How You Treat Candidates Makes a Difference (Part 3): Navigating the Stormy Seas of Assessment

In Part 1 of the series, we discussed how public sector organizations can actively manage their reputations; in doing so, we concentrated on the general topic of reputation or image and its relation to selection strategy. In Part 2 of the series we discussed the effective management of four major functions:

  1. People.
  2. Technology.
  3. Selection Methods.
  4. Planning.

In our final installment, Part 3, I will concentrate my discussion on pretest and post-test issues. Given, I can only cover a limited number of topics, I have decided to concentrate on issues that interest me and major problem areas I have seen during my years in testing. This will include:

  • Possible, and Impossible, Deadlines
  • Recruitment
  • Minimum Qualifications
  • Reporting Scores
  • Feedback and Development
  • Evaluation

Given space limitations, I am not going to cover the test day itself or the actual administration. In part, this is because I have discussed some of the major issues in Part 2. More importantly, the topic of test day administration is already covered in detail in a number of excellent publications available online from IPMA-HR; in particular, as I mentioned last month, the IPMA-HR Test Administration Handbook, authored by Dianna E. Belman, and edited by Toni Kovalski, Bruce Davey, and Andrey Pankov. This valuable resource can be found for free at the IPMA-HR Assessment Services website. Tests ordered from IPMA-HR also come with a Test Day Administration Guide, designed to assist with test day administration issues.

Possible, and Impossible, Deadlines

In my 30 plus years of involvement in public sector testing, including responding to many Requests for Proposals (RFPs), I believe one of the biggest problems is the setting of unrealistic test dates, which leaves the jurisdiction, and candidates, with too little time to prepare for the test.

For example, a civil service commission tells me they want to give a promotional test for manager on December 6th. Do I have enough time? Working backwards and simple math provide me with an answer.

First, for promotional tests I should have a reading list; even for entry level tests I may want to provide some type of preparatory material that the candidates can read. At a minimum, I should give the candidates 60 days to read the materials and prepare. Depending on availability, it may take another couple of weeks to obtain the source documents. Of course, I have to put together the reading list, or select the test with its accompanying reading list. Those decisions should be made based upon the completion of my job analysis, which might take another month. Conservatively then, I should have 4 months or 120 days between the request from the civil service commission for a test administration and the date of the test; six months would be even better and allow time for handling various unexpected issues that arise. Therefore, unless I receive the request by August 6th, I am already in crisis mode, pointing out the need to educate your civil service commission or operating departments to the realities of assessment.

Recruitment

Recently, I was working with a private company that was having trouble with recruitment. The few applications they did receive came from older individuals. My inspection of their employment website revealed that it was two years out of date. The jobs that appeared on their website were no longer looking for candidates and the current openings were not listed. No wonder they were not attracting candidates, the only applications they were receiving were from older individuals responding to newspaper advertisements.

I often ask my college classes if any of the students read the newspaper. No hands go up. So if you are still relying upon advertisements posted in the local newspaper, you are already lost.

For example, in Bryan Baldwin’s excellent blog on assessment, he asks whether “Job Ads are a Relic,” and discusses the move to candidate relationship management. The world of recruitment is rapidly changing. Those of us in the public sector need to consider new technologies and new approaches. At a minimum, attention should be paid to maintaining an up-to-date employment website.

Minimum Qualifications

Another sure way to limit the number of candidates you receive is to set overly restrictive minimum qualifications. Minimum qualifications should always be set to be valid and job-related, but you also need to give careful thought to the minimum qualifications you set and the impact on the pool of applicants. For example, in hiring firefighters, do they need to already have an EMT or Paramedic certification, or can they obtain the appropriate certification after hiring? If you are hiring or promoting for Fire Chief, do they need to have paramedic certification. Your decisions regarding minimum qualifications can have unintended consequences, so carefully consider your needs as well as job relatedness in setting minimum qualifications.

Reporting Scores

In the past few years, I have applied for a large number of jobs. By my own rough estimation, less than 25% of the organizations, perhaps as low as 10%, have sent me any type of notification regarding the outcome of their search; thus, I can only assume that I was rejected for most of the jobs. In my view, this is simply inexcusable.

Now, I will admit that the public sector probably does a much better job than the private of informing individuals of results. However, my own experience in applying for higher level jobs, is that the rate of receipt of any type of notification is still less than 25%, even for the public and quasi-public sectors. I am confident that local jurisdictions, including cities and counties, do a much better job, but all I can reflect on is my own experience, which is largely negative. Please, at least do people the courtesy of letting them know there materials were reviewed but they were not selected for employment.

What I will admit is more controversial and complicated is to what extent you should report specific scores to candidates. I tend to believe that the candidate shares ownership of the data and that transparency is always to be preferred, especially in the public sector. On the other hand, I have often found that the reporting of test scores is poorly handled; anyone who has children has probably received totally incomprehensible achievement test score printout. Thus, careful consideration should be given to the distribution and accompanying explanation of the meaning of assessment results to candidates.

