In a challenging labor market, candidate completion rates are a key concern. Employers want to ensure that their best candidates are completing assessments and progressing through their hiring process. As a result, many organizations are switching to shorter and shorter tests, hoping this will ensure the best candidates complete their processes.
But does this work?
In this post, we’ll explore the tensions between test length and completion rates, relying on science for the truth about attracting the best candidates and making quality hires. We sourced a round up of research from academia, consulting, and business, and found remarkably consistent results.
Do Shorter Assessments Ensure Higher Completion Rates?
While most HR professionals understand that longer assessments deliver more accurate and reliable results, they are increasingly turning to shorter tests. The assumption is that shortening the assessment process will increase their completion rates and keep top candidates in their pipelines.
It is true that shorter assessments can increase completion rates for some jobs. However, the resulting pool of viable job 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. 
Why is this? It all has to do with who is dropping out of longer assessments and who is sticking around to complete them.
Who Drops out Early?
With tight competition for the best talent, hiring organizations want to ensure that they attract and retain top candidates. The concern is that better qualified candidates, or “rock stars,” may feel a longer process is not worth their time.
In fact, research shows the opposite. Researchers at Oregon State University found that longer assessments were associated with higher completion rates among quality applicants. 
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. 
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.  In fact, the consulting firm of Gartner, Inc., found that the majority of 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. 
What Else Attracts the Best Candidates?
Keep in mind, selection systems are a two-way street. Not only is the employer learning about the applicant, but the applicant is learning about the organization, as well as experiencing a preview of the job. A well-designed assessment process helps applicants determine whether or not the job will be a good fit for them – benefiting both the candidate and the employer.
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.  They appreciate the opportunity to stand out from other applicants. Tests that show little relevance to the job are typically viewed negatively by candidates.
While job seekers appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate their job skills, even serious candidates (particularly for entry-level positions) can lose interest if assessments are too complicated, boring, or take longer than 30 minutes to complete.
Finally, two of our research sources found that applicants who feel that a company’s assessments are too long, complicated, inconvenient, or boring may cause the organization’s reputation to suffer by spreading the word that their process is too complex or frustrating. [1,3]
1. Focus on assessment accuracy over assessment length. Be wary of extremely short tests; they are less reliable and can easily result in lower quality of candidates. Test length should never take precedent over finding qualified candidates.
2. Make sure recruiting metrics aren’t sabotaging hiring quality. If the key goal is filling seats as quickly as possible, the recruiter’s job becomes increasingly difficult – dealing with the revolving door of turnover due to poor job fit. Recruiting pressures ease when the end goal is identifying people who perform better and stay longer.
3. For candidates, make sure the assessment process is easy to access and understand. If the process is frustrating or unpleasant, you’ll likely lose candidates and damage your image as an employer.
4. Tell applicants upfront how long the process will take. It’s better to overestimate completion time to account for interruptions applicants may experience during the assessment.
5. Stay job relevant. Candidates don’t like puzzles and games that show little relevance to the job. Serious job seekers appreciate the opportunity of previewing real job tasks and demonstrating what they can do.
6. Make it fun! Make sure you offer a test experience that engages top candidates and creates a positive experience. Keeping the candidate experience central to your process will attract the best – and boost your image as a great place to work.
How Can We Help?
If you’re caught in the tension of balancing completion rates and quality hiring, give us a call.
With more than 30 years of experience, we specialize in creating simple and engaging test experiences that give job seekers and employers what they’re looking for. Candidates get an engaging experience they actually enjoy, along with a realistic preview of the job. Employers get the highest accuracy in predicting which candidates are likely to excel and remain on the job.
Plus, with millions of applicants tested, our engaging simulations consistently deliver candidate completion rates of 90% or higher!
To speak with one of our consultants, click here or contact us at 888.332.0648.
1. Gartner, Inc., “What Candidates Want: Improving the Assessment Experience – Separating Fact from Fiction” (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. Koenig, Nick, Walmart Stores, Inc., “Does Applicant Dropout Hurt or Help an Organization?” Conference Presentation (April, 2017).