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The 4 biggest assessment myths undermining your hiring process

The last installment of this three-part hiring series tackles four of the most pervasive and detrimental myths regarding the use of assessments in hiring.
Ruth Imose

Leads the development of products grounded in research for McKinsey’s People and Organizational Performance Practice. Counsels clients on DE&I and talent topics, including DE&I strategy and implementation, performance management, and talent selection and assessment

When we talk to clients about their hiring process, we often get questions on assessments. In particular, one question we often see is starkly simple yet deceptively difficult to answer—which hiring assessments, among the sea of available options, are best? We believe that this question belies a broader misunderstanding of assessments.

Assessments are simply a standardized means of collecting information about an applicant to help with hiring or promotion decisions. It is a broad category and can take the form of a standardized written assessment, a resume screen or an interview. There is not one assessment that is a gold standard to be used universally across all roles—it depends on what characteristics matter for the role in question (see our previous post for more on that process).

If there isn’t direct science linking the assessment to job performance or to the characteristic that matters for the job in question, don’t use it.

In this third and final part on hiring, we dispel four of the most pervasive, detrimental myths regarding the use of assessments in hiring.

1. The more assessments, the better. Despite what many think, using more assessments is not always better—and can often be worse than using too few. Using additional assessments that do not meaningfully distinguish who is best suited for the job will result in worse hiring decisions than if these additional data points were not used at all. Worse yet, too many lengthy assessments can negatively influence the candidate experience and decrease the size of the candidate pool. In one case, a staffing firm we worked with found that long screening assessments were causing otherwise promising candidates to drop out of the process, thereby driving down the quality of hires.

Using less scientific tools, like an unstructured interview, introduce noise to the decision-making process and may bias against certain types of applicants. Simple advice—if there isn’t direct science linking the assessment to job performance or to the characteristic you’ve determined matters for the job in question, don’t use it.

2. Assessments that use the latest machine learning/AI are better than long established assessments. While we share the enthusiasm for the potential of advanced technologies and techniques (e.g., gamified assessments), we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

It is important that new approaches are held to the same standards of integrity to which we hold more traditional assessments. Decades of research has shown that traditional assessments of cognitive ability and personality traits (e.g., conscientiousness) are still some of the best predictors out there.

At a minimum, assessment vendors should have technical documentation describing the reliability, validity and prescribed uses of their assessments. Also pay attention to any information on test bias, administration requirements and potentially available databases for scoring and test interpretation.

3. Hiring assessments are only for hiring decisions. Just because they’re often called hiring assessments doesn’t mean their usefulness stops there. All too often, organizations are sitting on a treasure trove of information about their employees from the hiring assessment process, but once the hiring decision is made everyone forgets about this data.

We maintain that this data can be very useful for onboarding and ongoing learning & development of new hires. Perhaps your organization has hired a new technical product manager who you learned during the interview has less experience in AI products. We highly recommend leveraging this assessment information to create a tailored training plan for their first 6 months on the job.

4. Standardized assessments are less useful for leadership positions. When used in the right way, we have found that assessments have a place across the hierarchy. As with entry-level positions, having a structured approach to gather information on leaders via assessments is helpful. With leaders, though, the degree and type of information needed to make quality decisions is necessarily different. Although a two-hour cognitive ability assessment may be overkill, concrete information about leaders’ interpersonal and working style may be worthy of exploring in a short personality assessment or structured interview.

By tackling these 4 assessment myths, in addition to navigating the 3 main challenges that make hiring difficult and following these 3 concrete steps to improve your hiring process, your organization will be well on its way to winning with talent.

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