In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Bas van de Haterd, self-described professional snoop and consultant for TA professionals talks about assessments, from how to choose the right one, to how to integrate it as a seamless part of the selection process.
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Max: Hello and welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers Podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster, and today on the show, I'm excited to welcome Bas van de Haterd, and not the way he was referred to by the great podcaster Chad Sowash as, well, I don't know, you tell us Bas, how he butchered your name, but Bas, hopefully I get it right. Bas is a professional snoop, is his title on LinkedIn and how he introduces himself. He's a consultant for the talent acquisition professionals who are looking to revisit and improve their process, and today, we agreed we were gonna have a conversation on the world of assessments. And notably, assessments, everybody's been looking into assessments in 2021 and deciding, is this the right time to revisit? So, we wanna dig into Bas's brain to find out when is the right time to change your assessment strategy and what are some case studies that we can learn from. So, welcome to the show Bas.
Bas: Awesome to be here, awesome to be here, Max.
Max: And sorry to hear about your American friend Chad butchering your name. You were telling me, Bas, for those who don't know your work, you're very present on social media, so, maybe, where can they meet you on the internet? Where's the good place to interact with Bas?
Bas: On personal interaction, it's usually LinkedIn. If you just wanna listen to my views, The Talent Savvy Podcast is a great one to subscribe to as well. And of course, I am avid member of [unintelligible] Recruiting Brainfood Group by Hung Lee which we've also digitally met before, Max. I tried to keep it down a little because I was too active there according to some people, but it's a great source of inspiration for me and I try to add a lot of information on assessments and strategies.
Max: In valuable resource, I've made it a mandatory reading for anybody in my company as well. The Recruiting Brainfood by Hung, great source, and also an active community on Facebook. So, great place to interact with Bas, and what was the name of the podcast again?
Bas: Talent Savvy
Max: The Talent Savvy Podcast, so you can find Bas more for more insights there. So, let's jump into the topic and let's talk about assessments. That's a hot topic in 2021, as I was saying, because it seems like a lot of companies have decided to deal with numbers, finally. The balance has changed a little bit, we have more candidates and less recruiters during a part of last year at least. And so, naturally, assessments came to the fore and people, a lot of vendors have also appeared in the last couple of years that are credible vendors that can do all kinds of assessment. I've had a few of them on the show. So, what's been your, you are like, from a consulting standpoint, are companies revisiting the way they do assessments and are they coming in and asking you for help, of that sort, or do you have to really shape those discussions good that you're just happier with? What works, don't break what works and we have an assessment based on it and we need to change. Are you pulling or are they pushing?
Bas: No, I'm usually being asked, you know, can you help us? The downside is usually in the budget there is no room for an external consultant, so, I'm most often get asked for free advice and as soon as I'm like, well, how am I gonna make any money off this, and they're like yeah, we never thought of that. But you do see a lot of companies now revisiting their assessment strategies. I actually do see a lot of difference in there. So, in my home country of The Netherlands, a lot of governments are looking at it, both national as well as in the local level because they've now read so many stories in part published by me and a lot of other people, how assessments done well can actually help your diversity and inclusion and be more fair in your selection process, and for governments that's of course very important. So, there's a lot of governments who have actually done amazing cases which is really interesting to see. You know, the most traditional organizations you'll probably think of being the most innovative and piloting cool, proven, and new technologies in a really smart way. And actually, now also, and I love that about them, they feel the need to also go externally with their data with their knowledge, and just share what they did and share what the results are. So that's how case studies are coming out. A lot of them government related. I see, interestingly enough, Scallops don't see a mis-hire as being part of the process, they see a mis-hire as something they need to improve. A lot of Scallops are ditching the resume as their first point of entry very quickly because they have one or two mis-hires, and they're like, yeah this cost us a lot of money and we have a culture in this company that if something fails, that's not a problem, but we should learn from it. So, they don't consider mis-hires as something that is part of the process, that's unavoidable, like a lot of recruiters do. They see it as, okay how do we prevent it from happening again? And you really see an awesome development there and so small companies are implementing all kinds of assessments. Sometimes good, sometimes not, because as you said there's a lot of new vendors on there. A lot of them are awesome, some of them are complete and total crap, to be honest.
