Myth Debunked? Length of Selection Assessments and Retaining Applicants

Topic(s): selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2017
Article: Are Applicants More Likely to Quit Longer Assessments? Examining the Effect of Assessment Length on Applicant Attrition Behavior
Authors: J.H. Hardy III, C. Gibson, M. Sloan, A. Carr
Reviewed by: McKenzie Preston

Many organizations use sophisticated selection assessments to fill open positions.  If you are a Human Resources professional or hiring manager, you probably try to create or use short screening assessments so that fewer applicants will drop out of the selection process.  The challenge with this approach, however, is that restricting assessment length can negatively impact an assessment’s ability to determine the best applicants.  So is it better for managers to prioritize (a) reducing applicant dropout rates, or (b) optimal selection assessment utility?  Fortunately, new research suggests we may not have to choose!

Assessment Length Versus Assessment Quality

Conventional wisdom and current HR best practices suggest that assessment length is positively related to the dropout rate of job applicants.  As such, many organizations have embraced the idea of shorter assessments, and some have gone so far as to switch to one-click submission application systems.  Consequently, job applicants have become accustomed to these shorter application processes.

While the case for shortening assessment length may seem clear-cut, researchers (Hardy, Gibson, Sloan, & Carr, 2017) conducted a study to explore whether the assessment length can predict applicant dropout rates.  Using data from nearly a quarter of a million job-seekers, the researchers found that the majority of applicants who quit assessments do so within the first 20 minutes.  Consequently, longer assessments did not lead to incremental increases in applicant attrition rates after the 20-minute mark.

A Better Way to Create Screening Assessments

The findings from the study support the notion that reliability and validity of assessment scores should be the primary drivers of assessment length, not concern for applicant attrition.  A more effective approach to developing a selection system starts with creating an assessment with strong predictive capability.  Then, the assessment length can be reduced as long as the reliability and validity of the assessment are maintained. The authors also propose that giving applicants a conservative assessment length (i.e., slightly overestimating the time it will take to complete the test) can reduce early-stage applicant dropout rates.

Organizational Implications

This study is applicable to organizations because it addresses a common myth which suggests longer assessments lead to increases in applicant attrition rates.  The findings from the study suggest that organizations can create longer, robust screening assessments without experiencing a significant increase in applicant dropout rates after the first 20 minutes.  The authors encourage HR professionals and hiring managers to focus more on the utility of the assessment instead of potential resistance to assessment length.

Hardy, J. I., Gibson, C., Sloan, M., & Carr, A. (2017). Are applicants more likely to quit longer assessments? Examining the effect of assessment length on applicant attrition behavior. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 102(7), 1148-1158. doi:10.1037/apl0000213