The Ri5 interview:
Bonita Bryan, TMP Worldwide


When we think about the work done by the big recruitment communications agencies, it’s easy for the eye-catching, creative side of things to take centre stage. But at the same time it’s vital to consider the work that goes on alongside the creative, which plays an equally key role in the attraction and hiring process.

At this year’s RAD Awards, this work came very much to the fore, as TMP Worldwide’s immersive assessment campaign for Virgin Money took home the award for Work of the Year. It was a bold piece of work that gained plaudits from across the industry, and it was testament to the developments and forward thinking that TMP is pursuing in the assessment space.

We spoke to Bonita Bryan, head of assessment services at the agency, to hear about the science of assessment and what she sees as the major future developments we should watch out for.

While Bryan is relatively new to TMP, she has already set her focus firmly on innovation. “Some brands are innovative and fresh, and that translates to how we apply our science in their assessment process,” she says. “For our team, who all have classic psychological training, that means thinking differently about what we do.”

“It’s this new approach that led to us winning awards with our immersive assessment work over the past year – and it’s also leading to exciting new work on the horizon.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the success of the Virgin Money campaign, Bryan sees immersive assessments as a key part of the future landscape. In her view, they offer a better reflection of people’s abilities and suitability for roles, meaning a better fit for recruiters.

“Immersive assessments are all about demonstrating genuine skill sets,” she says. “They require participants to rely on relevant skills, rather than relying on exam techniques, which is what many assessment centres feel like.”

She also points out another benefit of immersive assessments; by moving away from the old ‘exam room’ structure, candidates can forget they’re being measured, resulting in a more representative set of metrics that reflects their capabilities. 

Crucially, Bryan points out that immersive assessments don’t need to take the form of large-scale physical events like the Virgin Money work, with technology enabling them to be carried out on a smaller, more widely applicable scale.

She says: “One project we’ve worked on is a desktop that simulates an Outlook-style email system. Instead of an assessment centre under exam conditions, it works in a way that’s a more accurate representation of what it’s like to be in the role.

“Instead of somebody handing you bits of paper, you receive emails and other electronic information, all in real time. It can be scheduled and structured like a real-world professional environment. It’s no different to what they would be expected to do at work.”

Bryan says this sort of assessment is far more relevant to how people work today. A decade ago, assessment centres were largely paper-based; but that wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of today’s workplaces.

“Beforehand,” she says, “if we were presenting a piece of information in an assessment centre – say a big CEO announcement – it would be handed out on a piece of paper. But now we can present this information in more realistic way – perhaps a video message containing all the key information.

“Or, instead of a letter of complaint, candidates receive a call record of a conversation between customer services and a complaining client which they can actually hear. It’s a great opportunity to replicate what the workplace is now like.”

She continues “As a profession, we need to keep up to date with what’s happening in the world we operate within. I use the fax machine analogy – I haven’t used one for at least five years, and in the same way paper is becoming redundant in the office, there will be a move towards paperless assessment experiences.

“We’re already seeing a huge shift in psychometric tests from paper-based to wholly online, and I think assessment centres will head in the same way. That’s where the digital and immersive side of things comes in.”

Bryan says there are multiple benefits to moving away from paper-based assessment centres. Not only does it avoid the unmanageable stacks of paperwork that assessors need to process and file, it also offers faster, more accurate results.

Bryan describes how she and her team are piloting almost entirely paperless assessments, where candidates access information electronically and instead of marking up on paper, assessors measure candidates’ behaviour electronically, generating prompt, automated feedback.

It’s more time-effective and, as Bryan points out, means more consistent results, as it’s easier to spot if assessors aren’t being as objective as they should be. And, from a process point of view it means assessments can automatically be integrated into applicant tracking systems.

Also, as Bryan says, it offers improved candidate experience: “For candidates it guarantees fast, quality feedback regardless of whether they’re successful or not. From a candidate’s point of view, if they’re not successful the least you can do is give them useful feedback.

“And it’s also good from a diversity and inclusion point of view. If a member of an under-represented group is unsuccessful, prompt, good quality feedback will help personal development - which is a key feature in positive action initiatives. So, it’s also good practice for managing diversity within organisations.”

Bryan concedes that the industry is in the early stages of utilising these new assessments. However, she insists that while they’re still in a growth stage, they will play a huge role in the future.

And looking further ahead, Bryan and her team are looking at apps and gamification in the assessment space, which again offer different ways of measuring candidates’ characteristics.

She says: “One game we’re looking at measures risk-taking behaviours. It’s based on a long-established experiment around how big you allow a balloon to get before it bursts. There’s a similar concept in this game.

“For a lot of graduates, making an application via a game is very attractive, but there’s also science behind the game – and risk-taking is an important factor if you’re taking somebody into a finance role, for example.”

Bryan feels these new technologies and methods of measuring will be particularly applicable in the graduate and apprentice markets. “These candidates don’t have much experience to speak of,” she says, “but they’re used to being connected and to interacting with games and tech via their devices, so this really tunes in to them.”

Bryan also says she and her team are currently exploring combined tests. Instead of using the classical verbal, numerical and situational judgment tests that take hours to complete, combined tests are shorter and again, more accurately reflect organisational environments.

She says: “For example, for clients who need customer service or financial information, we’d design a numerical test based on what billings an individual needs to do, and combine that with customer-service scenarios requiring them to decide what route to follow.

“Instead of using a linear approach, the technology adapts to how the candidate makes their decisions, and progresses according to how well they respond. The candidate gets more of a ‘job preview’, and they’re shown the impact of their decisions. Not only can you identify candidates more accurately, it gives candidates a flavour of what working at your organisation will be like.”

While Bryan admits these are only in development at this stage, it won’t be long before we see the fruits of this work at future awards ceremonies.

She says: “They’re all about attracting the best, reflecting the client and giving the best candidate experience, and my ambition is that next year we’ll be putting these in front of clients in certain sectors and they’ll eventually be award winners.”

Thursday, 17 September 2015

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