There are many factors to consider when you're deciding whether or not to hire someone, from the applicant's potential for future development to their compatibility with your company culture.

While the considerations involved in your recruitment decisions will depend on the nature of the role and the unique needs and expectations of your business, there will always be certain essential questions to ask. For example: does this person have the skills required to do the job to a high standard?

This is a crucial question in industries that place a lot of importance on technical know-how and knowledge, like manufacturing and logistics. To get the most accurate and reliable answers, you need to go beyond fundamental recruitment processes like evaluating resumes, conducting job interviews and checking references.

What are skills assessment tests?

Skills assessment tests are bespoke evaluations you can use to gauge an individual's ability to do a particular job and ultimately be a positive addition to your company. They come in various forms (as we'll see later in this article) and can be used to give you a detailed, measurable picture of a job applicant's strengths and capabilities.

While their primary function is as a hiring tool, you can also use these tests to monitor skills in your existing workforce. This can be an effective way to ensure your people have the right competencies to succeed in their job and also to identify opportunities for training and development.

There are various benefits to be gained from this approach, such as increasing your confidence that potential hires have the necessary hard skills for highly technical roles, or gauging soft skills that could prove vital to the employee's long-term success.

Assessing capabilities in your existing workforce can also highlight current skills shortages, which will help you decide what sort of candidates and talent profiles you should be targeting in your recruitment activities.

Why you should use skills assessment tests

Skills assessment tests prove particularly useful when you're hiring for a role that demands specific knowledge and capabilities.

This can be crucial in sectors like manufacturing and logistics, where employers need to know that a prospective recruit knows how to use certain machinery or is familiar with a particular process before deciding to hire them.

These tests also hold a lot of value if you have reached a point in the recruitment cycle where you have identified a number of promising candidates and you need to narrow down the field. The results and insights you gain from the tests can show you where certain applicants have an edge over others.

Another valuable benefit of skills assessment tests is that they provide a data-driven, objective view of an individual's abilities. If you rely on resumes and interviews alone, your final hiring decision will only be based on what the applicant has told you about their capabilities. Some people are better at selling themselves than others, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the best choice for the job.

Checking references is essential to verify the candidate's claims and get input from a third party, and you can make sure you're getting the best outcomes from this process with the help of tools like Checkster. But it's important to remember that what you're hearing from referees is their subjective opinion.

Tests allow you to take all emotion and impartiality out of the equation and judge people purely based on the knowledge and aptitude they display in their assessment.

This can also prove useful as part of your efforts to manage your current workforce. Analyzing the skills of existing employees can lead to benefits including:

  • A clearer picture of existing skills and proficiency levels in your workforce
  • Insights into where your training and development activities are generating results and where they're falling short
  • Indicators of where additional training is required
  • The ability to compare your existing talent with wider industry standards
  • Being able to build a more comprehensive skill set across the team as a whole

Different types of skills assessment tests

If you've decided that introducing skills assessment tests is the right approach for your business, the next step is to learn more about the different options available and which ones are best-suited to your needs.

Hard skills tests

In an industry like manufacturing, employers need to know their workers possess the hard skills required to do essential jobs well and keep their core business running. In the modern manufacturing sector, this might include:

  • Traditional production skills like welding, machining and fabrication
  • The ability to operate certain pieces of machinery
  • Experience using certain vehicles
  • Proficiency with automated systems and software
  • Familiarity with quality control processes

In many cases, workers will need to provide proof of their skills - in the form of a forklift truck operator's license or a MIG/TIG welding certificate, for instance.

You can evaluate job applicants' capabilities in key areas like these by coming up with test questions that require very specific knowledge and experience to answer. For example:

  • How would you go about conducting a quality check on [X] product?
  • What steps would you follow to make sure you're using [X] machine safely?
  • How would you perform routine maintenance on a computer numerical controlled machine?

Specialist software platforms like Codility and HR Avatar give you the option to design bespoke tests that ask these sorts of detailed questions.

Another useful tool is the 16PF Questionnaire, which businesses around the world use to evaluate personality traits and measure the competencies required to succeed in particular roles. 

Randstad employer brand photo, internal, people, consultants, branch, branches
Randstad employer brand photo, internal, people, consultants, branch, branches

Hard skills tests can also involve putting participants in hypothetical situations where they face a technical problem and have to explain the approach they would take to solving it.