Max: I'm totally fascinated by what you just said on governments jumping into the foreign, like, innovating, initiated by a consciousness and an awareness on fairness and inclusivity. So, some strong innovation has been driven by this sort of alleviated political discussion which has therefore push the buyer to say, okay well we're gonna remove some of the human error.
Bas: Yes, and a lot of them, most of them, let's be very honest, try to do it the traditional way. Oh, we'll do a gender-bias training, and that will at least check the box. But in some cases, for example one of my major clients is the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they now have a Head of Recruitment who isn't originally from HR, he just got in there, he worked in an embassy for 25 years. And he was just looking at the selection process and said to me at an event, listen I think it's really strange how we do it, and I'm like, yeah, I totally agree with you. Okay, cool, we're gonna redo this. And he was looking at it with fresh eyes, and of course, there was some push back from the recruiters at first, but we've always done it like this. He's like, does that mean that it's good, the fact that we've always done it? So, he asked all the questions which you should ask. History doesn't mean it's good, it doesn't mean it's bad either, but we need to revisit our original thoughts and they were basically sending the last candidate to an assessment, because they said, listen we need to have an assessment in there et cetera et cetera.
Max: Like a QA check at the end of the production line.
Bas: Exactly. And he literally said like, listen about, almost nobody gets rejected by the assessment, so we're basically spending a lot of money. I'm getting an external company to sign off on what we've already decided.
Max: That sounds like governments, sounds just right.
Bas: Yeah, and this guy, although he's been in government forever, he said, now you're telling me, because he saw one of my lectures when we, it was pre-covid when we were still able to go to events and stuff like that, and he said, and now you're telling me boss that by moving it to a different part of the process, basically putting it all the way up front, for the same amount of money, or maybe even less, I can have two or three or four times quality? I'm like, yeah pretty much. He's like, let's do this. Let's do this. He says, I have no idea what it's about. People in my team, if they had an idea, they should have spoken up a long time ago, so obviously they don't have an idea. Please help us.
Max: You raised something very important here. You said, for the same price or maybe less. I think that's one of the reasons why people have been quitting the assessments at the end of the line is they say, well I pay on a per assessment basis, so I don't wanna spend that kind of money. I don't wanna spend 10, 20 dollars for a candidate. Is that changed? From your experience, is that a good way to save money?
Bas: It depends, which is a very [unintelligible], but we've got a lot of suppliers who now say, listen we're gonna charge you depending on the number of hires you make in a year, and we don't care about the number of applicants, or we're gonna charge you a fixed price anyway, or we're gonna charge you based on a number of candidates which you are never ever gonna be reaching, so who the hell cares? You've got those, and you still got more the traditional suppliers who moved online and they're like, still --
Max: Like Berlitz and things like that.
Bas: Yeah, and interestingly enough every country has their own set of suppliers because there's a lot of, there's actually interestingly also a lot of bias in a lot of assessments, which the suppliers will deny, but I know which assessments have which risk for bias. And those are also nationally.
Max: You know their [unintelligible] once.
Bas: I'll give you a simple example. If you do a Likert scale that's like 1-5, a Dutch person will always answer a 2 or 4. We are never on the extremes, we are never extremely bad, we are never extremely good. If you make us choose between two things, we will never say we are not able to do one. If you ask an American, it's always a 1 and a 5. They're either great or terrible at something. But, if you start using this data to match with applicants, you've got a cultural problem in there. And the interesting thing is people with a bicultural breakarm from countries like Turkey and Morocco where we, and The Netherlands have a lot of them, have the tendency also to go to the 1 and the 5. So, despite the fact that that test itself isn't biased, the way people read the test or used the test could be biased or is biased, and because by law it's not allowed to ask somebody for his ethnicity in Europe, you can't correct for that. And funny thing is, every major supplier corrects based on national levels, yet never tells that in public against their clients, to the clients. And they can't do it internally. We know that an Italian will fill out, with the same characteristics, will fill out a test differently from a Swede. That's just, that's been registered a million times. Yet, what about the Italian living in Sweden, that means you get a wrong test. So, those are --
Max: Sounds like an impossible conundrum, I don't think we'll have time to fix it on today's discussion. But give us, can you share, I know you've prepared some examples of people who did a before and after and who had an assessment system that they thought worked, and then they revisited it. So, let's jump into those if you don't mind, Bas, and you had an example from, what was the one that you want to start with? Help me out.
