Expanding Role of Pre-Hire Assessments for Skills-Based Hiring in the Labor Market

What do Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Daniel Ek and Jack Dorsey have in common? Answer: They are just some of the people who never finished college yet founded and run some of the largest, most innovative and hugely successful tech firms in the world. Many members of the large elite group dropped out of college and first went to work after being hired based on their skills and not on their degrees. Only then did these people start companies that have changed the world.

Technology has changed many facets of the employment world, and it is not a stretch to say that people like the founders of Microsoft, Facebook, Spotify and Twitter were initiators of a new way of thinking about college and job requirements, and not just in the tech industry. The private sector has long understood that assessing job candidates based on their knowledge, skills, personality and aptitude to grow in their jobs is a success strategy for hiring the best talent. Now the United States Federal Government has signaled through an Executive Order the civil service hiring process is joining private industry in focusing on hiring based on merit and not just degrees.

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College Degrees Do Not Tell the Whole Story

On June 26, 2020, the President of the United States issued the Executive Order on Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates. In many ways, it is the fulfillment of what the tech giants brought into world view many years ago and has been adopted by private employers. The Executive Order says the “United States Federal Government employment opportunities should be filled based on merit.” It orders the government to identify and secure talent through skills and competency-based hiring and to end an over-reliance on college degrees that “excludes capable candidates and undermines labor market efficiencies.” This order recognizes that many people are qualified for jobs but are unable to get their foot in the door because resumes are immediately thrown out when there is no college degree mentioned.


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For decades, a college degree was considered essential to landing a good job in the civil service or private sectors. Students have gone deep into debt to get higher-paying jobs, only to find themselves in jobs that really do not require specialized education. The combination of their knowledge, aptitude for learning and on-the-job training were enough to ensure success, but it was the college degree that got them through the front door. On the flip side, people without college degrees are blocked from jobs they are perfectly capable of doing exceedingly well, relegated to lower paying jobs, or have been unable to get a job.

Merit-Based Hiring is Inclusive

The tech industry has been one of the first to employ millions of people who have an aptitude for emerging technologies, especially software and web development. But there are plenty of other industries in the private sector offering good paying jobs to people who do not have a college degree and may or may not have work experience. In January 2020, Glassdoor, the job search and employer review company, listed 15 companies that no longer require a degree for a multitude of jobs from warehouse order picker to senior software development engineer to general manager to maintenance technician. Reading through the list of jobs, it is extraordinary how many higher paying jobs are listed. In some companies, people do work their way up into higher level jobs, but that is only possible if they get hired in the first place.

Degree-based hiring is exclusionary, while merit-based hiring is inclusive.

The willingness of private employers to hire and promote people without degrees expands the talent pool and enables people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in the labor market. Private employers have long use pre-employment assessments to identify the top job candidates. It is recognition that having a college degree does not mean a job candidate has what it takes to succeed. The assessment test does this by identifying adaptable and competent people.

Hiring for Tomorrow

A good example is the contact center agent. A college degree provides no proof a job candidate is competent enough to multi-task, communicate well, work with others and provide high quality customer services in a dynamic workplace. A pre-hire assessment that includes a skills test and a personality test can identify these qualities and many more.


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Employers need call center agents who can learn and grow in their jobs for current success but also because technology is regularly creating jobs and job requirements that never existed before. Many contact center agents today need the skills to work with customers who have used a virtual customer assistant (chatbot) that left them dissatisfied with problem resolution. A competent contact center agent today needs the skills to rapidly grasp the issue, understand the chatbot responses and handle more complex customer problems. A chat simulation can identify the job candidates who can successfully manage the job responsibility.

A mere decade ago, chatbots were a vision of tech experts as far as its widespread use. In just the last five years, they became a widespread reality in customer service centers. What technology will further change the call center employee’s job in the future? A similar question could be asked about any position.

Utilizing Multiple Assessment Strategies

The United States Federal Government’s solid commitment to implement a merit-based employment system is a clear signal that pre-hire assessments are more important than degrees in many cases. The Executive Order acknowledges some jobs require a minimum education level, but so many do not. But unless someone reviews and amends the current job descriptions, change will not happen.

Sec 3 of the Executive Order is titled “Improving the Use of Assessments in the Federal Hiring Process.” It says, agencies must “assess candidates in a manner that does not rely solely on educational attainment to determine the extent to which candidates possess relevant knowledge, skills, competencies, and abilities.” FurstPerson could not have said it better. Assessment strategies will likely utilize skills, personality and behavioral assessments and job simulations.

The Right Fit for the workplace culture

FurtPerson has developed a wide range of pre-employment assessment tests for job candidate evaluation. The multimethod job assessment is ideal in that it measures ability, skills and job fit many times to minimize the risk of hiring someone who is not qualified for any reason ” incompatible personality for the workplace culture, poor work style, lack if basic skills, weak problem solving capabilities and/or poor situational judgment capabilities. On the positive side, pre-hire job assessments will clearly identify the people ” with or without a degree ” who are the right fit across the board in terms of skills, competencies, capabilities and potential.

At FurstPerson, we applaud the United States Federal Government for taking this bold step. It means more opportunities for millions of diverse people in the labor market.

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