How Skills Assessments Can Support Your HR Strategy

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New Challenges HR Departments Face

HR Pain Points

A Solution – Online Standardized Skills Assessments

5 Ways HR Can Use Assessments to Solve the Data Talent Challenge

Skills Assessment Use Case Examples

HR Processes That Skills Assessments Support

(7 minute read)

Skills assessments have long been used by Human Resources specialists as a job candidate screening tool. Skill tests have typically covered areas such as typing, Microsoft Office, personality tests and career-related skills like financial analysis.

With digitalization of the workplace, skills assessments have migrated online. Hundreds of new and specialized skills assessments have appeared, reflecting the evolving talent market and demand for new and more types of skills.

One new and highly demanded skill set includes those skills associated with the field of data science. It’s challenging for Human Resources staff to assess candidates on the many technical skills that data science entails in a way that meets current market demands.

So then, how can skills assessments make life easier for Human Resource professionals?

We answer that question in this brief guide. And while in this guide we address primarily data science and technical skills assessments, much of what follows could be applied to any type of pre-employment test.

New Challenges HR Departments Face

In order to understand how skills assessments fit into the world of today’s Human Resources efforts some context is needed.  HR as a practice is changing rapidly.

Human Resources has become a strategic partner

HR is asked more and more to play a strategic role at the corporate level. HR departments are tasked with selling the company as a top destination for talent, building a workforce for the future competitiveness and performance of the company, and providing strategic insights to executive decision makers.

Most importantly, HR bears responsibility for company performance as companies increasingly see talented and highly skilled employees as an asset to be invested in and managed for a return.

  HR has gone hi-tech

Digitalization and big data have sped up the pace of business, increased competition and uncertainty and changed the face of the workforce forever. These changes present both new opportunities and new challenges for Human Resources to achieve corporate talent and strategic goals.

HR departments are under a lot of pressure to source, hire and retain a diverse and skilled talent pool in the face of one of the greatest skills and talent shortages in decades.

As a response to this challenge a new industry dubbed, “HR Tech,” has arisen with innovative solutions to support HR departments in achieving company talent management goals.

One such innovation is online standardized skills assessments.

Traditional hiring and assessment processes are outdated

Despite all the change going on in the field of HR, hiring processes still date back to the industrial era. Back then companies did not have, or necessarily need, data to make hiring decisions.  Diversity wasn’t on anyone’s workplace radar. Good ole boys’ networks rife with bias were in full swing. Jobs were for life. You get the picture.

Many HR departments are still screening candidates and basing recruitment decisions largely based on traditional criteria and processes such as candidate resume claims, strict degree program requirements and several bias-driven factors such as appearance and college attended.

Research has shown that these traditional hiring practices are in fact “broken.”  For example, according to a Hireright survey:

85% of companies have caught candidates lying on their resume.

Traditional job interviews don’t always tell the whole candidate story.  For example, some less skilled people are able to talk themselves up in an interview, while others struggle to articulate on their resume what they’re capable of accomplishing.

And who has time to screen resumes by hand anymore?

Traditional interviewing techniques are especially “broken” when it comes to technical skills assessment.

Despite the constant evidence that there is a data science skill shortage, we hear all the time that job candidates must apply to dozens, sometimes over a hundred jobs before being hired. They might also jump through significant hoops such as 2-day skill challenges and still not get the job.

The data science recruitment experience for candidates is too often a poor one. Companies have developed interview processes to weed out the many candidates trying to enter the field in the hopes of earning huge starting salaries.

Some of the assessment processes are so unpleasant and unrealistic that these companies end up turning away the very candidates they want to hire.

This dynamic further aggravates the talent shortage, making life all the more difficult for the HR department.

Lastly, the unstructured, subjective interviews and questions posed of candidates in traditional interviews, as well as unrealistic assessment methods, have introduced a level of bias into the industry that most people today would not deny.

HR Pain Points

An evolving elevated role and a challenging talent and skills market make for several pain points that HR leaders are experiencing these days.

These include the following:

1. Data skills are in high demand

Technical skills and backgrounds are becoming more numerous, specialized and more complicated to assess. Typically, HR staff are non-technical. They are not trained on how to create and advertise technical job descriptions and how to accurately screen for relevant skills and experience.

