Moving job candidates efficiently through the hiring process is a top priority in today’s competitive labor market. Under extreme pressure, however, employers may feel tempted to short-cut key steps. As a result, many organizations are opting for shorter assessments, hoping this will help them retain top candidates.

Using science to guide us, this post will explore the tensions between test length and completion rates. We’ll also present proven strategies for attracting the best candidates and making quality hires. Reviewing extensive research from business, consulting, and academia, we found remarkably consistent results. Are shorter tests better?

Research shows the opposite.


While most HR leaders understand that longer assessments deliver more accurate and reliable results, they are increasingly turning to shorter tests. It is true that shorter assessments can increase completion rates for some jobs. However, the resulting pool of viable candidates may do little to separate the high-quality from the low-quality prospects. A study by Walmart concluded that efforts to increase completion rates by using a shorter process simply increased the number of low-quality candidates.[1]

In contrast, researchers at Oregon State University found that longer assessments were associated with higher completion rates among quality applicants.[2]


In longer assessments, lower-quality applicants tended to drop out early, especially when recognizing a poor fit with the job or the organization. This type of drop-out is considered “healthy attrition,” as it helps candidates self-select out if they feel the job is not right for them. The Walmart study showed that applicants who struggled and performed poorly in the early part of the assessment were 60% more likely to drop out.[1]

These low-quality applicants tended to drop out within the first 10 minutes of the assessment. Once an applicant makes it past the first one-third of an assessment, they are unlikely to drop out due to test length. [2]


Job relatedness is one of the most important aspects of a positive candidate experience. Quality candidates prefer a selection process that allows them to demonstrate their proficiency in the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job – such as work samples and job knowledge tests. [3] They appreciate the opportunity to stand out from other applicants. Tests that show little relevance to the job are typically viewed negatively by candidates.

The consulting firm of Gartner, Inc., found that most candidates prefer assessments that take between 10 and 30 minutes. Assessments that were too short were seen as less credible by candidates, likely because they may feel they haven’t been given sufficient time to prove themselves. [3]


Be Wary of Super Short Tests.
They are less reliable and can easily result in lower quality candidates.

Align Recruitment and Retention Goals.
If a recruiter is trying to fill seats as quickly as possible, they are likely overlooking turnover risk and job fit. The end goal should be identifying people who will perform better and stay longer.

Create Candidate-Focused Communication.
Clear instructions will help your candidates set realistic expectations and feel good about the process.

Keep Steps Clear and Simple.
Even serious candidates (particularly for entry-level positions) can lose interest if assessments are too complicated, tedious, or boring.

Select Job Relevant Assessments.
Serious job seekers appreciate the opportunity to preview actual job tasks and demonstrate their relevant skills and abilities.

Enjoy the Process.
Keeping the candidate experience engaging and central to your process will help you attract the best – and boost your image as a great place to work.

Keep in mind, selection systems are a two-way street. Not only are you learning about the applicant, but the applicant is learning about you. A well-designed assessment process helps both the applicant and employer gain the information needed to make the right employment decision.


If you’re caught in the tension of balancing completion rates with quality hiring, give us a call. We’re here to listen and help you identify the next step. With more than 30 years of experience, we specialize in creating engaging, job-relevant hiring tools that give job seekers and employers what they’re looking for  –  with the bonus of delivering candidate completion rates of more than 90%!

To speak with one of our consultants, click here or call 888.332.0648.



1. Koenig, Nick, Walmart Stores, Inc., “Does Applicant Dropout Hurt or Help an Organization?” Conference Presentation (April, 2017).

2. Hardy, Jay, et al, “Are Applicants More Likely to Quit Longer Assessments? Examining the Effect of Assessment Length on Applicant Attrition Behavior,” Journal of Applied Psychology (March 23, 2017).

3. Gartner, Inc., “What Candidates Want: Improving the Assessment Experience – Separating Fact from Fiction” (2017).