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Performance Based Assessments & Tools, A New Paradigm Shift

Assessments - Definition and Objectives Personnel and Career Assessments are gaining momentum in India, particularly in the corporate world. This article gives a snapshot about assessments in general and Performance based assessments and Tools in particular. While pinning down this article, I have taken an educative approach rather than just being informative.

 
Definition "Assessment is a technique used to establish the 'worth' of an individual from several related measurements and evaluations to yield comprehensive information about the individual, on which to base employment or career based decisions". A true Assessment procedure follows a holistic approach which includes use of scientific tools and techniques to assess people on various criteria. A criterion can be a skill, knowledge, ability, personality, etc.
 
Objectives The objective (s) of assessments can be varied. Organizations use assessment tools and procedures to help them perform one or more of the following HR functions:
- Selection
- Promotion
- Training and development
- Career exploration and guidance

Constructs, Standards and Assessment Tools The following section explains in a nutshell about Constructs, Standards and assessment tools. Also, I have provided URL links which contains comprehensive research information and published white papers on related areas.

Constructs As mentioned in the very beginning, assessments are done against parameters called constructs. The construct could be Knowledge related, Skill oriented or concerned with intellectual Abilities or a combination of more than one (also known as KSAO).Refer the following link for more info on this - www.hrma-agrh.gc.ca/research/personnel/comp_ksao_e.pdf

Standards There are several internationally acclaimed associations which have defined standards for assessments. A couple of noted ones include the American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org) and the College Board (http://www.collegeboard.com). Apart from this, many private organizations have also contributed towards setting standards for assessment. The noted one among them is the Educational Testing Services (http://www.ets.org).

Apart from these associations and councils, many individuals have spent a lifetime researching on assessments. Some of the illustrious personalities include Benjamin Bloom, Frederic M. Lord (more known as Fred Lord) and Stanley Kaplan. If Benjamin Bloom's contribution towards assessments is "Blooms Taxonomy", Fred Lord is considered to be the father of "Item Response Theory (IRT)", while Stanley Kaplan has the credit of creating the "Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)".

Assessment Tools
Assessment tools include tests, inventories ( eg : personality inventory ), rating scales ( eg: 3 point scale, 5 point scale ) and procedures ( eg: Written test, Multiple choice test, Group Discussion, etc.). Organizations may use one or more of these tools for the purpose of assessments.

Some of the popular assessment tools and techniques used today by corporates are:

 

1. Resume evaluation - This is usually the first cut evaluation procedure followed to eliminate candidates based on checkpoints like Qualification, experience and skills.

2. Interviews - Interviews are conducted by a Panel of experts. Interviews again can be unstructured or structured. In an unstructured interview, the interviewer asks questions on an adhoc basis.

On the contrary, a structured interview has a definite pattern. It contains the set of questions that an interviewer needs to ask the interviewee along with expected answers (also know as best case solutions). The test specification also includes parameters like the total time for the interview and more importantly the guidelines for scoring or rating the candidate.

3. General Aptitude tests - The primary objective of these tests is to assess the cognitive abilities like verbal reasoning, numerical ability, analytical and logical reasoning, etc. Extensive research on cognitive abilities has established that there are 8 different abilities that a human being needs to possess to perform any job. These tests are usually Mutiple Choice Questions (MCQ) tests comprising of questions grouped under different sections titled by the cognitive abilities mentioned before (eg: Verbal ability section, Numerical reasoning section, etc.).

4. Personality inventories - Personality inventories are extensively used for psychometric assessments. A personality inventory is nothing but a questionnaire that is given to candidates that tries to check a candidate's interest, likes, dis-likes etc through a set of questions ( many of them are MCQ based questionnaires ) and then based on the candidate's response tries to map his profile against already defined ones. Some of the popular psychometric assessments include 16PF, FIRO-B, MBTI and Thomas profiling. You can find more information on these tests in these sites - http://www.opp.co.uk/ , https://www.thomasinternational.net/

5. Performance tests - The objective of these tests is to assess the on-the-job-skills of a candidate. Skills here refer to hard skills, also called as technical skills. A skill can be as mundane as carpentry, driving, typing or as niche as driving a jet plane or programming for an embedded system. Organizations used varied assessment tools and techniques to assess people on these skills. Pertaining to Software Programming, performance based testing assumes paramount significance especially during recruitment. In software parlance performance is considered in terms of design, coding and testing. Currently, performance testing is done by giving problem scenarios to candidates and asking him / her to write the solution (please note that it is a pen-and-paper test). The candidates' responses are then manually evaluated by a team of experts. Since evaluating written code requires an expert going through each line of code and ascertain its correctness, it is not only a pain staking exercise, but also time consuming, apart from being subjective and error prone.

Of late, a few companies have come up with an innovative and effective way of assessing technical skills (in particular programming skills). A few noteworthy products are from SkillCheck, NCE Technologies and Liqwid Krystal. Among these, I have found DevSquare from NCE Technologies (www.devsquare.com) interesting and convincing. DevSquare is an online development platform that also tests "coding skills". Currently, DevSquare supports assessments of C, C++, C#, ASP.Net, Core Java, Java Servlets and Java Server Pages (JSP) technologies. DevSquare has an intuitive user interface akin to any Integrated Development Environment (IDE) with provision for writing, compiling and executing code. The candidate is challenged with a programming question and has to think and write code as solution. The solution is evaluated for coding correctness, compliance with coding standards and syntax rules and such other parameters. According to me, DevSquare is ideal for pre and post training assessments, pre-employment and career assessments. In the articles that follow I will walk you through Skills Assessments - Techniques and Tools.

Contributing Author: Ravi Kumar is a technical consultant with more than a decade experience in the IT industry (specializes in assessment tools & techniques). You can reach him at rk1601@hotmail.com

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