Here’s the reality of hiring today: work itself is undergoing rapid changes, shifting to a new kind of workscape that’s digital, global, diverse, leans on automation and functions across multiple platforms — including social media and mobile. The job market is highly competitive: the unemployment rate was at 4.7 percent in February of 2017. Business cycles are shorter, with faster rates of new demands and needs to match. In this state of constant disruption and an ongoing race for talent, HR is being challenged to rethink how to recruit and hire more effectively.

The Bottleneck

Adoption of new technologies tends to be somewhat sticky: we tend to cling to the status quo if we’re not sure how to change it. But focus, for a moment, on the process of hiring as many of us know it. Short attention spans, a barrage of digital distractions, and employer information scattered across multiple platforms mean candidates who don’t fully read or understand the job description but tend to send out their resumes anyway. It’s easier than ever to do it, so why not?

On the receiving end are overloaded recruiters and hiring teams, flooded with resumes and applicants. Only half of these candidates are actually qualified, according to a number of recent polls of recruiters. But the process of winnowing them down is cumbersome. Somehow this giant pool of talent has to wind up flowing through a very narrow, one-to-one bottleneck: the interview. It’s like taking a raging river and sending it through a drinking straw.

There are other problems with the interview process, including questions of fairness. Objectively speaking, two humans get together and have a chat, and one tries to offer enough information to answer the other’s essential question: Should I hire you? But we know how fallible interviews can be, from limited bandwidth to first impressions formed in seconds — based on an array of “thin slices” of data that may smack of bias, conscious or not. The issue is significant enough that states are working to legislate bias out of interviews. Massachusetts just enacted a “Don’t ask” law that prohibits interviewers from asking for salary history — a question which has been found to put women candidates at a disadvantage and perpetuate pay gap.

Empowering a Better Interview

But we are human, after all. Nothing wrong with that. What if there’s a way to turn our humanity into a success, and not a potential liability? There is — and it comes in the form of data-driven tools that winnow out and spotlight objectively and accurately. Well designed pre-employment tests are more than ways to screen for specific skills and qualifications. They function as objective and effective predictors of success based on a range of additional characteristics, including personality and cognitive aptitude; the former can measure traits that may demonstrate fit, while the latter is increasingly important as we become far more specialized and as the technology we use evolves faster. Even more importantly, research shows that cognitive aptitude is one of the best predictors of actual on-the-job performance, making it a more objective tool for predicting long-term success.

But from my perspective, they also do something else. They’re an opportunity for both sides to learn about each other. The candidate can learn from the testing experience what kinds of skills, aptitudes, and behaviors are required for the job. The recruiter can learn from the test results what kind of potential the candidate has in terms of those measurements. Armed with this information, they can proceed to the next step if it’s appropriate.

No more shots in the dark. The candidate, as well as the recruiter, are both on the same page. Now, imagine the interview based on the results. The interview can now fulfill a more meaningful function: a face-to-face (whether virtual or not) meeting that conveys a candidate’s interest and potential to the employer, and communicates the employer’s culture and values to the candidate. Both are equally important, particularly in terms of a good hire and increased retention. No one’s time is wasted. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) backs this up: using pre-employment tests was shown to tangibly improve hiring results.

Still, Don’t Ditch the Interview

Does this all mean that we should simply do away with interviews completely? I’d say no. The advantage of pre-employment tests in hiring is that they provide relevant, objective data about a job candidate. For candidates, they provide a clearly objective and specific set of criteria that enhances the candidate’s understanding of the position, can (if tailored that way) convey employer brand, and provides a positive experience. But it may be that instead of unstructured interviews, we lean more on structured interviews — with their standardized set of questions. It puts additional work on the hiring manager’s desk, at least up front. But it also takes more uncertainty and the risk of bias off the table. If that can’t happen, the pre-employment tests have taken care of much of the heavy lifting.

We’re about to move into yet another phase in HR and recruiting, soon: Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report stressed that we are heading into an era of cognitive computing, an augmented combining AI and people, and organizations made of teams may work together intensely but be located in different hemispheres. But of the key trends in this report, it’s important to note that 81% of the executives, managers, and recruiters polled said that no matter what the field, talent acquisition is imperative. Which makes a hiring process that uses the best tools even more like a change we all need to make right now.

This post is sponsored by Criteria Corp.

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