Bas: I think the one which I really like because it's the most simplest of assessments is from the Dutch Post and they did it for, basically, for package delivery people. You know just the people driving around in a van all day. And they simply changed from asking a lot of data in a resume to sort of a structured questionnaire, interview-like assessment, application process. First of all, they looked at the questions they were asking, and it turned out that some of the locations were asking, how long do you have your driver's license, and others were asking, how many kilometers a year on average do you drive. Turned out the last one was a lot of more predictive, so they were simply looking, and a lot of applicants actually feedback, because they interviewed recent applicants as well, and they said, listen we get the same question two or three times in the process, which we're annoyed about. Sometimes, in the first interview, the phone screen, they would be asked, how long do you have your driver's license. And then in the interview they'll be asked, how much have you driven this year. For them it's the same question. And they we're like, well if the first one isn't relevant, why is it still in there? So, they made a basic set of questions, both on applications as well as in the phone screen, and they were able to, they piloted it which I loved about their case and that's why I'm sharing it. They started saying, okay, we've got 15 locations in The Netherlands, 5 of them are going to use the new system, 10 of them will continue as is for now. So, they had the perfect quality control of is this really better or is it --
Max: Like AB Test?
Bas: Yeah, perfect AB Test. And the pilot locations saw the early attrition. So, people leaving within six months of signing up the contract, which is really expensive, dropped from 17% to 12% in a quarter, while the other one saw it increased from 14% to 23%. Because the market was tightening, early attrition was increasing everywhere except for the ones where they did the new selection assessment strategy.
Max: So, in this case, they really just changed one question and --
Bas: No, no, no, they changed a whole lot. I'm just giving one example, they changed --
Max: That was the one question that made a big impact.
Bas: They changed the entire process from basically letting the recruiter decide what questions to ask to having a structured interview for everything and looking at the relation between the questions and being able to tweak it.
Max: They centralized the screening process and standardized it rather than letting the recruiter set their own questions, that makes sense. [overlap] It's the same question, like how long you've been driving and how many kilometers you do every year. But one is obviously better because it's gonna, you know, it's closer you to what the job actually is. Nobody cares about --
Bas: Exactly and especially if you notice that one reason for early attrition was apparently that people didn't like being in a car all day, which is something you are if you are a package delivery guy. So, another really cool case study comes from completely different market, a stock market trader, and the reason I love this case is that they actually, the good thing about financial institutions is they have a lot of money, so they were able to simply run two assessments side-by-side for two years. And seeing you know, what's the predictive value of [unintelligible] they already had a process. The thing about the stock market trader, you gotta understand Max, you can't really have a bad hire because it's potentially can cause you millions of dollars. They're trading on their own accounts so you really can't make any mistakes. And what they did was they had a more traditional assessment with questionnaires, with cognitive tests, et cetera et cetera. That was pretty good, but it also had a price per assessment. So they're only recruiting from the top universities like Oxford, Cambridge, INSEAD, and if you hadn't been there, you shouldn't be applying. They had to do a CV check which they knew had no predictive value whatsoever. They literally said like, we're hiring students, except the school you went to, what could possibly be on there? Absolutely nothing. But we need to do something because too many people wanna be a stock market trader because it's still a job which inspires a lot of people because you can make a lot of money in a short time. And they, basically, they went parallel in their test for two years and because of all the feedback they had from, okay, this person was hired, we didn't let him go really quickly, this person was hired we let him go. And I'm especially saying “him” because they actually never hired a female stock broker until this year. If you're talking about diversity, they just hired their very first female stockbroker because now what they're doing is they're making brain profiles, as they call them, which is basically a next generation cognitive test by a company called Brains First. They're able to, they've gotten an insane amount of really interesting game-based cognitive tests. I always call it like four different shooting games, I actually love playing them. Yes, they're long, they’re 45 minutes, but when I finished, I was like, what finished already? While if I'm doing a 20-minute questionnaire, in 10 minutes I'm like, oh god I'm only halfway there. That might be my gaming background. I know I listen to your podcast with the guy from Activision Blizzard, you have a gaming background too, I know you'll love this game, Max.
