Improving candidate experience for less than $1


  • “Why do I have to complete this assessment as part of my application process” is a question that many candidates pose themselves, but that is rarely answered for them
  • By giving clear explanations of the selection process recruiters can improve candidate reactions as well as their motivation to perform well
  • Providing clear explanations requires being aware of how the selection tools are linked to performance in the role

This Evidence-Based Summary has been made available in an audio-based format. Click play to give it a try!

Research shows that candidates consider cognitive or personality assessments less fair than interviews, CVs and references. Whilst HR practitioners and recruiters invest in assessments to make the selection process more accurate and fair, they end up giving the opposite impression to candidates. Hilarious.

As a matter of fact, the benefits of assessments are clear to practitioners, but may not be so to candidates. In a world where sites like Glassdoor made it so easy to share negative experiences with other potential applicants, shouldn’t companies care more about improving fairness perception during the selection process?

The solution may be very simple.

“Why do I have to complete this assessment as part of my application process?”

In 2009, Donald Truxillo and Talya Bauer, two of the world’s renowned experts in recruitment and selection research,  conducted a meta-analysis reviewing the effects of explanations on applicant reactions. They compared 22 experimental and quasi-experimental studies, with a total sample of 3,481 people. In these studies, people completed psychometric assessments as part of a real or simulated selection process. A group of people have been explained why they had to complete the assessment and how it relates with performance on the job; some others, instead, didn’t receive any explanation.

If it is not obvious, make it obvious

The authors found that people who get explanations about the purpose of an assessment perceive the process as fairer than those who do not. A couple of simple sentences to clarify the meaning of the procedure can be enough to improve candidate experience. In fact, when candidates are told about the job-relatedness of the selection procedure, what it will involve and what to expect they are more likely to perceive it as fair. The evidence shows that this might also improve the attractiveness of organisations.

So how does it work in practice?

When to present the explanations depends on the test used and the desired outcome.

  • Personality assessments: in the context of personality assessments, fairness is the main issue. Whilst the average candidate understands the utility of ability tests, personality assessments appear less transparent and controllable and might benefit from clear explanations before and after completion. The authors found that providing explanations after the completion of the test, for example together with feedback, has a larger effect on perceived fairness. This is because fairness becomes a salient issue in the moment of a relationship where critical decisions are made, for example when hearing the positive or negative outcome of an application.
  • Ability tests: in the context of ability tests, fairness is less of a concern than motivation. The purpose of ability tests is to observe the maximal performance of an individual. The trick is that motivation to perform here is crucial. The authors found that if candidates receive explanations before starting the assessment (for example explicitly mentioning the job-relatedness of the assessment within  the invitation) their motivation towards the test is higher, and therefore they perform better. This is because perceiving a task as meaningful increases people’s motivation towards it.

What do good explanations look like?

Takeaways for your practice

Giving explanations is a simple and cost-effective way to improve candidate experience.

The benefits of using assessments to ‘find the right fit’ for a job may be clear to practitioners, but candidates could benefit from more transparency in this direction. This will turn into better experience for candidates, and greater benefits for organisations – an easy to achieve a win-win situation!

Providing transparent explanations to candidates also requires having good knowledge of why certain selection tools are in place, and being confident in the choice of one assessment over another. This means asking the right questions at the right time:

An evidence-based practitioner would often ask first: do you have enough evidence to support your decisions when it comes to choosing an assessment? For example, are you sure you want to use a costly test for emotional intelligence?

Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this summary. The study included highly appropriate primary research (experimental and quasi-experimental designs) to demonstrate a causal relationship. Therefore, the claim that explanations influence applicants reactions is highly trustworthy (90%). This means that there is a 10% chance that alternative explanations for these results are possible, including random effects.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

We aim to provide you only the best available scientific evidence to inform your decisions.

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Truxillo, D. M., Bodner, T. E., Bertolino, M., Bauer, T. N., & Yonce, C. A. (2009). Effects of Explanations on Applicant Reactions: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 17(4), 346-361.

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