Feedback and Development

Although compared to private organizations, the public sector does a better job of reporting scores and results, they trail private industry in the use of assessment results for feedback and development. During the assessment process, you have collected a great deal of information on your newly hired or promoted employees, but what do you do with that information? Especially at the management level, this data can be used to plan development and coaching with the newly hired employee. At the entry level, the results can be used at the group level to plan future training. For example, if your newly hired maintenance workers have low math scores, then you could bring in a local community college to offer technical math courses. At the promotional level, especially if an assessment center is used, feedback over time can lead to better performance. Assessment centers give agencies a wealth of information on candidate’s strengths and weaknesses that can be used as feedback and is often an overlooked part of the process. Your agency spends a lot of time and money on the process so using the results as an opportunity for feedback is invaluable. As with entry-level tests the results could also be used at the group level to plan future training.

Evaluation

A popular business concept, borrowed from the Japanese, is Kaizen, or the philosophy of continuous improvement. In assessment, there is a tendency to give and score a test, congratulate oneself for a job well-done and completed, and then move on to the next crisis. However, in order to improve your brand as an employer, you have to learn from experience and benefit from your responses to crises. You should get in the habit of evaluating each test administration and asking yourself, how can I improve my methods and processes in the future. In addition to self-review, you should consider surveying job candidates after the test in order to obtain their reactions and perceived areas for enhancement of your testing processes. This could be as simple as a short satisfaction survey that is completed at the end of the test administration.

Final Thoughts

Summing up our major points:

  1. Allow at least 120 days, four months, between the start date and the date of the test administration.
  2. Consider alternative application approaches and keep your employment website current.
  3. Set realistic, valid minimum qualifications.
  4. Let candidates know if they got the job or not!
  5. Provide feedback on test performance and use it to plan development with new hires and promotional candidates.
  6. Evaluate the effectiveness of your human resource efforts.

In the popular 2013 movie Captain Phillips, the captain, played by Tom Hanks in the movie, engages in extensive preparations and takes elaborate precautions to prepare for crises, including piracy. Although eventually overcome by pirates, Captain Phillips’ efforts pay off in that he is the only hostage taken for any length of time and in the end he is freed as well.

I have always tried to convince myself, and others, that all the time I spend watching television and movies has some payoff. Regardless of how delusional I might be, I do believe we can learn valuable lessons from art, including movies and television. In the case of Captain Phillips, we can learn a valuable lesson about the importance of preparation, planning, and follow-through.

As I indicated previously, in my view, most public sector agencies already do a good job of managing their selection programs; however, winning the ARMS race and creating a winning brand image require going beyond good enough to excellent. Thus, like a ship captain preparing for adversities at sea, human resource professionals must build into the system sufficient checks and redundancies in order to deal with unexpected emergencies. Nothing can destroy the candidate experience more than having to tell a huge room of people that due to unforeseen circumstances, the test will have to be rescheduled to another, later date.

This completes my three part series of blogs on how you treat the candidate makes a difference. I hope you have found it to be informative and have picked up at least a few new ideas that you can use to improve your recruitment and selection processes. With work and planning, you can improve your reputation and brand as an employer and as an organization. Of course, one of the best ways to do this is to begin to evaluate candidate reactions and to collect data on the perceptions of your brand. Remember, IPMA-HR stands ready to assist you.

This blog is written several months ahead of time. For the last few blogs, I have been asking for reader participation by requesting that you share your opinions or attitudes toward the public sector brand. At the time I am writing this, I do not know how many of you have already chosen to participate, but if you have not completed the survey, I would like to offer you one more opportunity to express your views regarding the public sector. I would like to continue to extend an invitation to complete a short survey; it should not take more than three minutes. The survey covers different aspects of the public sector brand. I will summarize and present the results as part of a future column. You can find the survey at: akron.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_0Oh7i9mp2C44udn.

I would like to thank those of you who have already provided comments. Please, I encourage you to contribute and offer your critiques, whether positive, negative, or simply to tell me I am wrong. There should be a reply box located at the end of this blog. You can also email me at dennisdoverspike@gmail.com.

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About Dennis Doverspike

Dennis Doverspike, Ph.D., ABPP, is a Full Professor of Psychology at the University of Akron, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Life-Span Development and Gerontology, and Director of the Center for Organizational Research. He is certified as a specialist in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and in Organizational and Business Consulting by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) and is a licensed psychologist in the State of Ohio. Dr. Doverspike has over thirty years of experience working with consulting firms and with public and private sector organizations. Services provided include individual assessments, statistical analysis, development of large scale assessment systems, job evaluation and job analysis, and expert witness services. He is the author of 3 books and over 150 other professional publications. Dennis Doverspike received his Ph.D. in Psychology in 1983 from the University of Akron. His M.S. in Psychology is from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and his B.S. is from John Carroll University.

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