2. Data talent and skills are in shortage

It takes longer than most positions – 45 days or more – to fill data science roles. Moreover, high starting salaries put a lot of pressure on HR to recruit and retain the best talent.

3. HR is under-resourced

In its new strategic role, HR is often asked to do more with less.

4. Diversity is a priority

Regulatory and social pressure to increase diversity in the data science and broader technology career fields is mounting. To increase diversity HR must not only cast a wider net but also reduce bias and ensure fair hiring practices. Talent managers struggle to implement strategies that allow them to source a more diverse talent pool.

5. Retention of data scientists is hard

With such high demand for data science skills and the challenge seeking nature of data science candidates, it’s hard to hang onto them.

6. Upskilling and reskilling employees is a priority

Companies are looking for ways through learning and development and training programs to fill skills gaps with their existing employees. For technical skills, this is especially challenging.

7. Applicants are diverse and numerous

Multitudes of self-dubbed data scientists chasing high salaries and a growing number of undergraduates from freshly minted data science degree programs coming into the job market make it challenging for HR to process the variety and volumes of applicants efficiently and confidently.

A Solution – Online Standardized Skills Assessments

Online, standardized skills assessments like QuantHub’s data science and engineering tests address many of the previously mentioned HR challenges.

Specifically, online skills assessments can:

Enable non-technical HR staff to easily assess data and tech skills

Reduce the cost of recruitment and hiring

Reduce the time to hire data talent

Improve candidate experiences and hiring outcomes

Cast a wider talent sourcing net

Help remove bias and increase diversity

Provide data-driven HR decision support

Assist HR in filling hard-to-fill roles internally

Help HR collaborate more effectively with data science and other technical leaders

5 Ways HR Can Use Skills Assessments to Solve the Data Talent Challenge

HR staff do not need to be fluent in data science, analytics and data engineering skills to deploy online skills assessments.

HR personnel can easily use skills assessments for a variety of talent management purposes. These include:

Attracting and screening new data talent

The benefits of using skills assessments we listed above enable HR to overcome certain challenges in recruiting new talent.  Increased talent sources and diversity of candidates applying to data science jobs, time and cost savings from integration with applicant tracking systems and reduced time spent interviewing, and support of non-technical staff are key reasons to use assessments in recruitment and hiring.

Assessing current employees for data science and analytics roles

Companies are beginning to recognize the need to look internally to fill their data and analytics skills gap.  Skill tests are a good way to benchmark, say, a financial analyst’s potential to reskill in various areas of data science by identifying areas of skill strength and weakness in the field.

Benchmarking data literacy and fluency within an organization or team

It’s becoming increasingly important to create programs to promote data literacy and data fluency among business managers and much of the workforce in general.  This is part of creating a data-driven culture. In large companies, this is no small undertaking.

HR, which is typically responsible for learning and development programs, can use a generalized skills assessment which includes a pre-test self-assessment to gain insights into what the analytical and technical understanding and capabilities of the workforce are. These insights can help HR decide what training and development needs to be in place to increase data literacy and analytics skills.

Mapping data talent strengths and skill gaps

Data science is a team sport.  Teams are ideally diverse in nature and managed in a way in which members can learn and develop from each other and individually. It can be difficult for HR in a supporting L&D role to identify and track areas where analytics team members need upskilling.

Assessments can help HR to track skill development needs and progress over time. By targeting and monitoring learning and development for analytics team members more precisely, these employees benefit greatly. It helps to increase their job satisfaction, internal career opportunities and retention.

Enhancing the long-term value of employees

Talent management these days is all about attracting and, especially, retaining the best talent.  Sometimes this means hiring talent that has a lot of potential but which will also require investment in skill development over the long term.  This is increasingly true for data science and tech employees.

Testing employee skills on a regular basis, starting with the interview and then perhaps annually helps to identify training opportunities and areas of development and ensure that employees are developing new skills and knowledge of data science tools and platforms.

Skills Assessment Use Case Examples

At QuantHub, we’ve had many discussions with HR personnel about how best to use our skills assessments in their talent management pipeline. Following are the most common use cases:

Campus recruitment  

Large firms often conduct multiple rounds of recruiting at several universities at once. This can result in thousands of applicants for a handful of data science roles.