Max: Okay, I’ll check it out. I'm on their website right now, Brains First. Forty-five minutes for an assessment seems like an awfully long time but if you have the kind of career that attracts a lot of candidates that they just want to work for you, then why not? You know, you have that luxury, it doesn't work for every employer.
Bas: It doesn't work for every employer but in their case, it worked really well, and they were now able to, first of all, screen everybody so they're seeing diversity, especially in their case, the diversity of all the universities they're recruiting from increased. They now actually, and I love this about it, they say, listen on our career site, there's a button, check if you have the brain of a trader, so you can actually check if you're going to go to the second stage of the process before you actually apply. I mean, isn't that cool? You can take away the anxiety of an applicant like, okay you're good enough or not. And like I said they, for the very first time, were able to hire a female trader this year.
Max: I think going back to the, you know, great example and people should check out Brains First if they're hiring for people who are quick, you know, they need a quick mind, right, there are quick reaction time and resilience, so that could be a good solution for them. We started chatting about what's a good time to rethink your assessments. I was thinking some of the symptoms of maybe this is the right time, is when you see examples like HR treating the assessments as a necessary step to get through and like when they're, sometimes you can even see recruiters who are coaching and preparing the candidate before the assessment because they really wanna get through it. They want them to pass, right? So, they say, oh yeah this is how you're gonna pass and then that way we can get over this thing. You know that’s a pretty clear sign. Are there other kind of signals people gotta look out for that now is the time to revisit or what's the cadence at which one should revisit his assessment strategy?
Bas: Well, I actually think that by definition you should revisit your process every couple of years at least. But right now, what I've been hearing a lot is we can't find anybody. You know there's just not enough good people out there. I've seen a lot of case studies also with these assessments where you're not lowering the bar but you're opening it up to an entire audience which you never would have thought of. I'll give you an example, air traffic control, which by the way, also uses Brains First, and I'm not at any way affiliated with them, but they just have awesome case studies and they publish them, so I love them for that. In the air traffic control, it used to be that you needed an academic degree, then they said college degree is good enough, and now they're actually saying if just finished high school you can apply because with our test, we're able to actually assess if you're good enough. And for example, one of the things which is really important for being an air traffic controller is stress resilience, that's something which isn't tested in college or in a university. And they opened up this entire pool for people with much lesser or no education while, and this is the beauty of it, while increasing the quality of hire by 120%.
Max: It's a beautiful time to be in HR and to be in [unintelligible] in recruitment. To have access to these kinds of insights. To say, I'm now hiring an air traffic controller because that person stays cool under pressure, and I can measure that scientifically. These things didn't exist ten years ago. So, for probably the majority of the jobs, if you haven't revisited your assessment strategy in a while, you should do so regularly because it's moving so fast.
Bas: I'm not saying that the resume or experience have no value because for some jobs, I love the fact that if I'm flying, my pilot has a pilot license, and I love the fact that if I'm in the ER that the nurse is a registered nurse. I'm not saying it works for every job, but I've seen awesome cases also on hiring recruiters who never got a chance and who are awesome at the job with assessments. I recently saw one where, at one of those cities, one of the local governments, and they said, okay, for this job basically 95% of everybody doing it is gonna retire within the next five, ten years. It's really an old man's job. So, they were like, well we can't hire anybody with experience because then we're gonna be hiring somebody again in a few years. We're only postponing the inevitable, but we have all these experienced in our company, in our organization now. People who are retiring who don't mind sharing their knowledge, who would actually love to share the knowledge, but there's no official education for this job. They call it the digital archive person, basically. It sounds like the most boring job in the world, but a lot of people love it. You're basically the digital librarian of a city, knowing where I can find all the information on who owns what plot of land, what was there historically, could it be contaminated ground. All those kinds of stuff.
Max: Sure, some people are like that. That's a job for someone.
