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Three questions to ask when assessing assessments

By Greg Barnett, PhD

People are complex. And as a result, many organizations are turning to assessments in order to help them decode the complexities of workplace behaviors, maximize talent potential and achieve their business goals and objectives.

Let’s say you’re one of these organizations, shopping around for some sort of assessment solution. A quick web search will uncover all kinds of providers out there and, to be perfectly honest, some of them are sketchy. Do you know how to distinguish the sure thing from pure snake oil? Start by asking the following three questions:

Question #1: What’s under the hood?

Think about the last time you bought a car. Did you just walk onto the sales lot one day, have something catch your eye and then say, “Yep, that one looks good. I’ll take it!” Of course not. We all know how important it is to at least check under the hood to get a good look at the engine, right?

Shopping for assessments is no different, especially today when it’s all too easy for anyone to put up a flashy website and build really attractive outputs like reports and dashboards, hoping the images make up for any lack of actual substance. Some will even throw in some cool psychology lingo in an effort to confuse the uneducated consumer, using words like “validity” but then never really talking about what validity really is – the ability to predict something, and the very thing you’re searching for. It would be like going to a car dealership and asking about the horsepower that was headlined in an advertisement, only to then have the salesperson redirect the conversation to the gas mileage and how the power windows work. This is where it becomes important to take a critical and deeper look by asking for technical documentation and research studies. These are not the same as case studies (which are also an important step in the evaluation process – see question #2 below), but rather something that shows more substantial numbers with evidence that the tool was constructed according to some professional organizations or principles. It’s the equivalent of looking under the hood of your next car in order to see what makes it run.

Question #2: Does it fit?

Once you’ve moved past the snake oil you’ll find that there are several legitimately great assessments out there. Keep in mind, however, that not every one will be great for your needs. Assessment solutions that are just hitting the market, for example, might not make the cut if you’re a first-time user looking for an established solution with a proven track record. This is where client case studies come in to play. Ask the solution provider the following questions:

  • Are your clients able to solve the same problems that I have with your solution?
  • Who have you helped that’s like me in terms of my industry, my geographical location, my company size, my stage of maturity?
  • Is your solution scalable and able to change as my needs change?

Getting access to existing clients is a good starting point when engaging with prospective assessment providers. It not only helps you to determine the best fit, it also helps to build your confidence in their solution to address the problems you’re looking to solve.

Question #3: Can I take it for a test drive?

After you’ve narrowed your list of potential solutions, it’s time to ask the providers if you can try their assessment out. Many vendors will be happy to do some kind of research to show you how their tools work, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if some want to charge you for this effort. If this is the case, keep in mind that you’re ultimately making an investment in your talent. If you really want to get the benefits of the best tool for your company, then it may be worth investing in a research plan from the provider that shows you not only that the solution works, but also includes the results that you can share with other stakeholders in your organization for instant buy in.        

True assessments are science-based tools with a long history of research, and there are a lot of good ones out there. Once you’ve found the one that’s right for you, it will help you to make better talent decisions, develop stronger teams and help people succeed in their roles. And when used as a strategic management tool, it’s sure to help drive improved business performance.

Greg is the SVP of science at PI.

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