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. Continue reading

How You Treat Candidates Makes a Difference (Part 2): Managing the Four Critical Elements

  • The devil is in the details.
  • The best laid schemes of mice and men, often go awry (Robert Burns).
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then 9 times out of ten it will (Paul Harvey).

The creation of a positive, engaging client experience is dependent on the effective management of four major functions:

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

In this month’s blog, I will discuss the administration of each of these essential variables. In my view, most public sector agencies already do a good job of managing these critical factors; however, winning the ARMS race and creating a winning brand image require going beyond good enough to excellent. Furthermore, as the four classic quotes above suggest, even the best managed selection program can be derailed by unsuspected crises. Thus, not only must assessment departments excel in management, they must build into the system sufficient checks and redundancies so as to deal with all of the unexpected emergencies that are likely to occur.

Last Month’s Blog

In Part 1 of this 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. We found that not only can a government agency’s reputation impact its ability to attract talent, but additionally, selection strategies can affect the image that applicants, employees, and the general public hold of your organization. As a result, assessment professionals need to monitor and take accountability for the candidate experience. In this month’s blog, we discuss how consideration of various critical functions can impact the candidate experience.


For me, the key to success is the quality, attitudes, and talents of the people involved in the assessment endeavor. Recruitment and selection require a high level of team activity and whether one wins the talent wars is a function of the enthusiastic efforts of every team member. Recruitment research supports this view, in that a consistent finding of the onboarding literature shows that the people an applicant has contact with make a huge impact on the image a candidate has of the organization. Whether it is the receptionist handing out a job application, an HR specialist arranging a time for an interview, or the personnel administering an exam, job candidates will judge your organization based on the attitudes and professionalism exhibited by the people they meet along their journey to possible employment. As a result, you need to make sure that all personnel involved in the recruitment and selection process are knowledgeable, well-trained and ready to project a positive brand image.

As the quotes preceding the blog suggest, the management of details is critical in the selection process. I know my own limitations – I am terrible at details. As a result, I need to have people working for or with me that are far more obsessive-compulsive than I am. So, I would recommend some self-assessment. If you are adept at handling minutiae, great, if not, you had better find someone to include on your assessment team that is detail-oriented and knows how to follow rules and meet deadlines.

When it comes to assessment, experience is another irreplaceable commodity. Over time, individuals learn how to handle all the various issues and crises that come up that could easily surprise and overwhelm a newcomer. Of course, it is important to not only learn from experience, but also continually improve one’s methods, procedures, and process. If you are new to assessment services, then conferences such as those put on by IPMA-HR are an excellent venue for learning from experienced veterans.

Within the confines of the length limits of this blog, it is impossible to deal with all the important jobs within the assessment function. However, I did want to discuss the issue of proctors, because I feel proctors are so important to a successful examination, but that role is often overlooked resulting in poor performance. Over the years, I have seen far too many proctors who stand in the back of the room and read, or even worse, talk loudly, fall asleep, or disappear for lengthy periods of time. If you were a test taker and you believed that a proctor was distracting and frustrating you by talking or snoring, what would your reaction be? What impact would that have on your image of the organization? Therefore, I would urge you to give careful consideration to your selection, training, and supervision of proctors. Continue reading

How You Treat Candidates Makes a Difference (Part 1): Winning the ARMs Race

Today, all organizations, including public sector agencies, are locked in a fierce competitive struggle to attract, hire, and retain top talent. Unfortunately, the days are long gone when an organization could simply put an advertisement in the paper, interview, conduct a background check, and then pick and choose between a large pool of potential candidates. Organizations today are locked in a race where they must Actively Manage their Reputations (the ARMs race) as potential employers.

In this and the next column, I will look at how public sector organizations can actively manage their reputations. In the current column, we will discuss the general topic of reputation or image and its relation to selection strategy. The next monthly column will be devoted to a discussion of practical steps that public sector organizations can take to manage their image as future and current employers.

Importance of Public Sector Branding

Whether referred to as a brand or a reputation, the topic of the management of an organization’s image is one that has attracted a great deal of recent attention in the popular media, technical press, and the academic literature. For example, the most recent IPMA-HR News (see the November 2013 issue, articles by Amanda Cuda, Branding: What You Can Learn from the Private Sector, and Tim McManus, A Better Brand Can Drive Talent to You), featured two separate articles on branding. Now, one could argue that organizations have always been interested in their image, but what is clearly new is the recognition that recruitment and assessment strategies play a large and growing role in shaping the image applicants and employees hold of private and public sector entities. At the same time, there has been a growing movement aimed at improving the applicant experience during recruitment, assessment, and onboarding. Continue reading