Mark Hammer

There is certainly a rapidly growing interest in the extent to which electronic assessment paradigms can improve upon traditional paper and pencil tests, and provide assessment that is more “ecologically valid” and has greater face validity for candidates. I’ve seen interesting presentations on streamed media embedded in things like situational judgment tests 14 years ago, and there are all sorts of options for more immersive assessment environments these days, I’m sure. But unless one is hiring by the hundreds or thousands for jobs where the selected individuals won’t be reporting to you directly, such simulations will likely be restricted to first-tier screening tool by most hiring managers, and not used to make a selection, merely to assist in doing so.


Well, a bunch of reasons. First, I doubt whether such approaches will be able to completely wrestle the adverse impact thing to the ground, so something else with known adverse-impact specs will have to supplement, and maybe overshadow, simply to make selection legally defensible. Doesn’t mean that such simulations necessarily have adverse impact; merely that one doesn’t know what degree of impact it does or doesn’t have. Being “cool” or efficient doesn’t hold up in court when you’re being accused of discrimination in hiring.

But a second, and I think more important, reason is that managers feel the need to see the evidence first-hand when it comes to selection. You could have the most validated paper and pencil test on earth, but no manager would accept a selection based on that alone. They would insist on interviewing because if they’re going to have to work with that person, or have other people who report to them working with that person, they’re going to want direct first-hand evidence that the person is not going to blow up in their face. In a sense, interviews are a sort of simulation, except that rather than simulating for the candidate what tasks they would be regularly encountering on the job, it’s me – as manager – simulating for myself what it’s like to work with you. And of course, there could never be any e-tool tailored to every single position that could do that for reasonable cost, and negligible development overhead.

That’s why so many managers stil have to have their arms twisted to use professionally-developed and validated employment tests, but trust their gut when it comes to interviews as the final common pathway when it comes to selection decisions. It’s also why most managers would probably place more creedence in a referral from a trusted source than in a test score.

I’m not saying the interview necessarily does a better job at making a pick than a paper-and-pencil or electronic tool would. What I’m saying is that if a manager is going to be accountable to someone else for low productivity, or poor morale, or high turnover, they’re not going to leave selection up to anything automated. They will look at the test scores, but they are still going to want to see evidence with their own eyes that this is a good hire.