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Why conduct a skill assessment when hiring?

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Hiring any candidate can be a ‘gamble’ in some respects as there are many factors at play, including the level of skills and knowing how someone will perform in your unique work environment.

Any applicant can say they can perform a specific skill on their resume or application, and it can be challenging to determine a candidate’s capabilities before they commence their role. However, with skill assessments, your organisation can obtain a more thorough insight into a candidate’s abilities, talents, and personality.

Pre-employment skill assessments, sometimes known as skills surveys, mean the ‘gamble’ of hiring becomes a more educated decision.

In the digital age, skill assessments are increasing in popularity, with 56% of companies using some form of pre-employment test. 

A woman with an open computer next to employment skill test statistics

Additionally, the same Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey found that 79% of HR professionals acknowledge that skill assessment scores are “just as or more important than traditional criteria,” such as degrees and years of work experience. This is because there are differences between learning a skill and demonstrating it. 

So, what is a skill assessment, and what can it tell you about a candidate? How and why conduct one when hiring for your next open role?

What are skill assessments?

Generally speaking, a skill assessment is a variety of questions or tasks requiring the candidate to demonstrate the skills needed to successfully perform the job on offer. They are typically carried out as part of the interviewing process to help hiring managers decide if the candidate fits the open position. 

Skill assessments determine if the candidate:

  1. Has the skills required, and if so, what level 
  2. Requires training on skill gaps

But, did you know skill assessments can also determine if a candidate will be a good fit for your company culture? This is because skill assessments help your organisation understand if a candidate has the relevant ‘soft’ or ‘power skills’ needed to be a cultural fit in your organisation.

Soft and hard skills

Skill assessments can assess hard skills such as coding, copywriting or video editing, or soft skills that measure personality traits like collaboration, emotional intelligence, and leadership.

A well-executed skill assessment will provide hiring managers with a clear score or rating which they can implement to objectively hire the best possible candidate. A skill assessment helps take a consistent approach to hiring.

Skill assessments can be performed online or in person, depending on the nature of the role and the time allowances of hiring teams.

Whilst skill assessments are commonly used during the pre-employment phase of the hiring process, organisations can also use them on existing employees. This helps hiring managers understand if there is a skills shortage in a specific area of the business. If so, a skill assessment can determine which employees require upskilling.

Why are skill assessments important for hiring?

It’s only natural for applicants to present the best possible version of themselves on their resume. Sometimes, this may mean a candidate overstates their skills and experience or falsifies knowledge of certain skills altogether. A survey by HireRight found that 85% of candidates lie on their resumes.

However, a skill assessment test can also be valuable when the opposite occurs. Some candidates are very humble and undersell their abilities. A skill test can be an employment assessment to gauge a candidate's skill level - whether they are overqualified, underqualified or just right. 

Thus, skill assessments assist hiring managers in having confidence and peace of mind that the person they are hiring is a good fit and can complete the tasks required for the role.

Finding and retaining the right hire is vital to any organisation’s bottom line. Hiring and training staff is a lengthy and expensive process, so conducting a skill assessment can help.

Benefits of skill assessments

There are many benefits skill assessments offer hiring managers and the organisation. These include: 

  • Providing a more accurate predictor of job performance than resumes or traditional interviews
  • Reducing the risk of selecting an unsuitable hire
  • Save time throughout the hiring process and hire quickly by eliminating unqualified candidates quickly and easily
  • Reduce unconscious bias by giving recruitment teams data and evaluation metrics
  • Reduce attrition and associated turnover costs as hiring managers see how a candidate will perform before hiring them
  • Increased diversity through meritorious hiring, which leads to innovation, improved reputation, and greater profits

For candidates who have undergone a skill assessment, they report:

  • Greater job satisfaction as they are hired on merit
  • Improved retention as it is easy to see where a candidate can upskill
  • Positive candidate experience by being allowed to showcase skills, talents and competencies
How to conduct a skill assessment during the hiring process

How to conduct a skill assessment during the hiring process

There is a range of ways you can conduct a skill assessment: 

1. As part of your pre-employment reference check:

You can conduct an assessment of skills through a reference check - asking a referee to confirm the tasks completed and core skills and competencies gained through previous employment. To get the information you need, ask dedicated skill-related reference questions. 

Reference checking can help reduce the potential ‘gamble’ that hiring managers take when bringing on a new employee. By asking previous managers direct questions about specific skills, a new organisation can gain deeper insights about their candidate to make more confident hiring decisions.

Xref was developed to do exactly that - not only assist recruiters to make more confident hiring decisions but also reduce the time it takes to conduct a reference check. By automating the process, HR professionals can focus on the other important parts of hiring and onboarding new employees.

