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The Headhunters Club of Paris fields its Recruiter Members as Assessment Guinea Pigs

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At what point does the evaluation of our capacities and the transmission of those results suddenly become threatening to us as an invasion of privacy or a nasty moral judgment of our character?

Library of l’Hôtel de l’Industrie

This was the underlying theme of the evening’s presentation by two assessment agency experts at the monthly meeting of the Paris Headhunters Club on January 17, 2018, in the historic library of the l’Hôtel de l’Industrie à Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris.

One by one, our two experts from different assessment agencies – Mrs. Claire Peres, founder and manager of CAP Consultants in Paris  and Mrs. Céline Labaune, project leader at CCLD Recruitment in Lyon – attempted to reassure our collective recruiter souls of the scientific viability and peaceful intentions of their preferred instruments of human capacity measurement: “assessments”.

Assessment is, of course, an English word that most Anglophones are familiar with as pertaining to evaluations and appraisals. Tests, if you will. It turns out that the English word has now merged seamlessly with the French language, albeit with perhaps some nuances that we recruiters, human resource directors (HRDs) and coaches need to have clarified for us.

Are such tests more valid than those that Millennials readily indulge in on Facebook? Are they more reliable than, say, graphology or astrology?

After a substantial career as professor and professional coach, my personal assumption at the beginning of the evening is that all but the most self-confident person feels somewhat threatened when confronted with tests or assessments of any kind. (The perception that serious evaluations serve only to reveal one’s limitations is, in effect, quite scary.)

Claire Peres hastens to agree that, yes, an assessment is never neutral.

For that reason, she clarifies, the deontology of her trade is to insist on total transparency throughout the whole process of recruitment, from greeting candidates insisting on a positive approach to assessments, to following through with substantial individual debriefing interviews to enhance positive aspects of the outcome rather than demoralize candidates with only hasty, superficial or dismissive reports that might be interpreted only negatively.

Claire Peres

Further, she says, in France the notion of “assessment” has taken on a connotation closer to a series of evaluations, or – in her words – a “dynamic evaluation” consisting of several parts, or a series of different evaluations with results viewed from multiple perspectives, which she feels is necessary in order to obtain valid, quasi-scientific results.  

Assessments enable the recruitment process to be more transparent. They provide recruiters and HRDs with hardcore facts about people whom they might otherwise have overlooked or eliminated due to human prejudice (this one is wearing too much or not enough lipstick; that one is wearing a suit that smells of cigarette smoke). Above all, assessments serve the stellar purpose of revealing incredible nuggets of talent, even to the candidates themselves.  

In a perfect world of twenty-first-century recruitment, assessments serve to redistribute talent and not to eliminate it.

There are two things that recruiters can hope to have assessed in their candidates: competencies and human know-how. The role of the assessment specialist is, first, to measure, evaluate and report on the recruit’s competencies, which is done through individual testing. However, human know-how, with its aspects of Emotional Intelligence, is necessarily measured in group activities, such as real-life situations, case studies, and games, where candidates are observed by several different evaluators.

According to Claire Peres, job seekers should be delighted to be offered assessments because the process also improves the identification of best-fit jobs for them while also helping HRDs spot them among hundreds of candidates.

Scientific statistics are on the side of assessment credibility and usefulness. All HRDs are familiar with the cost of poor recruitment techniques, with lack of retention of new hires taking a big toll on the bottom line. According to Claire Peres, companies can count on seventy percent retention of new recruits if selection is based on pre-assessments, whereas only forty percent retention will occur without pre-assessments.  Further, the higher retention factor will have a positive impact on the integration of new recruits and remove guesswork from designing training and aligning job descriptions. Strategic purposes are also better served in that it makes it easier to build and accompany successful teams.

Both recruiters and companies are well advised to communicate thoroughly and positively about the advisability – for employer and employee – of renewing assessments regularly because it is generally understood that assessment results are only valid for two years.  Employees should not go into a tailspin when asked to take another assessment; the principle should become routine and positively experienced.

There are all kinds of assessments that range from analyzing personality (MBTI), to measuring quantity (IQ), to evaluating quality (psychometric and mental energy tests).  In all instances, the results of the tests must serve as a basis for an in-depth interview with the candidate in order to know him better in all of his glorious complexity.  This is an ethical requirement of the trade that, to our apprehensions, insists that people should not be put into little labeled boxes.

Some examples of group assessments are:

  • business cases
  • recommendations, and
  • “serious games “.

A group assessment of ten people can, for instance, serve for multiple job selection.   Participants need to know that they are not competing among themselves for the same job.  Group assessments are generally more revelatory than, for instance, individual results or role play.

According to Claire Peres, only creative positions are not currently well adapted to today’s batteries of assessments.

In any event, an in-depth individual debriefing interview is required after testing. Each candidate should leave the interview with a value-added takeaway.

To give us a taste of the trade, our expert assessors organized us spectators rapidly into participants in a demonstration of a group assessment.  Two teams of three people each were designated to take opposite positions – the proverbial pros and cons of debate – on the topic of universal salary.  The rest of us posed as performance evaluators, using the online tool to register our grades.  We quickly understood why it is definitely an advantage to have many graders, because appreciation varies not only between people but also between cultures.

Relaxed and reassured about the value of assessments, we were nevertheless more than ready for the reward waiting for us in chilled wine glasses.