplishment for both parties. Here is a short overview of factors that can contribute to turning assessment into Positive Assessment. We will elaborate further on them in future posts.

Positive Emotions and Engagement

A test that that creates positive emotions first of all should not be more irksome and longer than necessary. Adaptive tests open up the possibility of shortening instruments considerably. Adaptive instruments have another advantage: They allow for presenting items individually so that the candidate is always at the right level of challenge. This prevents them from being bored because items are too easy and from being frustrated because items are too hard and can help induce a state of flow, or total immersion in the task. Including elements from games (so-called gamification) such as feedback during the test, visualising progress, or presenting high scores, will further turn the test into a positive experience.

Positive Relationships

Relationships are all about communication. For our setting here this means that organisations need to communicate with candidates in a transparent and appreciative manner. In selection settings this means granting realistic insight into what the job looks like (for example through realistic job previews (RJP)) and informing candidates on the selection steps. In development settings this means informing candidates about reasons for and consequences of the assessment. And in any case it means providing timely feedback. One might go even one step further and give candidates control over their data and let them decide whether or not they want to make use of the results: They take assessments, receive feedback, and then decide whether or not they want to submit an application based on these data (in selection settings) or whether they want to use the data for their personal development (in development settings).

Modern technology can assist with all these topics. It allows for speeding up processes and for providing automated feedback. It allows for managing the data from several ends – candidates can decide whom to disclose the data to, organisations can get a quick overview of talent, and talent can be linked to career paths such as job recommendations or development measures.

Meaning and Accomplishment

Meaning here particularly refers to getting meaningful outcomes from a selection process. In general, candidates who are rejected at some point during the selection process don’t get anything out of it; there is no way for them to learn something from the experience.

However, nowadays it is easy and does not even cost much to provide feedback for everyone. When candidates take online assessments there can be automated scoring and reporting so that they at least get a profile of their abilities and personality. One might take this even one step further and offer them feedback on what kind of job would suit their profile, and provide them with hints on how they could get into this job.

Based on the outcomes of Positive Assessment, candidates (even those who got rejected during an application process) can set realistic goals for themselves. Using repeated assessments they can monitor their progress towards the goal. Nowadays there are even apps that one can use to track one’s progress.

Now we have provided an overview of what Positive Assessment means to us. In future posts we will elaborate further on the different pillars and present research findings and best practice for them. Positive Assessment might require rethinking the area of assessment for organisations. However, on the long run they will benefit from it: They will generate a positive image of their organisation in the general public, which will not only help secure high quality applications in the future, but will also help them sell their products and services. They will have the right people in the right spot who work with high engagement towards realistic goals. So ultimately this will be beneficial to everyone.


Boss, P. (2005). Assessment in der Arbeitswelt – Kriterien für eine bewerberzentrierte Personalauswahl [Assessment in the world of work – Criteria for candidate-centric selection]. In M. Rehbinder (Hrsg.), Psychologische Aspekte im Recht der Personalführung (p. 21 – 45). Bern: Stämpfli Verlag AG.

Seligman, M. (2012). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.


About the Author

Katharina Lochner

Dr Katharina Lochner is the former research director for the cut-e Group which was acquired by Aon in 2017. Katharina is now a researcher and lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences Europe in Iserlohn, Germany. In her role at cut-e, she applied the research in organizational and work psychology to real-world assessment practice. She has a strong expertise in the construction and evaluation of online psychometric tools.

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