Smartphones: The New First Choice for Assessment

With changing candidate preferences, smartphone assessment has become the top priority for employers. How can your organisation get in on this new trend, and get ahead of the competition in selecting the best candidates?

Smartphones: The New First Choice for Assessment

24 May 2018 by  Richard Justenhoven

A quiet revolution has occurred in the psychometric assessment industry. For the past 30 years, job candidates have completed online assessments via their PCs and laptops. Mobile tests were a recent addition to the fold, a latecomer to the party. Yet, now, the entire emphasis of assessment has shifted.

Mobile delivery has become the number one priority. Clients want assessments that will primarily run on smartphones; laptops have been relegated to second place.

With WIFI and 4G connections, we instinctively reach for our smartphones when we want to go online. The selfie phenomenon is evidence of the changing attachment that people have to their phones—and their perceptions of what a phone can do. For millennials, their phone is central to their lifestyle, much more so than their laptop.

This is relevant because, according to PwC, 50% of the workforce will be millennials by 2020.

Organisations need to attract, recruit and retain them—and phones are their preferred device. So it’s no surprise that employers are on a mission to allow applicants to take assessments via their phones, particularly in high volume recruitment situations.

Meeting expectations

Thirty years ago, psychometric tests were primarily undertaken using a pen and paper. But when personal computers began to dominate the workplace, it made sense to utilise them for assessment.

Today, the shift to mobile assessment is being driven by the expectations of job seekers. Candidates not only want to research and find jobs on their phones, they want to apply for them as well, without changing their device.Employers are happy to comply, because mobile assessment is:

1. Quick.

Using your phone is convenient, so candidates tend to respond to mobile assessments much faster. This speeds up the selection process and it helps employers to identify and recruit top talent before their competitors. Organisations that don’t accept applications via mobile devices could soon lose good candidates to those that do.

2. Candidate-centric.

Recruiting in a way that is acceptable to candidates is good for the employer brand.

3. Inclusive.

If your assessments can only be taken on a laptop or computer, studies show that you may eliminate applicants from lower socio-economic groups who don’t have these devices. Nearly everyone has a phone, so mobile assessment offers a more inclusive alternative.

Making adjustments


It’s easy to imagine that the same assessments can be used for laptops and mobile devices. In reality, making the shift to mobile assessment is as dramatic as the change from paper-based to online testing. It’s a completely different medium. You simply can’t run an assessment on a phone and expect it to work in the same way as it does on a laptop.

This means that there’s a big distinction between assessments that are mobile-enabled (they can play on a mobile device) and mobile-first (tests that have been purpose-built for mobile devices).

A test might play on a smartphone but if it is not optimised for that format, it will penalise candidates because they won’t be given the same testing experience that they’d get on a laptop or desktop computer. On the other hand, a mobile-first test will consistently predict job performance – regardless of whether candidates complete them on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone – because the same test experience is provided on every device.

To give your candidates a fair chance to succeed, your assessment process has to be a level playing field. So, your candidates should only be allowed to take assessments on devices that will provide comparable results. The quality or responsiveness of their device should have no impact on their final test result.

Keeping up with developments

Designing assessments to meet this need is a significant challenge. It’s a delicate balance to create an aesthetic candidate experience on a phone, one that doesn’t compromise basic testing principles.

There are many variables, such as different sizes of screen, choices of orientation that affect the display of text and different ways to navigate and swipe the screen. Smartphones are also developing rapidly.

We can assume that PCs will remain relatively unchanged in a year’s time. But with phones, who knows? The trend to smaller phones has been reversed and larger ones are more likely to be prevalent in the future. It’s difficult to develop visually appealing and interactive assessments for a device when you can’t confidently predict exactly what that device will look like in the short-term future.

Another challenge with mobile assessment is the duration of each test. Nobody wants to complete a long task on their phone. Mobile assessments therefore need to be three-five minutes, to prevent candidates from dropping out of the selection process. Yet, the tests still need to be psychometrically valid and they have to feel relevant and appropriate to candidates.

Candidate-centric design

The drive to mobile assessment will force traditional personality questionnaires, which involve a list of set statements, to become more candidate-centric.

You can’t expect candidates to undertake a 25-minute assessment on their phone. Instead, interactive situational judgement simulations will assess the specific personality traits that are required in each role. These may be supplemented with data-driven video assessments that provide a customised interview experience focusing on the requirements of the role.

The simple truth is that employers “crave” millennials—and millennials crave their phones. Assessing candidates via their phones is the logical answer.

However, recruiters must ensure that their assessments have been purpose-built for phones and rigorously trialled across different devices. They also need to be short, objective, fair and indicative of the everyday situations that candidates will experience in the workplace.

Finally, mobile-first assessments should deliver an extraordinary candidate experience that communicates the values of the organisation and fits the employer brand. Get all of that right and businesses will be well-placed to achieve their recruitment goals.

This article first appeared in Personnel Today on 16 March 2018.

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Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the Product Director at international talent measurement and assessment specialist cut-e, an Aon company. He holds a master degree in work and organisational psychology and specialises in psychometrics and online-based psychometric assessments. His work synthesises research and work practice with organisational psychology, working in multiple countries with international clients from various industries. His area of expertise is the design and implementation of online-based psychometric assessments.

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