Stuck in the Middle with You

Why candidate assessments can be difficult for those in-between jobs and strategies to make this better

15th August 2018

Team Cubiks

Talent assessment solutions are in high demand and readily available for the two extreme ends of the job spectrum: High Volume and High Visibility.  On one end you have the front-line roles with hundreds of employees in the same job and high volumes of candidates frequently applying.  The assessment serves as a mechanism to sort candidates and hone in on those applicants with the highest potential.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have top-level executive leadership roles that are high visibility in the organization and involve rolling out the red carpet for a small pool of VIP candidates.  In this context, the assessment serves as a predictive input into one is perceived as a critical hiring decision. 

To a certain degree, the big focus on these two ends of the spectrum makes sense.  Let’s examine these two areas a bit more.


High volume

The high volume front-line candidate selection projects are where internal talent professionals and external consultants alike can achieve big ROI victories.  These successes come in the form of lowering turnover, increasing productivity, and making a significant positive financial impact on the organization.  For these projects, organizations spend serious dollars integrating assessment technology platforms with applicant tracking systems in order to achieve process automation and efficiency.  Considerable time and budget are also dedicated to conducting criterion-related validation research to maximize the prediction of on-the-job success and mitigate concerns related to legal defensibility.


High visibility

In a similar manner, companies spare no expense for executive-level candidates and are willing to make big investments to find the right leader that makes the desired impact on the organization.  These investments could come in the form of external recruitment services and related placement fees or extensive onsite assessment center experiences using highly trained I-O psychologists and consultants.


The middle jobs are stuck in-between

The typical scenario in a big family is that the oldest child gets a lot of the parent’s attention, the baby in the family also demands significant parental time and energy, and the middle child can at times fall through the cracks especially if they are well behaved.  Well, the world of talent management must be one big happy family because this is also true of candidate selection programs. 

Not only do companies invest most of their time and budget on the high volume and high visibility candidate programs, but assessment and consulting vendors tend to dedicate most of their products and services to focus on these two areas.  This leaves internal talent management professionals in a tough spot for implementing effective candidate selection tools and strategies for those in-between jobs that are stuck in the middle.

What do we mean by the in-between jobs?  These jobs cover a wide range of roles, but here are some typical commonalities.  There are a relatively small number of incumbents in the job.  Likewise, there are relatively few job openings and candidates applying.  They span several different functions and disciplines such as Sales, Finance, IT, HR, Marketing, Project Management, Legal, etc. (i.e., the shared services that keep a company running smoothly).  These jobs are…well…literally in the middle!  They are above front-line roles and are inclusive of professionals, specialists, supervisors, and middle management however they do not include or go beyond the Director or VP levels.


Why is the middle so important?

Wharton management professor Ethan Mollick conducted research in the video game industry and found that 22% of the variation in revenue generated by projects could be attributed to middle managers.  By comparison, the individuals in innovator roles accounted for only 7% of the variation and the overall organization itself was linked to 21%.  When you combine all of the mid-level jobs and middle managers in an organization, the aggregate result is a large population of employees that are highly instrumental in driving for the success (or stagnation) of the company.


Why is hiring for the middle so difficult?

  • Problem #1: Lack of data and budget to create a candidate success profile.  Organizations often turn to assessments, specifically personality and cognitive tools, to support the evaluation of candidates for these in-between jobs.  However before we can assess whether or not a candidate is a good fit for a job, we have to determine what “good” looks like.  An understanding of the success profile for a job allows us to interpret the assessment results accurately (e.g., which behavioral styles to focus on, which score ranges are ideal for the job, which higher scores indicate overuse of strengths).  For high volume jobs, there is an abundance of employees and data at a company’s disposal to conduct pilot research, analyze data, and empirically determine the success profile.  With the jobs stuck in the middle, we simply don’t have large enough employee populations to do this kind of research.  Furthermore, the low number of annual candidates for each specific job makes it difficult for internal talent professionals to justify budget spending to design a best practice selection program. 
  • Problem #2: Assessment vendors have historically done a very poor job positioning their products to support mid-level jobs.  Recruiters and hiring managers are becoming less and less interested in and able to justify attending a 2-day certification workshop to learn how to use an assessment with their candidates.  To further complicate issues, the concept of what “good” candidate looks like for personality assessment results can be a moving target across different in-between jobs.  One option is for the vendor to program a completely custom candidate results report specific to that job and removing the need for certification, however, this tends to be very expensive especially when needing to be done for each different job.
  • Problem #3: Vendor pricing models make it difficult for organizations to get the full value of the assessment insights.  Per drink pricing models for assessments where you must pay $X for each candidate put organizations in a bad position where they must be stingy with which and how many mid-level job candidates are able to take the assessment.  This results in a few negative outcomes.  First, by the time the assessment is completed and the assessment results are reviewed, most of the critical interviews have already taken place.  These now represent missed opportunities to leverage the assessment results to dig into behavioral examples related to competency areas that the assessment flagged as potential challenges and risk areas.  Secondly, by the latter stages of the hiring process, key stakeholders have sometimes already chosen their favorite candidates.  Now any risk areas flagged by the assessment on favored candidates become opportunities for the assessment to be cast in a bad light as an obstacle in the eyes of those stakeholders.  For those candidates that are hired and become employees, the nature of their in-between role and career progression frequently creates a desire for developmental feedback opportunities.  The per drink pricing models that vendors often put forth creates barriers here because the company must pay a new fee per individual generate a development report.  Again, companies are forced to be stingy and choosy about when to offer these additional reports and incur these fees.  Everyone loses when good data can’t be leverages to support professional growth. 


How can we make this better?

Here are some ways that the Cubiks team offers flexible and scientifically sounds solutions to support the identification of top talent candidates for these in-between jobs that get stuck in the middle.

  • Quick and easy job profiling.  The Cubiks Job Profiling solution is a simple process that requires a small time investment (15 mins) from a handful of subject matter experts with keen insights into what behaviors drive success in the target mid-level job.  From these insights, job-specific success profiles are automatically aligned to the personality assessment to target specific behavioral areas and ideal score ranges.
  • Flexible and affordable configured reporting.  Avoid costly certification and custom programming fees.  Leveraging job profiling results, the Cubiks team implements simplified and actionable reports specific to your mid-level jobs.  These reports incorporate your company logo and with red-amber-green score ranges, the candidate results are easily interpreted by recruiters.  Only the key behavioral styles critical to the target job are included and dynamic behavioral questions based on assessment results are inserted to support hiring manager interviews.  All text in the report can be tailored to your organization’s needs and preferences.  By using the Cubiks report builder application, our consultants can quickly implement what looks like a custom report for you without the typical outrageous costs.
  • Subscription pricing with unlimited reports.  Subscription pricing is becoming the standard for how we pay for technology.  This is true for video games, movie and tv show streaming, smartphone apps, you name it.  The assessment subscription pricing model that Cubiks offers aligns with this philosophy and provides several benefits to clients.  With a predictable annual assessment budget spend, clients can assess mid-level job candidates earlier in the process to drive a smarter, more insightful interview process and ultimately a more in-depth evaluation of each candidate.  Once candidates are hired, additional reports to support behavioral self-awareness for onboarding and development tips for career growth can be generated for employees at no additional cost.

Talk to Cubiks to see how we can help you get your critical mid-level candidate selection programs unstuck and capable of identifying top talent that can drive results for your organization.

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