Soft skills tests

Hard skills are undeniably crucial, particularly in sectors where employees frequently use machinery and equipment that demands a certain level of technical expertise.

But hard skills shouldn't be your only consideration. For many organizations, the ideal recruit will have a combination of technical capabilities and soft skills, since the latter increases the likelihood that the person will integrate well with the rest of your workforce and form strong relationships with their colleagues and customers.

According to LinkedIn, the most in-demand soft skills in 2020 were:

  • Creativity
  • Persuasion
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Emotional intelligence

Dedicated skills assessment tests can be highly useful for evaluating these sorts of characteristics, since they can be difficult to judge purely on the basis of an applicant's resume.

Thanks to the ever-expanding HR technology space, there are many tools and software platforms that can help you conduct accurate soft skills assessments.

One example is Pymetrics, a company supported by the Randstad Innovation Fund. This tool aims to help employers measure a jobseeker's full potential by going beyond resumes and collecting objective behavioral data through gamified assessments. Taking an innovative approach like this could help you evaluate soft skills such as:

  • Fairness
  • Decision making
  • Focus
  • Capacity for learning
  • Risk taking

The 16PF Questionnaire can again prove beneficial when you need to evaluate soft skills. This approach will help you build a detailed picture of a candidate's personality, with the option to focus on aspects such as their development potential, leadership abilities and cultural fit.

Case studies

If you're looking for a direct insight into how an applicant would respond when placed in a particular scenario, presenting them with a genuine case study from your business can be a good way to do it.

Ask a manager or team member - preferably one the new hire could be working with - to give an example of a particular challenge they have faced in their day-to-day work, how they managed it and the end result they achieved. You could also ask if, with the benefit of hindsight, they would choose to take a different approach.

If a jobseeker is able to come up with a similar solution, or possibly an even better one, it will increase your confidence in their ability to thrive in the role.

Tools like Modern Hire can make it easier for you to present applicants with resources such as case studies and videos, and ask for their opinion on them. You can also use technologies with audio and video capabilities to test certain hard skills - knowledge of foreign languages, for example.

A combination

You can get a truly in-depth view of a job applicant's talent and potential by combining a number of skills assessment tests in your recruitment process.

Finding the right balance of hard and soft skills tests, for example, will help you make data-driven conclusions about whether the individual can actually do the job, first and foremost, but also about their compatibility with your company and their prospective colleagues.

Complementing these methods with practical evaluations, and possibly with other tools like cognitive ability tests, could be the comprehensive approach you need to get the best out of your skills assessments.

How to choose the right tests for you

What constitutes the 'right' method of skills assessment testing for your business depends entirely on the unique needs, goals and expectations of your organization. The most effective strategy will also be dictated by the nature of the role in question.

When considering what tests you should use, ask questions like:

  • What are the most essential skills and knowledge required to do this job effectively?
  • Are you looking for people with a specific existing skill set, or the potential to grow and learn within your organization?
  • What data and insights do you want to gain from your skills assessments?

It can also be important to think about the nature of the tools you'll use to conduct your evaluations. If you'll be using dedicated software, for example, how much control do you want over the format of the tests and how the questions and tasks are presented?

There are many tools and platforms available to aid your skills assessment efforts, so it's important to give yourself enough time to search the market, compare different options and find the most appropriate and beneficial one for you.

Follow up

Like any significant change in your HR function (and indeed any major project or investment for your business), it's vital to follow up on the introduction of skills assessment tests and to analyze the results they're generating.

If you hire someone on the basis of their test scores, you can compare their actual performance on the job to your expectations of how they would fare based on the test. If the initial skills assessment was inaccurate, based on what you now know about the person's capabilities, it's worth considering how you could change your approach to deliver better results in the future.

Agility is a valuable trait for modern businesses. You should be constantly reviewing your approach to skills testing and asking how it can be updated and modified to help you make the right recruitment decisions.

If you're interested in learning more, you can download our checklist highlighting some of the most important steps you can take to optimize skills assessment.

about the author
philipp vogel
philipp vogel

Philipp Vogel

district manager

Philipp Vogel started his career as a polymechanic EFZ. Various further training courses led him to strategic purchasing and most recently to Randstad. Philipp has been working at Randstad for 15 years and, as District Manager, leads the branches from Basel to St.Gallen so that they achieve their goals. In his role, Philipp appreciates the daily variety and the great responsibility. In his free time he does kickboxing and is an active Basel carnival participant.

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