Sunday, March 4, 2012

Is Assessment Useful for Hiring Executives?

I have three MNC clients who use outside assessment companies to evaluate candidates as part of their hiring process. Other clients have asked me whether these assessment tools are effective. Generally companies who use occupational assessment are happy about it but sometimes the results between Asia candidates and candidates elsewhere differ. Interpreting the results raises a lot of questions.
Companies use objective occupational assessment because they want to make sure their executives are the right culture fit with respect to mindset and interpersonal skills. “Using an outside assessment process may seem expensive on paper but it is cheap insurance. It is a helpful data point in the decision making process,” explained a human resources executive at industrial Company Alpha. “Our assessment process allows us to validate people who look wonderful on paper but may not be able to do the job.”
“The majority of executive assessments conducted by PDI Ninth House in Asia are used for supporting development,”said Paul van Katwyk, Vice President and APAC Regional Director, Consulting Solutions at PDI Ninth House. “When assessments are used for hiring or promotion decisions, it is because organizations worry that the reliability of internal assessments, like interviews, referrals and boss ratings are frequently low. Employers also use external assessments to understand the development needs that are the most critical when on-boarding a new employee.”
In the US, the idea of conducting and using occupational assessments is generally understood. In Asia, however, assessments are a new concept. Some employers find differences in the results in Asia and the results elsewhere. Industrial Company Beta, for example, found that Chinese candidates score 20 – 30% lower on their assessments than candidates elsewhere. They think this is because Chinese candidates are often unfamiliar with assessments and find them bewildering. Also since Company B’s assessments are in English and on-line,they believe that Chinese candidates may struggle with understanding and interpreting the questions.
Here’s some advice to companies who are considering using assessments as part of their interview process.
  • To be successful in using assessments on a global basis, use a test that meets psychometric standards, is legally defensible and avoids culturally-specific questions, advises Helen Fung, PhD, Managing Consultant at SHL Greater China. “For example I have seen a US test that asked about the person’s attitude towards government and authority. This is a very culturally-specific question. Even Canadians would have different attitudes in this area from Americans. The results would be very difficult to interpret.” Helen noted that SHL assessments are developed for use in over 30 countries and are available in many languages. 
  • “Don’t just blindly accept the scores from an assessment;” said van Katwyk of PDI Ninth House, “For example, when an individual does not do well on “Influencing,” you need to ask why. Chinese leaders in Chinese companies may have different way so of using power. So then you need to ask questions like, is a more Western style of influence needed in the new role? If so, could he/she adapt and learn a new style?  You need to have a richer discussion beyond the scores to understand whether the person will be effective in the new role.”
  • Explaining why and how the data will be used is important also. “People take our assessment on-line,” said the Company Beta executive. “If you don’t explain it, people get lost. Be sure to hold a formal in-person briefing to explain it and give tips to candidates about how to complete it.”
  • Company Alpha and Beta representatives agreed that assessments should be treated as only a part of the hiring process.  Neither company rejects candidates just because of the assessment score. They try to consider all factors including the reference checks and the face-to-face interviews. When the candidate becomes an employee, they use the results as a training and development guide.
  • Van Katwyk advises companies to use a reputable assessment firm. “In Asia, there are a lot of companies that say they offer valid tests.   You might as well go to a fortune teller in terms of getting accurate predictions from many of these.” he commented,  “In the West, there is legislation that protects against the use of poor tests for making personnel decisions, but out here it can still be the “wild East.”
Thanks to assessment firms, PDI Ninth House ( and to SHL ( as well as to the human resources representatives of Companies Alpha and Beta (who asked not to be identified) for their contributions to this article. Please contact me if you would like more information.
Compensation Benchmarking: China Sales Directors

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