Workplace assessments
ATD Blog

How Workplace Assessments Can Help You

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

It is the rare employee who hasn’t taken a personality or competence assessment at some point in her career. In fact, according to the most recent estimates from Bersin by Deloitte and the Society for Human Resource Management, the assessment industry is estimated to generate $500 to $800 million a year and has grown by 10 percent annually in recent years—and it shows no signs of slowing down. 

A new UNC Executive Development whitepaper, Making Sense of Assessments in the Workplace, explores the types of assessments available to employers, provides an overview of some of the more popular assessments (such as Myers-Briggs) and what they measure, and offers tips on how to use assessments in the workplace.

Why Use Workplace Assessments?

Tony Laffoley, program director at UNC Executive Development, explains in the whitepaper that valid assessments help organizations measure three elements critical to performance: competence, work ethic, and emotional intelligence. However, there are two important caveats to consider. First, says Laffoley, “assessment reviewers must focus on the data and not skew it to conform to their own predispositions.” Second, he notes that talent development professionals must keep in mind that assessments reflect the “ideal average.” 

However, experts agree that when used correctly, assessments can help improve employers’ bottom-line performance. There is no doubt that good workplace assessments can help HR and talent development professionals place the right people in the right roles, decrease turnover rates, and increase employee loyalty.

Know Which Assessment Works for Your Needs

Knowing the right type of assessment to use for the information your organization seeks is critical. But there are so many assessment types and tools on the market, “some employers throw their hands up and opt not to use any assessments,” writes Laffoley. 


According to the whitepaper, assessments typically fall into two broad categories: competence assessments and behavioral assessments. 

  • Competence assessments evaluate experience, knowledge, skills, and cognitive abilities such as memory recall and high-level thinking skills. Making Sense of Assessments in the Workplace explains that this includes assessments for mental abilities and job-knowledge tests.  

  • Behavioral assessments examine behaviors such as how well a person manages self, change, and priorities, as well as how well a person works with others. This can include personality assessments, integrity assessments, and structured interviews. 

The distinction seems clear, right? But problems and confusion can quickly come into play, says Laffoley, because assessments go by many different names. Fortunately, the whitepaper can help talent managers sift through the jargon. For example, it describes some of the confusing terms, including: 

  • cognitive ability assessments: evaluate mental abilities such as verbal, math, reasoning, and reading comprehension skills
  • personality assessments: evaluate traits related to behavior at work, interpersonal interactions, and satisfaction with different aspects of work
  • psychological assessments: evaluate processes that use a combination of techniques to help reveal a person’s behavior, personality, and capabilities.

How to Use Assessments


When selecting assessments, Laffoley advises, HR and talent management professionals should “be clear about what the employer is trying to achieve and to ensure that the assessment measures that goal.” 

In addition, avoid using the words test and assessment interchangeably, advises Laffoley. Tests imply that there are right and wrong answers. However, an assessment offers a reflection of the inferences organizations can make based on observable behaviors and preferences indicated through self-reporting. “Think of the ideal assessment as a mirror. The mirror does not test your looks, it simply reflects back what you put into it,” writes Laffoley. 

Finally, Making Sense of Assessments in the Workplace highlights four best practices from Dattner Consulting: 

  1. Know the law. Assessment tools should be job-related and well validated so they don’t run afoul of antidiscrimination laws.
  1. Know the business needs. For example, is it for hiring purposes or pinpointing high potentials for a leadership development program?
  1. Reduce the risk of cheating. Cheating will skew reliability and validity, so be sure to proctor all assessments.
  1. Share assessment results with the test takers. 

For more insight on how to use cognitive and behavioral assessments, download the UNC Executive Development whitepaper, Making Sense of Assessments in the Workplace

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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