When hiring for entry-level roles, it’s crucial to rely on the most high-signal performance indicators as possible. When you’re hiring for a low-complexity entry-level position, the core question you want answered is: can this person actually do the job?
Skills assessments help definitively answer that question, and ideally, let you predict a candidate’s performance in the environment you’re hiring them for.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we want to define what an entry-level skills assessment is. We’re all about real-world examples, so here’s an interactive walk-through of a customer support candidate’s experience taking this test type — check it out and then come back to this page once you’re done!
Why skills assessments matter
By and large, the majority of employers filter entry-level applicants based on a candidate’s resume. They’re looking for applicants with relevant experience, even if it’s just in a similar role or industry. And there are three main issues with this:
- Entry-level candidates may not have extensive work experience, making it extremely challenging to predict whether an applicant would be a good fit for a role.
- Relevant experience, even in the same industry, doesn’t necessarily correlate with on-the-job performance.
- Identifying stretched truths and outright lies on entry-level resumes is time-consuming and has a low ROI.
Ignoring skills in favor of experience leads to poor-quality hires and early attrition. Why? Because the candidate’s past experience might not be a good fit for the job they’re being hired for, even if it’s in the same industry. For example, someone who has worked in a call center that primarily handled inbound calls may not be prepared for the outgoing sales calls required in a job with a different company.
How to use entry-level skills assessments
A 2022 study by SHRM found that 78% of HR professionals said that using skills assessments improved the quality of their organization's hires.
For entry-level roles, resumes aren’t very helpful in determining whether a candidate would be a good fit. A 2019 study by Harvard Business Review found no significant link between a new hire’s past experience and their success at their new company.
Anecdotally, we’ve reviewed 50,000+ resumes and have seen this to be true. In our early days working as a customer support BPO, we heavily relied on a candidate’s resume to make filtering decisions. We quickly found out what a huge mistake this was. To our surprise, a lot of candidates with stunning resumes or relevant experience turned out to be poor fits for the job we were hiring them for. We implemented an in-house skills assessment, revisited our talent pool, and ended up hiring applicants who were terrific employees. Counterintuitively, those terrific employees didn’t have an impressive resume or relevant experience — but they did have transferable skills.
Not only did using skills assessments help identify a candidate’s strong skills, it also identified their weaker skills. This was incredibly useful for determining team placement and training opportunities. For instance, if a candidate was stellar at phone support but weaker in chat or email support, we knew to place that candidate on the phone team while increasing training on written support.
We’ve experimented with a lot of different skills assessment formats, timing, and length for entry-level roles. Everything from live 45-minute assessments during an interview to brief questionnaires.
Our biggest takeaway?
Skills assessments are most effective when they’re used as the first step in the hiring process for entry-level roles. Our best practice is to give all applicants the skills assessment, even before reviewing their resumes. Why?
- the asynchronous format works well for busy entry-level applicants
- giving the assessment to all candidates helps reduce bias
- hidden gem applicants are brought to light
- it gives applicants the chance to understand the role they’d actually be doing
- applicants appreciate the opportunity to show off tangible skills that are relevant to the job
- it gives an objective point of reference to compare candidates
Preparing to choose an entry-level hiring assessment
Similar to how you’d write a job description, it’s important to fully understand the role you’re hiring for. The most important skills for an entry-level role may not always be obvious.
Focus on breaking down into the top 3-5 most important skills that are the core to the role’s performance. We recommend speaking with the role’s managers and top-performing team members to get their take on what is essential to on-the-job success. Check in with the existing team to understand any skills gaps to ensure that new hires are an enhancement to the team, rather than a redundancy. Additionally, pay close attention to the difference between existing top performers and low performers — how do their skills differ?
What to consider when choosing an entry-level assessment
Once you’ve determined what types of skills an assessment should measure, it’s time to start shopping around. Talk to different assessment providers and examine how they approach testing skills for entry-level roles.
Here are a few assessment aspects to consider when picking an entry-level skills assessment:
- How well does the assessment replicate the on-the-job environment? Does it present an interactive simulation of the work they’d be doing?
- Are there multiple question formats within the test (e.g. writing samples, computation-based questions, technology problems, etc.)?
- Does the assessment test for every core skill you need to know about your candidates? If it doesn’t, does it measure a particular skill well enough that you’re willing to compromise?
- How helpful will the test results be?
- Does it stack-rank candidates for easy decision-making?
- Does the assessment provide context for interpreting and measuring candidate results?
- Assessments should provide high-level results that are easy to understand by people who aren't experts but will allow you to collect more detailed data for deeper analysis.
- Are the results easy for all stakeholders to interpret?
As assessment usage has become more the norm than the exception, candidates are familiar with and often expect to take an assessment during the hiring process. But for entry-level roles especially, it’s vital to be considerate of the candidate’s time, resources, and energy. Applicants' experience is critical to choosing an assessment tool. Upsetting applicants can damage your employer branding and can even lead to legal action.
- How time-consuming is the test?
- A good rule of thumb is to look for assessments that take no longer than 20-30 minutes to complete.
- Are candidates able to complete the test on their own time?
- It’s a best practice to be mindful of entry-level applicants’ time and resources. Your entry-level candidates might work multiple jobs, have rapidly varying schedules, limited transportation, or have childcare responsibilities that make taking in-person tests difficult.
- What steps has the vendor taken to ensure that the assessment is relevant to the role and culturally unbiased?
- Would candidates enjoy taking this assessment? Or is the assessment something that would significantly detract from the hiring experience and contribute to drop-off rates?
- Will this assessment help a candidate remember who your organization is? Often entry-level jobseekers are applying to hundreds of jobs in a short period of time. Recruiting goes both ways, and to ensure you’re hiring the best talent out there, you’ll want candidates to remember who you are. Unique assessments help create that “sticky” factor to keep applicants interested.
- Are you able to add custom questions to the assessment if desired?
- Does the assessment let you archive candidate results to add to your talent pipeline?
- Are there multiple question formats available to implement in the final assessment, like audio and video? For entry-level roles like sales or customer support, it’s crucial to understand how a candidate would verbally communicate with or present crucial info to a customer.
- Are you able to integrate the assessment with your ATS?
- How many stakeholders can have access to the assessment? Will other members of the hiring team be able to view a candidate’s results?
- How much consulting and customization are needed to set up the assessment and how long will it take?
- Some systems are made to be used "right off the shelf" with very little customization, while others need more time and work to set up.
Explore a sample entry-level assessment
Here’s a sample walk-through of an entry-level interactive skills assessment — check it out! In this example, you’ll get to explore from a candidate’s perspective how remarkably well an interactive work sample predicts skills and performance for a variety of entry-level roles.
Bottom line: a low-complexity, entry-level role shouldn't place an emphasis on resumes and past experience. Instead, the focus should be on the job itself and the skills needed to perform well.