This post is contributed by Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark, Burtch Works’ marketing research and consumer insights recruiting specialists.
Looking for a new way to evaluate potential marketing research talent? Employers are increasingly turning to assessment exercises as an additional step to gauge an applicant’s abilities before bringing them on board. These can come in many shapes and sizes and fall under a variety of names, such as assignments, assessments, presentations, or case studies. They are commonly used in other fields, and now there’s been an increase in companies using them for marketing research or insights recruiting as well. This post will focus on how employers can make the best use of these assignments, but if you’re a job seeker looking for more information about how to complete them, we’ve covered that as well.
So why are we seeing more assessments during the marketing research hiring process? Some of our clients suggested that this is a way to avoid being burned by applicants who exaggerate their abilities or overstate their past experience. Some others have simply mentioned that this is just one more way to evaluate or do a gut-check on applicants who’ve done well during the interview process, or to ensure that a researcher will be able to hit the ground running once they’re part of the team.
Regardless of the reason, from our perspective as recruiters (who have been part of the hiring process and seen many of these assignments play out), there are several best practices for making sure this is a beneficial experience for everyone involved.
Best Practices for Employers when Using Assignments
1. Make the instructions/process seamless
Any interaction that a candidate has with a potential employer will factor into their interest level and is part of their assessment of the company. Just as you’re assessing them throughout the process, they will also be assessing you, and this includes the assignment phase. It’s crucial that the entire process is buttoned-up: the instructions should be clear and concise, and include all the pertinent information the candidate will need. A well-crafted assignment can lead to a very positive impression of your company!
If you’re consistently not seeing the results you want out of your assignments, then you may want to reassess the directions or how the task is presented. In a handful of instances, we’ve had candidates find errors in the data or in a part of the exercise, such as incorrect base sizes. This can stall the candidate from completing the assignment or force them to make assumptions (that they then need to caveat) in order to be able to finish the assignment. Mistakes happen, but aim for an error-free assignment.
This step in the interview process is important and you want applicants to be able to spend some time working on it, but it’s important to remember that they likely have a number of existing obligations competing for their time. Marketing Researchers may have a number of things on their plate (i.e. upcoming travel, a heavy project workload, presentations or major deadlines, personal engagements, etc.), so be mindful of the length of the task you’re assigning.
Assignments can range greatly in the time to complete them. An assessment that takes 12-16 hours can be daunting, especially if it is early enough in the process that the candidate doesn’t feel super invested in the opportunity yet. In our experience, the best assessments typically take 2-5 hours and can still do a great job of gauging a candidates’ skill level. If possible, try to incorporate a weekend into the timeframe for longer assignments.
Some candidates have been transparent with us and confessed that they decided to pursue a different opportunity when faced with one of these ultra marathon-level projects. If they’re already spread too thin or are in an active search with multiple interviews in the works, the time commitment can be a deciding factor.
3. Make the assignment fun/relevant
If possible, inject some fun into your assessment! – think about interesting topics, real-world challenges, or something that represents the type of work your team may do in the day-to-day. One of our candidates shared a great story about how his now-current employer asked him to come up with a research presentation around video games. It was an industry that the employer worked in regularly and it happened to also be a personal passion of the candidate’s. Not only was he was excited to work on the assignment and could demonstrate a level of expertise, he was also impressed that they’d chosen a topic that showed they understood him and had an interest in him as a person. Just because it’s an “assignment” doesn’t mean it has to be dry – some can really give candidates a chance to shine!
4. Provide feedback
Candidates put a lot of time and effort into their submissions, and feedback (be it positive or negative) is always appreciated. It may take a few additional minutes to compile some comments after reviewing an assessment, but it is greatly helpful for candidates to know where they excelled or where they may have fallen short. Especially if you won’t be moving forward with their candidacy, it’s always nice to let candidates know why (in a timely fashion, preferably), so that they can have closure on the opportunity and learn from the process.
We would be remiss if we didn’t also mention that, separate from exercises and assignments, some employers incorporate personality assessments or skills/aptitudes tests – such as the Wonderlic or Gallup StrengthsFinder – into the interview process. These vary in length from a few minutes to several hours, and can be a first step, before a phone screen even occurs, or as the last step in the process before an offer is presented. If you do decide to add this piece to your interview process, be sure to research your options and choose the test that best fits your company or team. They’re each designed to measure, assess, and predict different elements of a candidate’s personality and skillset.
Whichever route you decide to take when hiring new research and insights professionals, take the time to think through what you’re trying to assess. Structure any assignments or tests so that you’re getting what you need out of it, while also making it as enjoyable (or at least as painless) as possible for the candidate.
As a reminder, every element of an interview process will help potential hires determine whether or not they’re interested in your company. If done well, the assignments or tests you choose can leave a positive impression while gathering information about the candidate!