Pre-hire assessments saved my resume from the trash
Updated: Feb 23
“I would have thrown her resume in the trash,” my former boss said to our new sales trainees.
I was standing right there. I had been a top performer on her team for a year—yet I was not offended in the least. Why would I be? She was right.
Let me give you the back story: In 2016, after two successful years in business, I was forced to sell half of the company I had started and loved. The money afforded me a brief “funemployment” period. But, as a single mom, I started getting worried. What was next?
I decided it was time to start building a new career. I chose software as a service (SaaS) sales because it seemed to make sense: I had been in sales one way or another since age 15. And I knew the future for SaaS was bright.
My attempts to find a job the usual way—by submitting a resume and cover letter online and waiting for a phone call—were fruitless. Most SaaS recruiters look for candidates with previous experience in tech sales—and most hiring managers lean heavily on prior work experience to decide who even got a phone interview, let alone an offer.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any formal sales training, had never worked in SaaS, and my entrepreneurial background made me look like a flight risk. The odds were fairly well stacked against me.
Except for one thing: my personality.
This is the story of how pre-employment assessments rescued my resume from obscurity and got me a job traditional hiring processes excluded me from.
What is a pre-employment assessment?
Pre-employment, or pre-hire, assessments are administered to candidates as part of talent selection. There are many types of assessments employers might use: personality tests, skills tests, technical tests, values tests. Companies who use them are trying to increase their odds of successfully figuring out which candidate is the best fit for the company, the role, and the culture.
The most predictive of these assessments are called cognitive assessments. They measure learning ability and speed, as well as an individual’s ability to manage complexity. One use case for this in sales would be selling defense contracts, which one could say is considerably more complex than selling pens. In this example, a sales manager would want to look for someone with higher cognitive ability, indicating the candidate is more adept at managing complexity. The research tells us that cognitive ability is the strongest indicator of job success.
When cognitive assessments are combined with behavioral assessments and structured interviews as part of the hiring process, we end up with a winning combination—one that will best predict future job performance.
Behavioral assessments measure key factors that determine workplace behavior. A candidate’s behavioral pattern can then be compared to the behavioral needs of the role. Case in point: I could be a bookkeeper, with the right training. I am capable of understanding the concepts and math. However, if an unwitting employer hired me to do bookkeeping, I think I would last, at most, a couple of weeks. It just isn’t for me. When employees aren’t behaviorally aligned with their job, they become disengaged.
So, how did this work for me? How did my boss know I’d be good at software sales?
Pre-hire assessments widen the candidate pool.
While conventional methods would get my resume thrown in the trash, the use of pre-hire assessments allowed me to make it past round one. Because my employer was looking for a cognitive and behavioral match for the role, they actually increased the size of their hiring pool—not limiting themselves to only candidates with previous experience.
Thankfully, in this process, my cognitive assessment objectively measured what most employers try to “feel out” in an interview: I was highly trainable and capable of managing both a rapid pace of change and a complex solution and buyer.
My personality assessment results showed I had the qualities that tend to predict success in this type of sales role: I’m assertive, competitive, and extraverted. Beyond being wired to perform, I was quite likely to actually like the job—a critical component of engagement.
The assessments secured my phone interview, and the rest is history. They hired me for potential, and I delivered…
Assessments alone aren’t enough.
Imagine you’re a growing business and hiring a large number of new employees. You use pre-hire assessments—both cognitive and behavioral—to find quick learners who are wired for the work. Training them is easy, and you’re all excited about what the future holds.
Now imagine you have nothing in place to optimize talent beyond improving hiring. When the inevitable occurs–communication challenges, disagreements, tense manager to report relationships–you’re not sure what to do.
Soon, productivity issues emerge. The chasm between the top and bottom performers widens. Disengagement abounds. You’re not sure whether to let the low performers go, shift them to other roles, or give them more time. You go with your gut on solving the issues, doing what seems to be right.
This is what happens when companies don’t have a comprehensive people strategy—one that extends beyond just hiring the right people. And it was happening way too often with companies I worked with.
More than pre-hire assessments, businesses need talent optimization—a way to align their people strategy with their business strategy. Talent optimization allows business leaders, people managers, and even individual contributors to objectively determine what’s working, what’s not, and what can be done better.