Not all ‘out of the box thinking’ is relevant

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Working in talent acquisition and management, you sometimes come across rather “interesting” Assessment practices.

In fact, my colleagues and I have long been discussing whether these anecdotes are worth collating and publishing – in a “non-naming and shaming” way, of course!

So which practices have caught our attention?

Assessing – the “what”

We are probably all familiar with the usual attributes, behaviours and competencies such as “driving results”, “relationship management” or “commercial acumen”. There are so many labels, descriptions and definitions for what often boils down to a handful of critical competencies – but a while ago I came across a “competency” that was truly outstanding: Humour!

Being German, if typical stereotypes hold true, you may think I’m not exactly well-placed to comment on this, but it did peak my interest and I read on: “has a positive and constructive sense of humour, can laugh at him/herself and with others, is appropriately funny and uses humour to ease tension”. It included positive and negative indicators (“poor timing when delivering humour” and “overly serious”, for example) and related interview questions “tell me about a time when an attempt at humour didn’t work out the way you expected”. Followed by levels (basic/intermediate/advanced/expert).

Err.. really?

I think everyone agrees that being able to view the irony in situations, to laugh at your own mistakes, to instil fun into the workplace, or to make your clients and colleagues laugh is a great attribute and helps build relationships and likability – possibly a critical ingredient for success.

There are so many labels, descriptions and definitions for what often boils down to a handful of critical competencies

But how can this be a competency that people assess and interview for - let alone be trained in - so they can move up the proverbial ladder?  As a candidate, what would you think of an organisation that would look less favourably on you if you’re not “funny enough”?

(I should add – I haven’t actually come across it being used as a way to assess candidates in practice – but the fact that it’s a competency in a company framework made us wonder)!

Assessing – the “how”

Which brings me on to the next point – the “how”. In my time as a graduate recruiter I saw some weird and wonderful things: Assessment centre group exercises that asked candidates to build a bridge with five or six items provided, which in itself isn’t necessary terrible. But in one instance there were only three candidates and eight assessors (no one could be persuaded to sit out!) who formed a secure circle around these poor souls, to observe their every move and note down their every word.

A colleague had to manage an instance of an exercise containing stents and a heart attack, when one of the participant’s father had just passed away of a heart attack the week before. And yet another had to wean a client off an exercise where he asked a group of candidates to deliver a ten minute presentation - on himself (to show they had researched him on LinkedIn, the company website etc.).

The candidate must leave with a positive experience, whether or not they are successful.

I’m sure as talent acquisition practitioners we’ve come across lots of risky or even entertaining examples of how candidates are assessed in practice, and in many cases I can only hope that the effort that went into attracting and engaging these candidates to the brand and the organisation in the first place makes up for some of these “glitches” later down the line!

However, no matter how innovative we hope to be in the assessment process, it all boils down to this – the candidate must leave with a positive experience, whether or not they are successful. While some of the above examples may be humorous to say the least, you have to question how the candidates felt afterwards.

What’s your experience? Why not share your interesting examples (minus specific names of course!)

About Kirstin Schulz

Kirstin Schulz

With over 3,000 colleagues globally, Alexander Mann Solutions is the world’s leading provider of talent acquisition and management services. It delivers award-winning solutions to over 65 outsourcing clients and consulting services to hundreds more. It's aim is simple - to help you attract, engage and retain top talent.

Kirstin heads up a team of Occupational Psychologists as a Lead Manager responsible for the design and delivery of a range of assessment projects across all industries and levels of seniority. Over the last few years, Kirstin and her team have delivered organisation-wide assessment audits, designed and implemented end-to-end recruitment and assessments processes, delivered interview training, and conducted internal talent mapping and profiling projects. Apart from thriving in the fast-paced, dynamic nature of Alexander Mann Solutions’ Consulting division, Kirstin loves seeing her projects have a sustainable impact on talent and business outcomes. Kirstin also enjoys a good debate with her team, usually about the ins and outs of business psychology and on how to continuously improve the profession.


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17th Nov 2016 12:55

Kirstin you are right. There have been and still are so many questionable assessment approaches out there. I think they are always well intentioned however all too often they are used in isolation, and the hiring decision makers don't understand the links and how they actively assist in making an informed hiring decision.
My most interesting example was a large corporate who had the most amazingly complex competency framework. The Hiring Managers used the prescribed and enforced interview guides and led the case studies, but in the end still hired on gut and then back-mapped the feedback forms to satisfy HR!
After all these years, this is the only 'assessment' I recommend to my clients now - check it out and let you know what you think...

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