Understanding Talent Assessments

September 10, 2020 Shagufta Khan

Each one of us has experienced taking at least one assessment in our lifetime. These can be academic or non-academic, and their nature is varied.

  • For example, you cook a dish and present it to your guests. The dish is intended to measure your cooking skills, your expertise in the knowledge of ingredients and putting them in the right amount, the appearance of the dish and most importantly – the taste. Based on these criteria, the guests will give you feedback.
  • Another example is when you go to meet a prospective bride/groom. This is an assessment wherein you need to share your skills, capabilities, and qualities. You learn the same about the bride/groom. If they match your expectations and the criteria that you had already set for yourself, congratulations! You have found your right fit.

Same happens with the right hire in the company. If you choose the right hire, productivity increases, cost is saved, team is empowered, and attrition decreases.

Due to cut-throat market competition, there is a need to recruit more qualified and productive employees and thus employers are using professionally developed and validated assessments that are aiding them in doing so. But have you ever thought how these assessments are designed? Is it just a set of questionnaires developed by a set of skilful people or is there more to it?

Talent assessments today play an integral role in hiring and can be useful as a screening tool for differentiating among candidates. In this blog series, we will talk about the science behind designing of an assessment. It will cover various aspects of designing an assessment – how to design a construct, what the difficulty level should be, how an item is developed, how an assessment should be scaled, how you can select the right assessment for your organisation, etc.

But before that we need to know what talent assessments are, and how they became such a crucial part of pre-employment testing. The first blog of this series addresses:

  • A brief history of assessments
  • Assessment as a cornerstone of formal education
  • Talent assessments & why are they important
  • Different talent assessments that an organisation may opt to maximise their chances of right fit

This blog series will guide managers, HR professionals, talent acquisition departments, businesses, and organisations who partner with assessment agencies for screening and hiring candidates in understanding and choosing the right pre-employment tests for their organisations.


A brief history of assessments

An interesting look into the history of assessments takes us back to the time of the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). This was the first time when the meritocratic system was used for recruiting people into the civil services. This idea, however, did not spread so much until the middle of the 19th century, when England was moving towards the meritocratic system for their civil services exam. It was later adopted by the Americans for their recruitment in civil services.

With the advent of the Binet – Simon scale in the 20th century in France, a meaningful way of identifying and measuring intelligence was developed. This was later derived for the population of the United States and the test was christened the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale. Stanford-Binet test[1] uses five factors of cognitive ability to measure intelligence which includes fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory. It was the first ever standardised test that was used by almost 1.7 million US military recruits and thus saw an increase in awareness and acceptance.

After this, almost every industry started using assessments to evaluate candidates for jobs based on their performance.

Assessment as a cornerstone of formal education

Assessment is the engine which drives student’s learning. In our learning process, we come across three main types of assessments, each occurring at different points of time.

  • Diagnostic assessments

These are pre-assessments which serve as a barometer to know how much pre-loaded information a student has about a certain topic. Whether formal or informal, pre-assessments are never graded.

Example: a quiz at the start of a course

  • Formative assessments[2]

Formative assessments are used to determine the strengths and weaknesses of students that need to be worked upon. They are rarely marked or graded and occur routinely at various intervals throughout the learning process.

Example: impromptu quizzes, one-minute papers on a specific topic, Continuous Evaluation (CE) by Aon Assessments Solutions

  • Summative assessments

Summative assessments occur once the learning process has ended. These are typically graded. The purpose of these assessments is to provide evidence of the degree to which a student has acquired the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the unit.

Example: end-of-unit tests or end-of-term exams, Sector Skill Council (SSC) assessments by Aon Assessments Solutions


What are talent assessments and why are they important?

Talent assessments are also known as hiring assessments. They correspond to the nature of work that a candidate is expected to perform in a job.

  • Employment tests usually are standardized devices designed to measure skills, intellect, personality, or other characteristics. They typically yield a score, rating, description, or category.[3]

Source: Talent Board's Candidate Experience Research report

Employers need to have a clear understanding of the KSAB (Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Behaviour) that they want to measure. KSAB is often used by the employers to define the job requirements and compare them with the candidate’s profile while making the final selection. In this way, they create a Success Profile[4] that lets them target candidates that will thrive in their work culture and add value to their organisation.

Integrating pre-employment testing into the recruitment process can tremendously help employers seeking the right talent and retain high potential employees by reducing the costs associated with poor selection decisions.  

Each type of assessment is unique and measures some specific traits, knowledge, ability, and other such characteristics like attitude, flexibility, etc. The following table will provide an insight into the assessments and what they measure[5].

References: [6], [7] and [8]

What are the different types of talent assessments that an organisation may opt for?

Schmidt & Hunter[9] state in their publication, ‘Employers must make hiring decisions; they have no choice about that. But they can choose which methods to use in making those decisions.’ There is no such thing as the best assessment but there is always the right assessment that will suit the requirements of the job. Often a combination of assessments can be employed to optimise the results based on an organisation’s specific goals and vision. For example, a test of cognitive ability when combined with a knowledge assessment of finance & accounting is better able to predict who will be successful in a job that requires accounting skills. Numerous studies including that of Schmidt & Hunter show that to hire an entry-level or an employee with no previous experience in the job, General Mental Ability (GMA) or General Cognitive Ability is the best predictor of future performance.

Given below is a graph showing various tools and techniques that organisations are currently using for their hiring process.

Which of these assessment tools or techniques do you currently use in your hiring process?

Source: Aon Talent Acquisition Study 2019

 There are a few considerations to be kept in mind while choosing an assessment method. They are:

  • Validity – what characteristic the test measures and how well the test measures that characteristic
  • Adverse impact – occurs when there is a substantially different rate of selection in hiring, promotion, or other employment decisions that work to the disadvantage of members of a race, sex, or ethnic group
  • Development cost – cost, time, and technical expertise required for developing the assessment
  • Administration cost – cost, time, staff, equipment, facilities, and information technology support required to administer

Source: SHRM

The success of an organization depends on the outstanding talent and the alignment of the employees with the values, vision, and behaviour of the business. Therefore, choosing the right talent assessment is crucial to driving up engagement, productivity, and performance.

The design of the assessment should be inspiring and motivating for the candidate. They will get a first-hand experience of what it feels like to work for your organisation right through that assessment. The right assessments not only measure the competencies or traits you are interested in, but also reflects your organisation’s brand. So how do you ensure that you leave a positive impression on the candidates even if they are not hired? – By a good assessment design.

In the upcoming blog, we will discuss the fundamental aspects of assessment designing – construct/blueprint designing.

About the Author

Shagufta Khan

Shagufta Khan is Senior Associate at Aon's Assessment Solutions. Her expertise lies in Consulting, Research, Product Design, and solving talent problems through data-driven insights. When she is not engrossed in her analysis, you can find her catching up on a book with a cup of coffee.

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