How to Create a Fair Assessment and Benchmarking Process

By Paul Slezak - Jul. 22, 2015
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I remember helping a client run an assessment centre many years ago. He had asked me to facilitate it while he and a colleague would observe, since it was the first time he’d ever recruited en masse.

At the time he was looking to employ a group of graduates and he had received over 250 applications from eager graduates.

I’d explained to him that given he was hoping to hire 5 grads, he (we!) would more than likely have to assess at least 50 candidates face-to-face so I insisted on building him a tailored assessment centre.

We ended up running 4 assessment centres over 3 days (around 60 candidates in total). I’d felt very confident that we’d be able to identify his top 5 … until I asked Ben and his colleague Antonia which candidates they wanted to shortlist and take through to the next stage, and I was mortified by some of their comments:

What did she look like again?

I just really liked him!

He’s got a great résume

She really made me laugh in her role play

He’s exactly like I was when I was 22″

He’s a no. He irritated me. He kept asking way too many questions

Shocked. Mortified. Furious.

Every single one of their comments was totally subjective. None of their feedback related to any of the activities I had designed specifically to assess the skills, competencies, and behaviour required for the graduate positions in the organisation.

I then explained exactly how the assessment and selection process would work from that point on.

*       *       *

In recruitment, impartiality is not just an ethical issue. It can also be a legal matter if an appointment is seen as unfair and a complaint is made or if a candidate feels they were overlooked and discriminated against for any reason.

It is therefore important to observe and maintain consistent standards when evaluating candidates objectively at every stage of the recruitment process.

1. Evaluating applications

Consistency in candidate evaluation can best be achieved by developing the selection criteria prior to the job being advertised. It can then be clearly seen that the selection criteria determined the outcome of the hiring process and the successful candidate was selected in a fair and transparent manner.

If you have asked candidates to address certain key criteria as part of their application, then you need to stand firm and if they haven’t addressed them in either their cover letter or résume, you should not proceed with their application – regardless of their qualification or anything else that may sway your bias.

Personally if I have included my full name in an advertisement and the application is addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern”, I actually don’t even read any further.

Harsh but true.

2. Phone Screening

Think of the fly screen door on your balcony at home. The fresh air and sunlight can still come in, but the mosquitos are kept away. The phone screen has the same objective. It will help you let the good candidates in for interview, while keeping out those that will do nothing more than waste your time.

But it’s not just a matter of asking prospective candidates where they live, what salary they are on, and when they might be able to start (most of which is probably included either in the covering letter or CV itself anyway). You need to ask them more in-depth questions.

Every single candidate phone screened for the same role, must be asked exactly the same set of questions. Otherwise there is no benchmark and you will end up inviting in only those candidates that you “like the sound of”.

It’s exactly the same if you screen candidates via video interview. Every applicant will be responding to exactly the same set of pre-determined questions.

3. Face-to-face assessment

If you are lucky enough to have identified more than one candidate to invite in for interview, you must ensure that you have some structure around the interviewing process. There is no point asking one candidate a series of behavioural- or competency-based questions and then asking the other candidate(s) an entirely different set of questions.

Like with phone screening, every candidate being interviewed for the same position must be asked exactly the same set of questions. Then you can actually rank each response based on an even scoring process.

Think of an airline hiring a new team of flight attendants or a bank putting on a new shift in their call centre. The dedicated recruitment team will interview dozens (if not hundreds) of candidates for these roles and each candidate will be asked exactly the same set of questions.

Assuming you are not an airline, bank, or hotel chain, even though you might not be looking to hire a group of people, you still need to ensure you have a fair assessment and benchmarking process in place so that ultimately you end up hiring the candidate who literally ticks all the boxes.

It is also important not to make on the spot decisions. The results of candidate evaluation should be discussed by everyone involved, notes compared and references checked before any decision is reached.

If several candidates are a close match, conduct a second round of interviews and if none of the candidates seem suitable, don’t just select the best of a bad lot. Rather re-advertise the position and start again.

4. Reference checking

It’s frightening to think of the number of people who will actually bring someone into their organisation relying on the feedback gained from a 2-minute phone conversation; Perhaps trusting a 2-line email; or maybe without even carrying out any reference checks at all. They’re usually badly burnt after 3 – 6 months of the new employee being in the job.

You need to think back to the core skills (the job description) as well as the core competencies and key success measures (the performance profile) that you had created for the job.

If during your interview you asked the candidate questions around communication, decision-making and time management, you should then ask the referee (ideally the candidate’s former boss) exactly the same questions.

You’re probably getting sick of seeing these same 4 words over and over … “exactly the same questions” … yes even when you are conducting a reference check.

5. Psych testing

Regardless of when in the process it is incorporated, psych testing should always be considered as just one aspect of the recruitment process.

It should never be the decision making tool, and it should never take the place of the tried and tested methods of performing background checks, verifying references and conducting thorough behavioural-based or competency-based interviews as outlined above.

Rather, it should be used as a means of confirming what you already suspect … that you have in fact found the right candidate for the job.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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