The Blog

Aptitude-Based Interviewing Strategies to Attract Top Talent

If you were to be considered for the NFL draft, you would think the prospective teams would judge you on your football skills:  your ability to complete or catch a pass, how fast you can run the 40, or how much weight you can lift.  These skills are important, but if you’ve made it as far as the draft stage, you obviously have already displayed some physical talent.  These skills are not the only important factors in selecting a professional-caliber football player, which is why the NFL administers a test called the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a test that gauges a player’s general intelligence, not athletic prowess. 

The NFL has been implementing this test for over 30 years, but many business organizations across a range of industries are starting to use similar aptitude-based testing as part of the interview process.  The idea is that cognitive ability and problem-solving capabilities are the most accurate measure of professional performance.  It is a different approach to be sure, but many of the companies that are implementing these interview strategies are experiencing significant success in their recruitment and retention efforts. 

Traditionally, organizations have scrutinized a candidate’s knowledge, skill set and experience before hiring them for a position.  While these indicators are helpful in determining if prospective employees will thrive, they may not give enough information about candidates’ abilities.  Leadership teams that execute aptitude-based testing recognize that skills can be learned, while general intelligence and the ability to solve complex problems are innate and can’t be taught. 

Aptitude-based interviewing allows hiring managers to dig deeper during the interview process to validate what is on the resume by demonstrating how candidates accomplish in the “real world” the goals they have listed on paper.  It can also help determine if candidates possess the core competencies the organization has identified as being important to a certain position or department.

How are organizations implementing this type of testing during the interview process?  Depending on the industry, hiring managers can ask brainteasers or questions based on mathematics, probability or deduction skills.  They may ask hypothetical questions (“How many cell phone towers are there in the United States?”) or gear queries toward actual business issues the company is facing (“What would you include in a business plan to launch our latest product?”).  In most cases, hiring managers aren’t seeking a specific answer.  Instead they are looking at how candidates process the question, how they work through it, what resources they use, if they are methodical or hasty, and how they would work individually and with a team. 

Companies can use a off-the-shelf test like the Wonderlic, but for most organizations looking to build their employee base with quality players, HR and the leadership team need to develop a custom list of questions that will help uncover the aptitudes they most desire.  In doing so, organizations can better identify talented prospects who possess the behaviors and core values the organization needs to succeed.

One of the benefits of implementing this type of interviewing strategy is that in a competitive market, organizations can engage top talent early on in the interview process.  Smart people are naturally attracted to a challenge and will connect to the process and the organization from the start.  Aptitude-based interviews also help in retention because they focus on the long term.  Since hiring managers are looking at general intelligence and problem-solving ability, the candidates who do well in interviews are more likely to adapt to changes in the organization and industry. 

Conversely, if a candidate is hired because he or she has a specific skill needed in the short term, that person may help the company finish a project, but could struggle when the organization’s needs evolve.  There are still companies that hire for a particular skill, such as a proficiency in a certain software, because a project calls for it.  Of course, hiring someone without those skills does require ramp-up time, but it is a trade-off that organizations should be willing to make to get the most out of each hire. 

When the job market is healthy, companies will hire smarter and make competitive offers to those who will stay with the company for years to come.  Aptitude-based interviews help ensure that companies can find employees that are the right fit for the organization for today and in the future.