The Ugly Truth About Online Assessment Testing

By Keith Meadows

Apr. 25, 2018

Most people have had the experience of taking an online assessment or test as part of a job application. No matter the industry and position, the format is often familiar. The applicant is asked questions covering everything under the sun about how they would rate their work performance and ability to work well with others, and then they are asked those same questions again in different ways. The answers are usually multiple choice and the assessments can take as long as 20 minutes to complete or sometimes, take several hours and days to finish for the most intensive online screening tests.

A great majority of companies use assessments as key parts of their application. They’re designed to be an unbiased way to narrow down the applicant pool to a more manageable number.

But hiring managers who work for companies that utilize these assessments need to ask themselves a few questions: Do you know what questions are asked on that test? Have you taken it? Can you pass it?

Many hiring managers and talent acquisition staff have never seen some of the questions they ask job candidates, and in many cases, they would be the first to fail these tests. The reality is that online tests and assessments have become an out of sight, out of mind tool for HR teams. Hiring managers know these tests exist as part of their company’s application process but that might be the extent of their knowledge.

In the job market of years past, companies could get by with this type of practice. Unemployment was high post-recession, and there were plenty of applicants to every position. Companies had the upper hand and could be choosy and select the best person available.

With unemployment standing at a 17-year low in 2018, jobseekers and employees are beginning to wield the power. They can be selective where they choose to apply and whom they want to work with. Meanwhile employers are struggling to find talent.

Employers and hiring managers need to scrutinize things they didn’t have to scrutinize before. They may need to take a hard look at the online pre-screening assessment tests, which may be inadvertently costing the company highly skilled and talented future employees.

How to Stay on Top

Companies lose otherwise qualified candidates for a variety of reasons in the application process, but they frequently lose them at the assessment stage. Jobseekers exit out of the process if they view the test as too lengthy or time consuming. They also bail on a company if the assessment content is not perceived as relevant or if that content startles them.

Think of a forklift operator applying for that job who takes an assessment with nothing but sales related questions, even if the job description did not mention sales at all. Believe it or not, this type of thing happens all the time. This jobseeker thinks they may be applying to the wrong position and leaves the application. Or even worse, they think the company may not have their act together thus damaging the company’s brand in the process.

So how can hiring managers and companies capture the talent they may be losing because of candidate drop-off in the online assessment process? A good start is by following these three best practices:

Know what is on the test. Many talent acquisition personnel have no idea what content or questions are on their current online assessment. The best companies have assessments that their personnel are familiar with and that relate to key characteristics that successful workers should have at that company.

Do not have a test just to have a test. Involve hiring managers and talent acquisition personnel in the design of this tool to make it more effective. Every individual responsible for hiring at a company should know what is being asked of applicants.

Keep the length of your test under control. Are you getting enough qualified candidates? If a company’s online assessment takes too long to complete, they could lose many great people.

A hiring manager may say, “Well for our company, if that jobseeker doesn’t want to invest the time to complete this, then we don’t want them.” But the job market is changing. Employers have had the upper hand for quite some time, but the unemployment rate is low and forecasted to get even lower

There is going to come a time where companies are going to need those qualified jobseekers who do not want to spend half a day completing an online quiz. There is a happy medium, but employers need to be vigilant so that top talent doesn’t take flight over something this trivial.

Do you really care? Are you sure?. What do I mean by that? As an example, I work with jobseekers with disabilities with applications, interview preparation, and everything in between. When applying online, nearly all the online tests list either a 1-800 number or an email address that people with disabilities can reach out to if they need assistance or help with the application/assessment.

Shockingly, though, a large percentage of these 1-800 numbers are either non-functional or they lead to an impersonal, confusing answering machine. After all of these missteps, the final insult is that oftentimes those messages left by jobseekers with disabilities are either not monitored by anybody or they are never returned.

I challenge you to test your company’s 1-800 numbers and email addresses. Individuals with disabilities are the largest untapped labor pool in the United States. If they were to apply to your company, have an issue that required assistance and get an impersonal response, they might exit out of the application and choose a company that really cares.

Online application assessments are here to stay. They can be valuable and helpful tool for all parties if given the attention that they deserve. As a hiring manager though, it’s your job to make sure they act as an effective resource to finding qualified candidates as opposed to a barrier that eliminates potential talent.

Keith Meadows is a hiring and engagement consultant at Disability Solutions. Comment below or email

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