Bas: Exactly, but, and what they're now doing is also assessing. They're just telling people like, okay, I don't even want your resume because we know you will have no experience which is relevant for this whatsoever because it's such a unique job. These are the qualities we expect from you, here's the test, show us you've got the quality, and the best five from the test will get invited for an interview. They recently did this one and they hired a 24-year-old woman, which was the first woman in that organization doing this job ever and it was the first person under 50 in a long time.
Max: Oh, wow.
Bas: And everybody is now saying, which is interesting, because of course just hiring at diversity doesn't mean hiring quality, but the feedback from within the organization is, wow this is such a fresh of breath air [sic]. And she learns so quickly because she was screened on having the ability to be able to do the job. Now she's not able to do this job yet but that's why there are like five old folks training her to do the job.
Max: It's a lot of optimism I think I get from your stories, and we can avoid a lot of heartaches and hiring mistakes as well. Going back into your personal career, if you think back, somebody you hired or recommended for hire that was a mistake, I don't know if any kind of person comes to mind if I asked you that question. Would you, could you recount us the mistake and what you learned from it and maybe whether an assessment could have prevented it.
Bas: Actually, an assessment is now preventing it. Yeah, I actually made the same mistake twice. Basically, hiring somebody I knew, a friend, who was first of all, apparently, not really fit for the job and it took me a while to figure out what qualities were necessary for this job. It’s basically a researcher position, but a very simple researcher position. Twice I hired a friend on there. One was really, he just didn't have the cognitive capabilities and the other one was really hard to motivate, and if it's a friend, it's even harder to kick somebody's ass, basically. And they're still friends, but as employees I would never rehire them.
Max: You're still friends but 10% less.
Bas: No, no, no, no.
Max: 100% [unintelligible]
Bas: No, no, no. We're still friends but I would never rehire them, and they know that. And they --
Max: And the assessment that could have prevented it?
Bas: Well, I've actually developed a few tests now that are preventing it. So, for this research, I used to have, I would hire four or five people every summer to do a certain research for me, students. And now, I’ve got a few tests which is basically measuring your information processing speed, your scanning speed because you're researching websites, you're looking at --
Max: And it's a test you built yourself, a home-built?
Bas: Well, I took the academics which I knew measures the cognitive traits I needed to have and yeah, I had it built in by a [unintelligible] developer in Russia, because that was so much cheaper than actually buying one. But that's because I actually knew, the moment I realized the qualities I needed in my employees, because I'm an assessment expert, I immediately knew this test, this test and this test would work, and I was able to really --
Max: And you're able to put it together very quickly.
Bas: Yeah and I mean it's just three really simple academic tests. To give you an example, if you wanna know if somebody can scan a website really fast, you just give them a 20x20 grid of letters, you say there's one x in it, find the x.
Max: Two seconds, boom, yeah.
Bas: Well, yeah, and you’ve got two minutes to find these many x's as fast as you possibly can in different situations.
Max: That correlates well.
Bas: And that correlates really well, and of course, I checked if it correlated, and it did. And since that moment, I introduced and I've got three tests and I've hired better and acceptable people, but I have not had a single one completely misfire and before then I had at least one mis-hire every year.
Max: There you go. Great. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure you’ve given us, our listeners, reasons to rethink their assessments strategy, maybe build their own home tests, because it's not that complicated to build your own tests or go out into the market to find what's available, or reach out to a consultant like yourself, Bas, to guide them to that decision and remember to pay you not all free advice. So, again, the best place for them to get ahold of you is on LinkedIn, Bas van de Haterd, and maybe you wanna share an email?
Bas: It's my first name @ my last name dot N L. So firstname.lastname@example.org you can reach out there, you can reach out on LinkedIn. If you wanna know more about assessments, do a vendor selection, output implementation, or if you wanna build one yourself, I usually don't recommend it because there's just so many awesome tools out there which are usually scientifically much more validated and you really need to know what you're doing in order to make it scientifically sound and there's a lot of law, especially in Europe coming up where you will be held accountable if you are using an unvalidated or not perfectly correct assessment, an AI system.
Max: Proceed with caution. Don't try this at home. Okay.
Bas: Well, yeah.
Max: Okay, great. Thanks a lot, Bas. Thanks for coming in on the show.
Bas: All right.
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