HR needs a way to quickly screen out the least-qualified, entry-level candidates. With data science skills assessments it’s simple and easy to invite all candidates to take a skill test. This process greatly and efficiently narrows down the applicant pool in an objective manner by allowing less qualified candidates to self-select out of taking the test and by allowing highly skilled individuals to rise to the top through their test scores.

Expanded number and variety of applicants sourced

Because skill tests can be taken online, from anywhere and at any time, HR is able to cast a much wider recruitment net – something very important for data related roles. Assessments allow people who apply from far away to demonstrate their knowledge from afar at very little cost.

It’s important to note that much of the data talent in the USA is being imported from tech savvy nations such as China and India. Companies in the Midwest may not have a large pool of local or even regional applicants to choose from, so online assessments help widen the applicant pool.

In addition, because of the “blind” nature of online standardized skill tests, a more diverse pool of candidates is likely to make it past this first screen.

Developing employee L&D training plans

Assessments can provide a baseline of skill sets that help identify a training plan for a specific professional. This not only is more efficient but provides direction for the learning challenges and experiences data scientists crave. This more robust development directly helps retain top talent.

Structuring the hiring process to reduce bias/increase diversity

Research abounds with data that shows face-to-face interviews and other hiring processes are rife with unconscious bias.  Skills assessments provide structure to the interview process because all candidates receive the same type of skill evaluation.  They help reduce bias because they are objective and blind to any candidate bias influences.

Vetting internal candidates

Companies need to recruit internally to fill data and analytics roles. This goes for both “pure data science” as well as “hybrid” domain expert analytics roles.  HR can help identify a pool of internal candidates by coupling job performance with a standardized assessment to determine which employees have the potential to move into a data science role.

Choosing between top candidates

Rather than giving candidates a skills assessment at the beginning of the hiring and screening process, some teams might wait until the end when they’ve done more subjective interviews and skill testing and now want an objective metric to help make a final decision.

HR Processes that Skills Assessments Support

Where and how your HR department uses skill tests most strategically will depend on factors such as:

  • Number of applicants for a job
  • Number of positions to fill
  • Total HR staff and resources
  • Existing hiring processes and influences
  • Skill level of positions to fill
  • Factors that contribute to company ability to attract talent – geography, university relationships, recruiter budget, brand.

Generally, skills assessments might fit into the process as depicted in the figure below.

Some examples of where skills assessments are used in the phases of hiring are:

As part of the initial job application

When someone applies, they are automatically sent an invitation to take an assessment as part of their application.  This is the most efficient way to narrow down a large pool of applicants.

Before a phone screen with a recruiter or data leaders

Phone screens can be time-consuming and expensive in terms of recruiter salaries or senior manager time and less accurate in terms of assessing potential. Rather than spending time on the phone trying to gauge general skills, an assessment can cut to the chase quickly. This allows phone screens to be used more to assess cultural fit and other soft skills or, in some cases, be completely eliminated.

Deciding between a few candidates

As mentioned before, assessment scores in different skill areas can provide an objective differentiator between remaining candidates and contribute additional information to help the hiring team make a decision. At any point in the hiring process when a pool of candidates becomes difficult to narrow down, candidates can be given a comprehensive skills assessment and/or data challenge to help shed more light on the relative skill performance and potential the candidates.

To empower HR staff to collaborate with data leaders

An HR staff member can more confidently pass on pre-screened interviewees to senior data science managers, with commentary on skill scores by employing easy-to-use online skills assessments. Just going through the process of setting up a test or data skill challenge helps HR to become more familiar with technical skills and how they apply to different job roles. Assessments provide a platform for HR and data team managers to come together and decide which skills are most relevant and which are just nice to have for a role.

The Bottom Line on Skills Assessments and HR

Technology has transformed the HR function in many ways.  It’s enabling and empowering HR professionals to play a very strategic role within their organizations.

Prior to the arrival of standardized online data science assessments, HR was historically ill-equipped to screen and assess for technical and data-related skills in a consistent, efficient, confident and unbiased manner.  Now, skills assessments can support HR in their talent management efforts in a variety of ways.

Assessments can be used by Human Resource managers to make well-informed, data-backed decisions regarding recruitment, training, retention, and promotion of data science job candidates and employees.

Are you a Human Resources professional that is looking for a better way to vet data science talent and/or conduct technical interviews?   Schedule a free demo and consultation with our VP of Sales, Heather Fox, by clicking here.