New Trends in Assessments

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“In HR there are very few things that are objective and assessments are a tool to establish that credibility,” remarked Vaibhav Dalal, the main speaker at the SHRM India Forum Meet held at Bangalore on December 18, 2012. Vaibhav is the Head of Campus Hiring at Wipro Technologies and an industry expert who was invited by SHRM India to address the gathering of enthusiastic Human Resources professionals. Ketan Kapoor, Co-founder and CEO of Mettl, an online assessment and testing platform to measure, analyze and improve people skills was another co-speaker at the meet. The participating members at the forum meet included independent consultants and HR professionals from diverse industrial backgrounds representing organizations of repute.

Vaibhav after understanding the composition of his audience and their expectations proceeded to define, elaborate and evaluate various trends on assessments.  He clarified that assessment tools vary greatly depending upon the users. For example, there are subjective evaluations of resumes, highly structured achievement tests, interviews having varying degrees of structure and personality inventories with no specific right or wrong answers.

Trends in Assessment

Online Testing - Online tests include replacing the pen and paper tests for computer-enabled assessments. This is relevant in cases of campus hiring for large and mini-sized technology organizations; companies like Infosys, Wipro, CTS, TCS tend to engage in mass hiring in thousands around the cycle of graduation in order to fill their job vacancies for attrition backfilling and projects in pipeline.
Vaibhav shared some of the following key benefits of Online Testing:

  • Consistency of administration and briefing
  • Dynamic flow of questions, customization of difficulty levels
  • Tracking behavior
  • Immediate delivery of feedback and norm updates
  • Configuration of reports
  • Linkages to HRIS for future

He mentioned that more than 85% of the companies use assessments in their hiring process and replacing traditional assessments on paper with online testing can yield benefits of scale.

In response to a question from one of the participants, Vishal mentioned that there is a definitive cost advantage in online assessments as compared to pen and paper assessments. The other distinct benefit of having online assessments is the advantage of the play of permutations and combinations so it is difficult for those taking the assessments to resort to malpractices. Organizations have two broad choices with the software vendors wherein a) an algorithm can be written into the program to ensure that no two people get the same set of questions, or b) a rolling database can be used to pick a set number of questions. In addition to the advantage, there also exists the convenience of difficulty levels automatically built into the program that randomly select the questions to be a part of the program. Rules are set such that equal number of questions in easy, medium and difficult categories is chosen to evaluate everyone on the same plane.

Assessments for Internal Movements - An increasing trend in the current environment is using assessments not just for external hiring requirements but for career movements internal to the organizations. HR departments are resorting to methods other than the manager’s recommendations to elevate and develop employees in the organizations. Some of these include tests of behavior, leadership abilities, and assessments through simulations and interviews.

Remote Testing – Vaibhav felt that the challenges of execution in scale and infrastructure prevalent today in administering online tests led to the invention of remote testing. This is an advanced practice wherein the candidate can take a test without the testing organization administering it physically. Some of the obvious benefits of using remote testing included increased efficiency, low cost and less cycle time while limitations include lack of personal assistance to the candidate and want of security of the content of the assessment.

Internships - Internships are widely used by organizations to assess potential employees on their non-cognitive or behavioral and performance traits. Internships are best suited for small organizations and not viable for large organizations due to their biggest limitation of scalability when it comes to mass hiring. Technology, to some extent, manages to bridge this gap.

Social Learning - It is possible to evaluate, and filter a large group of candidates by using social networks to administer set of tests and contests to fill up vacant positions in an organization. The example of Campus Arena platform was cited, being used by Wipro to keep its pre-hires engaged with the organizations and run a series of contests through which the technological aptitude of the participants is routinely tested.

Using assessments – Critical factors

Vaibhav made some of the following observations while explaining some of the critical factors for the success of various assessments.

  • There has to be a clear understanding of what needs to be measured and for what end.
  • No test is 100% effective, standalone and hence a combination of instruments is to be used for maximum success.
  • Assessment instruments should be unbiased and fair to all.
  • Use only reliable assessment instruments and procedures that are demonstrated to be valid for the specific purpose for which they are being used.
  • Ensure that administration staff is properly trained and testing conditions are suitable for all the test participants.
  • Maintaining assessment instrument security and confidentiality of assessment results is uppermost.
  • All scores should be interpreted properly.

As the discussion around assessments concluded, Ketan Kapoor was invited to speak about technological developments in the area of assessments. Ketan began his part of the address by listing down the challenges that any traditional method of assessments would involve, as gathered from the participants.  These challenges were mainly:

  • Time
  • Logistics
  • Remote administration
  • Assessment of non-cognitive skills
  • Skill vs. knowledge assessment
  • Measuring work style orientation

Ketan went on to clarify that all the above challenges can be easily met by deploying an online testing solution. The broad categories of skill assessments outlined included the following:

  • Cognitive skills, ability and aptitude skills
  • Management, behavioral, personality skills
  • Technical and functional skills

There are myriad innovations that have been taking place in the sphere of assessments. One of the more popular innovations in the past decade that the industry has quickly incorporated is the voice assessment software that organizations use to test the candidates for communication skills. Use of videos and media is a trend that is catching up as well. Driving agencies in Europe use online assessment to assess driving ability; it uses a video to test skills of those applying for a driving license wherein the video is of a moving vehicle and skill assessment is done basis ability of the incumbent to use a mouse click to apply brake action to prevent a road accident.

Ketan completed his presentation quoting scenarios of malpractices and emphasized how technology and artificial intelligence can be used to combat them. He mentioned that there are technologies that made use of sigma levels to assess typical time taken to answer each of the questions in the assessments and can auto-scroll, preventing candidates from looking up answers from other sources. Typical malpractice prevention programs also include auto termination of tests when voices other than the candidate’s are recognized during remote evaluation or a face recognition program is used to eliminate chances of impersonation, etc.
The forum meet concluded with a vibrant question hour where the participants interacted with the presenter duo and discussed relevance of assessments in their respective organizations, to carry their learnings back to their jobs.

Udaya Reddy is a free-lance HR consultant and management journalist based in Hyderabad.

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