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In an ideal world, hiring decisions should be based solely on the qualifications and abilities of the candidates rather than their race, gender, age, or other personal characteristics. Unfortunately, unconscious biases can lead to discriminatory practices, negatively impacting company culture and employee morale and increasing the likelihood of a lawsuit.

In the last five years, 19% of American workers felt they were treated unfairly in the workplace due to race or ethnicity (SHRM). According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the average settlement for employment discrimination claims is about $40,000.

How do employers ensure their hiring process is fair and unbiased? Experts commonly recommend a few different tools and strategies to reduce bias in the hiring process. These include,

  • Setting diversity goals
  • Removing gendered wording from job descriptions
  • Reviewing resumes “blind” (without any personal info included)
  • Standardizing interviews
  • Giving work sample tests

Let’s take a closer look at how skills assessments can help employers make skill-based hiring decisions and reduce bias within the hiring process.

(We encourage you to consult an employment lawyer if you are worried about bias in your hiring process or if you have specific concerns.)

What Are Skills Assessments?

A skills assessment is a test designed to evaluate a candidate’s ability to perform specific, job-related tasks. Skills assessments typically use multiple-choice questions and may include a work sample or performance assessment so the candidate can demonstrate their skills using the specific tools and machines they will encounter on the job.

High-quality skills assessments are based on industry standards and are standardized, meaning they are administered and scored consistently.

How do Skills Assessments Work?

Skills assessments help reduce bias because they are impartial tools designed to evaluate a specific set of skills. Do you need to know if an industrial maintenance mechanic candidate is familiar with refrigeration systems or packaging equipment? Or if a machinist can read and write basic G and M codes? The right skills assessment can help.

The general steps for incorporating skills assessments into your hiring process

  • Review the assessment to ensure it aligns with the open position
  • Decide when to administer the test
  • Administer the test in an appropriate, proctored environment
  • Analyze the score report for objective hiring insights

Not all skills assessments include a performance assessment, but this kind of “work sample test” is a strategy recommended by experts. Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, said in an interview with the Harvard Business Review, “Work sample tests that mimic the kinds of tasks the candidate will be doing in the job are the best indicators of future job performance.” In the same article, Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, said, “A skill test forces employers to critique the quality of a candidate’s work versus unconsciously judging them based on appearance, gender, age, and even personality.”

Importance of High-Quality Assessments

If you decide to use skills assessments to help make fair and unbiased hiring decisions, you must ensure the assessment has been thoroughly researched and tested. A test that measures the wrong skills or is not psychometrically sound may do more harm than not using one to begin with.

Unfortunately, not all test development companies follow the same standards. Here are three key qualities to look for in a skills assessment company:

1. Assessments based on industry standards. An industry standard defines the critical duties and skills needed to perform a specific job. Assessments based on industry standards means it will measure skills relevant to the position and the employee’s success.

2. Psychometrically sound assessments. Psychological measurement (or psychometrics) is a branch of psychology specializing in the theory and technique of cognitive measurement. A skills assessment company that includes psychometric evaluation is a good indication it follows the highest test development standards and that its assessments will provide accurate and reliable results.

3. Comprehensive score reporting. A pass/fail score doesn’t offer much insight into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. A high-quality skills assessment should include specific results for different competencies and a way to compare scores across different test takers.

Build Your Skilled Workforce with NBS

NBS has been helping employers objectively evaluate their workforce’s skills for over 20 years. Bre LaMountain, an industrial organizational psychology practitioner and the Workforce Development and Testing Coordinator at Cleveland State Community College, has used NBS skills assessments since 2014.

In addition to administering assessments, LaMountain is an HR consultant for businesses in the surrounding five counties and helps employers ensure their selection process is unbiased and reliable. “NBS helps provide objectivity and clarity,” she said “my clients feel secure in the process because they’ve been involved from the beginning. They trust NBS and know the assessment measures the right skills and knowledge. When I make a referral, my clients can be confident they’re hiring an individual with the right skills and can clearly articulate the decision to anyone who might question why this process is in place.”

NBS can help you assess the skills of current employees or candidates. Our assessments adhere to incredibly high industry and international standards, making them valid, reliable, and legally defensible. Let us know if you have questions about incorporating skills assessments into your hiring process.