Xref’s Survey Builder allows our users to use a template of best-practice reference check questions or build a customised survey with a range of skills-based and behavioural questions to understand candidates more clearly and reduce that gamble. 

2. With behavioural-based interview questions

Behaviour-based interview questions are a fantastic way to understand a candidate’s skills and experience whilst uncovering how a candidate behaves in certain situations. You can ask these questions as part of your interview process or as part of your reference check - or both! 

3. Dedicated skill surveys or tests

Skill assessments work best when separately defined as skill surveys, questionnaires, activities or tasks. Organisations can achieve the best results when crafting questions or tasks specifically for the role at hand and the requirements of the hiring team. 

Tips for creating and running a skill assessment 

In designing any skill survey, it’s essential to combine a variety of questions to get a complete, rounded view of how an applicant will perform in different scenarios.

Creating a skill assessment should be a collaborative process between the hiring team and the department wishing to hire the new employee.

Research by Deloitte suggests this sample process for selecting and implementing skill-testing questions:

  • Define — Identify the human elements and skills required to perform the job and how these impact valued business outcomes.
  • Measure — Construct a series of predictive assessments to ask your candidate and effectively measure their responses against the elements defined in Step 1.
  • Decide — Empower expert decision-makers to use the data generated from the hiring process to make hiring decisions.
  • Evaluate — Collect and analyse the data to understand which candidates will fulfil the role best and what the business impact will be should you hire that candidate. 

When should I conduct a skill assessment? 

An employment skill assessment can form one stage of your interview process. By conducting an assessment at the pre-employment stage, you reduce the risk of finding out too late that your candidate lacks the skills they claim they have. 

Skill assessments at Xref form one of the final stages of the interview process before we complete our employment reference check. 

At Xref, we conduct skill assessments for a variety of roles, including but not limited to digital marketing, copywriting, software development and more. Our skill assessments explore whether the candidate has the specific skills and skill level required to perform the role. 

Sometimes we set a task for the candidate to complete in their own time. Or we invite them to a skill assessment interview where questions and tasks are completed in a live environment (either in person or on Zoom).

In the case of a live test, one of our team who has the required skill set oversees the process and reports back after the test is complete.

If the candidate has the skills or potential to develop skills where needed, we progress their application. 

One of Xref’s strengths is that we tailor our roles to suit the right candidate. There are often occasions where the successful candidate shows the potential to develop needed skills rather than already possessing them.

However, for some roles at Xref, such as legal or financial positions, sometimes a skill survey isn’t enough to determine if the candidate has the expertise required. In these instances, we conduct pre-employment background checks to do our due diligence and give us peace of mind. 

How do I know if a background check is needed or if a skill assessment will suffice?

Certain occupations require specific skill levels before an organisation can legally hire a candidate for those roles. If your open role has a prescribed level of training, an Education Verification check or Professional Membership check can help. 

You could conduct an Education Verification and skill assessment, as a candidate may have completed their education many years before they applied for your open role. A skill assessment can determine whether their abilities are still fresh and if they are up to date on the latest techniques and ways of working. 

Examples of skill assessments

What type of skill assessment could I conduct?

Skill assessments typically explore hard skills and soft skills. You can complete these tests online or in person. Here are some examples of the types of skill assessments you could perform. 

Hard skills: 

  • Carpentry tasks
  • Coding
  • Copywriting
  • Written or recorded sales pitch
  • Video editing
  • Welding

Soft skills: These assessments often help understand personality, behaviours and transferable skills. They include tests like:

  • Emotional intelligence assessments
  • Integrity assessments
  • Leadership tests
  • Mental ability assessments
  • Problem-solving
  • Psychometric tests

Examples of skill assessments:

Different types of skill assessments uncover different skill sets. 

  • If you are looking for a copywriter, ask them to write a blog post - give them a topic, brief and deadline.
  • For a web developer, ask for a piece of code.
  • For a sales role, ask them to present a product demonstration video on an item of their choosing.  

This is not an exhaustive list of the type of skill assessments you can conduct, but it does give you an idea of what to focus on when considering a skill assessment for your next open role. 


Ultimately, the reason to conduct a skill assessment when hiring is that it will help give you confidence in your candidate's skill level and abilities. 

A skill assessment process allows your organisation to accurately quantify the level of experience someone has in a particular skill. This is harder to understand from education or years of work experience alone. 

Furthermore, you want to remain unbiased and fair in your decision-making regarding who deserves an opportunity to join your business. 

By using objective measures and accurate data from skill assessments, you'll acquire top candidates quickly and with ease.

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