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Candidate experience matters, but not as much as relevance

Which sort of spouse would you prefer?

One who will command admiration or one who likes to read religious books?

Are most of the people you know really glad to meet you at a party?

Would you rather be a bishop or a colonel?

Responding to the demand for psychometric tests to be “both extremely short and extremely reliable”, Raymond Cattell writing in the The Journal of Social Psychology shared these questions designed to elicit meaningful responses from candidates.

Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since 1956! But, is there a risk that we have come full circle? Might we be opting for new and shiny tech innovations over meaningful results for candidates and the business? Are assessment questions losing relevance to the job and therefore disengaging candidates?

Some assessments now don’t feel like an assessment as we know it, and at the other end of the spectrum we still see assessments that feel much like an outdated paper process- but online. It’s critical to get the right balance as ultimately, poor candidate experience has an impact on the bottom line.

Both the type of questions asked, and the format used to ask them have a significant impact on assessment results:

The power of data

Feel for the candidate who was “banned from applying” to an organisation for 12 months after failing a test. Having spent 40 minutes playing “12 silly games…. most of which just consisted bashing a space bar 60 times in 12 seconds” they were informed they had a decent score but had failed and couldn’t reapply for an internship for a year.

We need to be careful about using very powerful tools very early on in the assessment process. The outcome may be the right one, but we need to ensure we’re not putting up ‘hurdles’ early on and, as a result, losing great candidates who would have met other requirements.

Perceptions of relevance

‘Face validity’ is the extent to which candidates feel the assessment does what it’s meant to do and is deemed ‘job relevant’ by them. Questions that don’t feel relevant to the job, for example, about hobbies or travel preferences, can undermine the value of the assessment. Relevance is hugely important as we need candidates to buy into the process and to accept the logic of the assessment whatever the outcome.

For example, game-based assessments can help to project a positive, tech-savvy image but that needs to be balanced with using content and measuring factors that candidates regard as relevant and job-related.

Social mobility

We also need to be mindful of asking questions about broader life experiences due to the varying opportunities that applicants may have to take part in them. Questions relating to lifestyle and hobbies for example, may be inadvertently building bias into the assessment process.

These types question of can have a negative impact on social mobility. If we make assumptions about candidates’ lives outside work, we disadvantage those who do not have those experiences to draw on and therefore feel less prepared for the assessment – and more likely to become disengaged during the assessment.

Frame of reference

Is going faster than the speed limit fun or wrong? We need to exercise caution with questions that are measuring preference and attitudes towards life events and activities that are not in a work environment. In these examples, candidates adopt a frame of reference that is unrelated to the job and therefore the results are less accurate.

As well as being less accurate, these questions are also a missed opportunity for employers to provide a realistic job preview which we know is important to candidates. Candidates that are left disengaged by the process may also discourage others from applying – as we see regularly on powerful peer review sites.

Context is everything

When applicants perceive the assessment process as fair and job related, they are more likely to:

  • Hold a more positive image of the company
  • Recommend the company to others
  • Accept job offers
  • Perform well on selection tests


With some assessments we are in danger of putting so much focus on candidate experience that it comes at the expense of relevance – which is even more damaging. Relevance begins with understanding what success looks like in a role and creating an assessment to fit the requirement – and making it as engaging as possible. Let us not lose sight in the main point of assessment; we want the right people in the right jobs.

At Sova we believe it’s possible to balance all these factors though whole-person assessment that is based on the outcomes the business wants and what success looks like in a role. Whole-person assessment measures all the factors that matter at once, through one assessment, fairly and objectively. Importantly, it’s based on the requirements of the role, the context surrounding the role and wider the organisation.

To find out more about whole-person assessment, download our recent white paper here.

Changing assessment for good
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